Rain stopped play — even pigeon feathers stopped play — but there was no stopping Serena Williams or Sabine Lisicki as they fought their way through to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. Nor, indeed, Roger Federer who overcame a stiff back to beat Belgium’s Xavier Malisse 7-6(1), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.
Williams defeated the player who achieved the rare Golden Set, Yaroslava Shevdova, 6-1, 2-6, 7-5 out on Court 2 and had almost as much trouble with the jostling fans afterwards as with a rapidly improving opponent who had become only the second player in the living memory to win a set without dropping a point when she did so against Sara Errani in the previous round.
But it was Lisicki, the ever-cheerful German, who created the biggest shock in the women’s singles so far by outplaying No. 1 seed Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-3. Lisicki, who had returned to her Florida home to get some good practice in between Paris and London, produced a devastating performance of big serving – always her trademark – and, more surprisingly, power-packed service returns that had the tall Russian lunging in vain for some contact with the ball.
"Certainly I had chances, I just didn’t take them," Sharapova said. "But I think a lot of credit goes to my opponent. She played extremely well today and did many things better than I did on this given day. You just have to hand it to her."
Lisicki was a semifinalist here last year, returning after a long layoff with an ankle injury, and she talked about her affinity for the grass surface.
"I think on grass you have to have a good serve and that’s what I have," she said. "It gives a great advantage. I like to be aggressive in general so I think that’s why grass suits me well. And the atmosphere here at Wimbledon is just amazing. All the traditions make me feel very comfortable here."
The defeat has put Sharapova’s No. 1 ranking in jeopardy and has ensured that there will be a new finalist here on Saturday as there is no one left in the top half of the draw who has made it that far.
Lisicki will now play fellow German Angelique Kerber, who ended Kim Clijsters’ Wimbledon career by beating the former US Open and Australian Open champion with stunning ease 6-1, 6-1 while No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska defeated the newest of the promising Italians, 20-year-old Miami resident Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-3. The other quarterfinalist is Russian Maria Kirilenko, who has always promised more than she has delivered and had never got past the third round here in eight previous attempts. She scrambled a 6-1, 6-7(8), 6-3 victory over China’s Shuai Peng.
The bottom half is different. Williams will play the defending champion Petra Kvitova following the Czech’s 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 defeat of Francesca Schiavone in one of the early matches that was interrupted by rain. And in a disappointing duel between two former world No. 1’s, Victoria Azarenka made short work of Ana Ivanovic on Centre Court 6-1, 6-0 despite the fact that she had helped ball boys pick up some pigeon feathers that had floated down onto the court.
Azarenka will now play Austria’s 5-foot-5 Tamira Paszek who overcame the 21st-seeded Italian Roberta Vinci 6-2, 6-2.
Serena finished in the rain but didn’t seem to mind. "I didn’t think it was that wet," she said, "I never felt like I was going to slip. I didn’t know other matches had stopped. I’m glad we didn’t."
She might not have felt like she was going to slip but she was certainly not in complete control of her feet as she pulled off one of the shots of the tournament – a brilliant cross-court lob played as she was in the act of falling backwards that left Shvedova stranded.
"I had no intention of hitting that shot," Serena said. "I mean, I thought I was going for a backhand down the line and somehow it ended up being a cross-court lob. That was not in the plans, whatsoever!"
Generally, Serena was not satisfied. "I just felt I was sluggish out there, just pulling myself together mentally. I feel I can do a lot better, which is comforting because if this is my best, I’m in trouble."
Federer gave his fans a scare when he went off court for treatment early in the first set of his match against Malisse. When he returned, the usual spring in his step was missing and he looked as if he was not swinging through his serve. However, he was in pretty good shape by the time he got to the tie break, which he dominated with his usual panache to take it 7-1. Malisse, who was a semifinalist here in 2002, was playing well and fought back to take the third set, but Federer was never going to let this one slip away and finished in full command.
"I guess a mix of the five-setter in the last round, two days off and the cold wind today," Federer said, answering questions about his back. "But honestly I’m not too worried. I’ve had bad backs over the years. They go as quick as they come. But, look, today I thought it was extremely difficult for Xavier. I did apologize to him after the match. I know how hard it is playing someone that is injured."