London: Sabine Lisicki became the first German woman since 1999 to reach a Grand Slam final when she beat Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 2-6, 9-7 in a thrilling Wimbledon semi-final on Thursday night.
The 24th seed Lisicki will face France’s 15th-seeded Marion Bartoli, the 2007 runner-up, in Saturday’s title match, looking to become Germany’s first champion at a major since Steffi Graf beat Martina Hingis to claim the 1999 French Open. Graf was also the last German to reach a final at a major, when she was runner-up to Lindsay Davenport at Wimbledon that same year.
But 23-year-old Lisicki, the smiling darling of the All England Club crowd, did it the hard way. She was a set and a break ahead before an astonishing collapse put her 0-3 down in the decider with errors flying off both sides.
But Lisicki, who put out five-time champion Serena Williams in the fourth round, mounted an astonishing and memorable fightback against a player who made the semi-final having spent three hours more on court.
She finished with nine aces and 60 winners, which compensated for the 46 unforced errors she sent down, a worthwhile price for her all-out assault.
“It’s unbelievable. The last few games were so exciting. We were both fighting and it was a real battle,” said Lisicki, who had received a ‘good luck’ text from Graf ahead of the match.
“Even when I was down 3-0 in the final set, I still believed that I could win, no matter what the score was.”
Lisicki, who was a semi-finalist in 2011, grabbed the first break to lead 4-3 when a groundstroke clipped the top of the net just enough to throw Radwanska off balance, whose hesitant forehand dropped wide.
The 23-year-old German fired down a 119mph ace to hold for 5-3, but Radwanska, with both thighs heavily strapped, put the onus onto her opponent to serve out the set with a solid hold in the ninth game.
Lisicki saved a break point before taking the opener when Radwanska pushed a backhand service return wide.
The German was a break to the good in the first game of the second set but Radwanska, the runner-up to Serena last year, hit back for 1-1.
Suddenly, Lisicki, the girl who has smiled her way through the tournament, was looking decidedly grim as Radwanska broke again to lead 3-1.
In a roller-coaster of a set, the German regathered her composure to come back at 2-3 before a fifth break in the sixth game handed the initiative back to Radwanska for a 4-2 lead.
The fourth-seeded Radwanska held for a crucial 5-2 advantage and levelled the semi-final when Lisicki fired her 17th error of the second set.
Radwanska was quickly 3-0 up in the decider thanks to having bagged nine games in 10 and breaking the Lisicki serve five times in succession.
But Lisicki, who had been 2-4 down in the third set against Williams, hit back to 3-3, broke for 5-4 before Radwanska repaid the favour for 5-5.
It was the German who held her nerve when it mattered, taking the match after two hours and 18 minutes with a booming forehand winner.