LONDON (Reuters) - Sabine Lisicki came out on top in a fluctuating three-set Centre Court epic to reach a maiden grand slam final as her bludgeoning brutality proved too much for the crafty Agnieszka Radwanska at Wimbledon on Thursday.
The German, who became a household name when she upset Serena Williams in the fourth round, backed up her giant-killing with a gripping test of nerve and she flashed her now familiar smile after securing a 6-4 2-6 9-7 victory.
You would not think that the 23rd seed with the walloping serve and firecracker forehands was allergic to grass as it seems the slightest whiff of the All England Club’s lawns brings out her spectacular A-game.
She was too tough, both physically and mentally, for fourth seed Radwanska, outlasting the Pole in a lengthy decider and keeping her nerve to set up a Saturday showdown with 15th-seeded Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli.
“It was unbelievable, the last few games were so exciting,” Lisicki said after bowing to all four sides of the arena, having delighted the masses following Bartoli’s quickfire rout of Kirsten Flipkens.
“Agnieszka played so well, it was a battle and I‘m so happy to have won it.”
Radwanska had pedigree having reached the final last year and her thoughtful approach to the game provided a fascinating contrast with Lisicki’s raw power.
The German’s cannonball serve initially proved too strong for the Pole, but just as the match appeared to be heading in Lisicki’s direction, the Pole used all her skills to reverse the flow.
The Lisicki serve capitulated in the second set and Radwanska worked her around the court, creating angles and forcing errors.
In the end, however, it came down to a test of will and after two hours and 18 minutes, Lisicki prevailed, becoming the first German woman to reach a grand slam final since Steffi Graf at Wimbledon in 1999.
It should have come as no surprise that Lisicki was a tough nut to crack because she came back from a career-threatening ankle injury in 2010 which forced her off the tour for five months and sent her tumbling down the rankings.
The 23-year-old, who lost to Maria Sharapova in the 2011 Wimbledon semis, wrapped up the first set in 33 minutes and, brimming with confidence, broke again in the opening game of the second.
The match then turned on its head, however, as Lisicki’s concentration faltered and Radwanska started to get a read on her opponent’s serve.
She immediately broke back and moved 3-1 ahead and although the German kept going for her shots and was rewarded with another break in the next game, Radwanska had the momentum and took the set.
Lisicki’s serve, which had been such a weapon early in the match was in disarray. She was broken for the fifth successive time at the start of the third set and trailed 3-0.
That was the position she found herself in against Williams and once again the threat of defeat brought out her best.
She swiftly rediscovered her form, fighting back to level at 3-3 and breaking again to lead 5-4.
She served for the match, but in keeping with what had gone before, she faltered and was broken.
In the pressure-cooker atmosphere of Centre Court, both players diced with danger.
Radwanska saved two break points to hold for a 7-6 lead but was unable to repeat the trick as Lisicki broke decisively in the 15th game when her opponent sent a volley long.
After choking the first time, she kept her cool, ending a dramatic contest with a forehand winner and falling face first onto the turf.
”I’ve been dreaming about that since I‘m a little girl,“ she said. ”That’s why I said it’s the best place to play my first grand slam final. I couldn’t imagine any better place.
“I just can’t wait to play Saturday.”
Editing by Ed Osmond