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Tennis

Serena's loss was shocking, but not completely unexpected

Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Serena Williams hasn't made it past the fourth round in four of the five Grand Slams in which Venus Williams hasn't started.

WIMBLEDON, England -- Five thoughts after still another astonishing upset at Wimble-geddon -- um, Wimbledon -- as Sabine Lisicki beat Serena Williams 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 in the fourth round Monday to end the five-time champion's 34-match winning streak.

This was a sizable upset, but it doesn't get the ALL CAPS treatment we gave to Rafael Nadal's or Roger Federer's upsets last week. Williams entered the tournament as the overwhelming favorite, but Lisicki is one of the few players with the capacity to beat her. The German, seeded No. 23, plays her best on the grass and might have the best serve in the women's game after Williams. At her practice Sunday, Williams devoted half her time simply to returning serves. Her instincts were right; Lisicki won point after point with aces, service winners or easy forehands on the first ball. After playing close to perfect in the first set, Lisicki dropped off in the second. Then, she played courageously in the third and prevailed for the biggest win of her career.

"I just was fighting for every single point no matter what was happening out there," Lisicki said. "Serena's a very tough player. That's why she is No. 1 in the world. I'm just so glad that I could pull off the win."

NGUYEN: Analysis, stats, quotes and more from Serena's loss

Williams wasn't surprised that Lisicki played so well.

"I don't think it's a huge shock," Williams said of the outcome. "She is a great player. Her ranking has no effect on what she should be. She should be ranked higher. She just has a super, super game to play well on grass."

On par with the theme of Wimbledon 2013, what a weird match. Lisicki started this match brimming with confidence. As a friend put it, "She looks like Boris." Boris Becker, that is, which is to say, a hard-serving German who looks thoroughly comfortable on the grass. Hier ist mein Haus! She won the first set by serving thunderbolts and taking advantage of slipshod play from Williams.

After dropping her first set of the tournament, Williams -- as she so often does -- seemed to toggle a switch. She began dialing in her serves and blasting away, punctuating her winners with cries of "Come on." In barely the time it takes to swig a cup of Earl Grey at teatime, she won the second set and was up 3-0 in the third, winning nine consecutive games.

The media were just about prepared to put a bow on the match and compliment both players -- good first set, Lisicki! Nice comeback, Serena! -- when their levels switched places again. Williams missed a series of balls, including an overhead shank befitting a club player, and Liscki stopped missing. At 4-4, Williams played a shaky service game, fighting against any aggressive instinct. As the coaches say, she played not to lose. Lisicki took a deep breath, overcame a few nerves and served it out. Ballgame.

"I definitely had my opportunities and I didn't take them," Williams said. "I definitely feel like I would try [to be aggressive] at some points, then maybe I backed off a little bit at some points. I just have to know that going forward, if I want to be successful, I'm never going to do it backing off. I have to play the game I can play. For me, that's being more aggressive."

Pity, Serena. Williams will surely recall this event as one that got away. She is -- or was -- the defending Wimbledon champion and just came off a victory at the French Open. While other top seeds dropped one by one, she made it through the first week in top form; with Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka out, the title was nearly hers to take. Then it all fell apart.

This remains in line with her other recent big losses. At Grand Slams since 2012, Williams has lost to Ekaterina Makarova, Virginie Razzano and Sloane Stephens, none of whom was a top 20 seed. Their average rankings when playing Williams: 55. If you're going to get to Williams, get to her early.

Quick stats. If you wonder whether this match was won by Lisicki or lost by Williams, look at the stats. Lisicki lost only three fewer points than Williams, served more aces (10-7), won 14 of her 16 net approaches and hit 10 more winners (against only two more errors) than Serena. Repeat: Lisicki had 10 more winners (35-25) than her opponent, who is generally regarded as the most potent ball striker in the history of the women's game.

Also, consider this: Three times before Monday, Lisicki had beaten the reigning French Open champion at Wimbledon -- Svetlana Kuznetsova, Li Na and Sharapova. The winner of the 2013 French Open? Serena Williams.

Someone has to win this event. Brackets haven't simply been busted here; they're now mocking us. Predicting matches has been a fool's errand. Still, they will be providing a trophy this weekend. The best bet to win it for the women? Who knows? Stephens won Monday to reach her first Wimbledon quarterfinal, where she'll face 2007 finalist Marion Bartoli. Petra Kvitova is a past champion. But if Lisicki can come close to replicating the level of play she showed against Williams, she will be even bigger news on Centre Court again in five days.

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