Women's semis full of surprises
LONDON -- It would be easy to assume the Wimbledon women's semifinals, absent of the top-three seeded players, lack substance, drama and ultimate appeal.
It would also be wrong.
For just the second time in 34 years, all four semifinalists will be vying for their first career Grand Slam title.
If that doesn't do it for you, three have been in the hunt, with two making it to the final here (Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska was last year's runner-up and France's Marion Bartoli in 2007) and Germany's Sabine Lisicki reaching the semifinals in 2011.
If it's a wild card you want, it doesn't get much wilder than Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens, 27, nicknamed "Flipper," who has missed four of the past seven Wimbledons, last year failing to make qualifying because her ranking was too low (262nd) after suffering life-threatening blood clots in her legs.
"If you would have told me in the beginning of the tournament who was going to be in the last four, I would never say the four who are still in," Flipkens said. "I mean, yeah, OK, Agnieszka. But the other three are a little bit of a surprise."
Looking for excitement? Bartoli, with her double-fisted forehand and backhand, is one of the more animated players on the WTA Tour, perhaps best remembered at Wimbledon for ordering her parents out of the stadium after losing a taxing first set in a third-round match in 2011.
"What I did wasn't against them personally," explained Bartoli, whose father Walter gave up his career as a doctor to coach his daughter but was fired by her earlier this year. "I needed to express something somehow. I needed the frustration to get out. I could have smashed a racket. I just needed to do something to release the frustration and start again. I normally never act like that."
Bartoli is also remembered for one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history when she defeated top-seeded Justine Henin in the '07 semis, after which she said she was inspired to rally back from a 6-1 first-set loss after spotting her favorite actor Pierce Brosnan in the Royal Box.
"Actually, I have an appointment with Pierce in the final," Bartoli said after her quarterfinal win. "We ended up taking the same plane from Heathrow to L.A. He recognized me. I don't know how, but it happened. We kind of had a chat around a glass of champagne, and we set up a meeting for the final of Wimbledon, so I'm one match out of that meeting."
Far from lost in the crowd is Lisicki, who pulled off the upset of the women's draw in bumping off five-time champion Serena Williams in a fourth-round match then bucked a well-worn trend by avoiding a letdown in her 6-3, 6-3 quarterfinal victory over Kaia Kanepi.
Lisicki, the No. 23 seed and the biggest underachiever of the semifinal field, is the oddsmakers' favorite to win the title, possessing a serve Williams called "massive" and, as such, the perfect game for Wimbledon.
Except that the "Laughing Girl," as the British papers call her, is allergic to grass.
"I sneeze when I'm playing on the grass, but that's just the way it is," she said. "I've learned to handle that. ... Everything was against me liking grass, but at some point, I just turned it around and I love it now."
More daunting was a serious ankle injury in 2010, which required five months of rehab and caused her ranking to drop from No. 23 to 218 in March 2011.
"I had to learn how to walk again, and that made me appreciate every single moment out there a lot more," she said. "That's why I don't let anybody take that away from me."
Radwanska, Lisicki's opponent Thursday and the highest seed remaining at No. 4, is nursing a sore right thigh and has been on the court nearly three hours longer than the other three semifinalists. Last year, she nearly had to pull out of her final with Williams because of a respiratory infection.
Radwanska has had seven quarterfinal finishes in Grand Slams, including this year's Australian and French Opens.
"I was happy to make the third quarterfinal this year, but yes, I've been stopped so many times in the quarterfinals. It's always disappointing because all those matches were pretty close and it was always tight," she said.
Radwanska and Lisicki, who competed as children, are tied 1-1 head-to-head as pros while Bartoli and Flipkens will be meeting for the first time.
"This is great to face someone you know for so many years, playing all these tournaments under 10, 12, 14 and then juniors," Radwanska said. "You know, the time flies, and suddenly we all here playing semifinal of a Grand Slam."