Sometimes you watch a match and you think "no one deserves to lose." Watching world number 1 Dinara Safina and Sabine Lisicki playing their Wimbledon quarterfinal today, all I could think was "no one deserves to win." This was a messy affair, with each player bringing her collapsible nerves onto the court, along with a bag of racquets and strings. Safina double-faulted 15 times, including three times in a row when she up 40-0 in the sixth game of the third set. For her part, Lisicki--once again--saw her estimable forehand go astray over and over.
The unseeded Lisicki went up a break early in the first set, but--serving for the set at 5-4 and obviously tense, she double-faulted, went down 0-40, and was soon broken. The set went to a tiebreak, during which Lisicki double-faulted again. She had an easy put-away on her second set point, and missed it. But then Safina double-faulted, giving Lisicki her third set point, which she converted to a set victory.
In the second set, down 3-5, , Lisicki had a break point against her, but held. Safina served for the set, starting with--you guessed it--a double fault. At 30-all, there was an intense 21-shot rally, which Lisicki won. But then she slipped on a bare patch before striking a ball, and failed to break. Safina went on to win the set at 6-4, on her second set point.
Safina broke early in the third set, and Lisicki's serves suddenly lost their sting. Down 1-4, she called for a trainer because of a right calf strain. Safina managed to win the game in which she double-faulted three times in a row, and she went on to win the set, 6-1.
Safina's 15 double faults were all the more glaring because she did not hit any aces. Lisicki double-faulted a half dozen times and hit 12 aces. She made only four more unforced errors than Safina, and hit 10 more winners. Clearly, the reality of playing in a quarterfinal match on Centre Court had an effect on the German player, but so did her level of fitness. In her post-match interview, Lisicki said she thought that physical fitness was what made the difference, and--considering that her opponent was as mentally shaky as she was--she is probably right. You don't see Safina getting a calf strain or a thigh strain in a third set.
Lisicki would be wise to make fitness a goal for the rest of the season. But even with her third set problems today, it is obvious that she has what it takes to be a top player. As for Safina--her mental fitness continues to need work.