It’s a matchup few saw coming when the Wimbledon fortnight began, yet the 2013 women’s Wimbledon Final will feature veteran Marion Bartoli against grass court upset queen Sabine Lisicki on Centre Court Saturday.
Lisicki, who made headlines just four days ago by beating top-ranked Serena Williams in three sets, survived another grueling match against Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 2-6, 9-7 to earn her first trip to a Grand Slam final.
Next up for the 23-year-old grass court specialist is Bartoli, who earned her second trip to a Wimbledon final with a dominating 6-1, 6-2 dusting of Belgian Kirsten Flipkens. Bartoli advanced to the 2007 final at the All England Club before falling short against Venus Williams.
While neither Lisicki nor Bartoli were expected to be here when the 2013 Wimbledon Championships began, both stand on the precipice of perhaps their best opportunity to win a Grand Slam title in their careers.
Certainly for Bartoli, who has had the unfortunate timing of playing in the era of the Williams sisters, it’s a monumental chance for glory perhaps thought out of reach for the 28-year-old, considering the talented women's field.
For Lisicki, it's a terrific opportunity to finally win a slam at Centre Court, the All England Club stadium she has played so well on during this championship.
In what has been one of the most strangest and unpredictable fortnights in recent Wimbledon memory, it’s the perfect final featuring a pair of players trying to reach unexpected and career-defining glory.
In four career head-to-head matches the advantage clearly goes to Lisicki, who has won three of those contests.
In fact, Lisicki has won the past three match ups against Bartoli, including a victory in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Wimbledon Championships. Somewhat surprisingly, the other two triumphs came on clay in the 2009 and 2011 Family Circle Cup in Charleston, S.C.
Despite those setbacks, Bartoli has a reason for her confidence heading into her finals showdown with the powerful German. The Frenchwoman defeated Lisicki in straight sets at the All England Club in 2008 and also managed to take a set off her before losing 6-1 in the third of the 2011 Wimbledon tussle.
There’s no question that Lisicki has the advantage when the two share the court, but with only four matches between them, current form rather than past history will prove the deciding factor on Saturday.
Given that, it should be an outstanding match considering how well the two have played in navigating the draw and avoiding the craziness that has come to define this fortnight of Wimbledon.
Not only has Bartoli been great on the grass at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships, she’s been darn near perfect.
The quirky-but-talented veteran hasn't lost a single set during her march to the finals, including her dominant straight sets triumph over Flipkens in Thursday’s semifinal match.
Hitting two-handed from both sides, Bartoli’s return of serve has been a primary weapon as she’s kept opponents off guard, including Flipkens, who she broke five times in just two sets on Thursday.
Her ground strokes during the fortnight have been powerful and consistent and her court coverage, given her unorthodox two-handed style, has been solid en route to earning her second career trip to the Wimbledon finals.
It’s certainly true that Bartoli’s run through the Wimbledon draw hasn't featured the top talent in the women’s game. However, there’s also no denying just how consistently good her form has been while she’s remained under the radar essentially the entire tournament.
Come Saturday, Bartoli will be a primary figure in the sport’s most prestigious final and could be on the verge of a career-defining victory.
Sabine Lisicki's run through the 2013 Wimbledon Championships has stolen the show at the All England Club, especially in the second week of the fortnight.
Lisicki's week started with that stunning upset against Serena Williams on Monday and grew to even greater heights on Thursday with her thrilling three-set battle with Radwanska.
Along the way the German has displayed a daunting serve, powerful ground strokes and a relentless will that has her on the door step of a career-defining victory.
On Thursday, Lisicki battled nerves and a resilient Radwanska to win 9-7 in the final set to reach her first Grand Slam final. In doing so, the 23-year-old showed the ability to overcome some sketchy play in the middle of the match and remain focused enough to get the victory.
When she's needed it most, her serve has been a key weapon, reaching more than 115 mph several times against Radwanska and keeping each of her opponents at bay in critical moments.
By the same token her strong ground strokes and service return have kept her opponents, including the mighty Williams, pinned deep and playing defensive the majority of the time.
Keeping her focus throughout three-set matches has been an issue for Lisicki this week and is certainly something to watch against Bartoli. However, the rising star enters the final match on quite a run of quality tennis and will be difficult to beat.
Bartoli has simply cruised through her side of the draw, not dropping a single set en route to her second career Wimbledon final.
While that ease has kept Bartoli fresh, one has to wonder how she will respond if, and likely when, the first bit of adversity comes her way on Saturday against the powerful Lisicki.
At 28 years of age and with a deep and talented field of stars around her, Bartoli knows an opportunity to win a slam of this magnitude may not come again.
How she responds when the pressure is applied by Lisicki is going to be a critical factor in whether or not Bartoli earns that coveted Wimbledon title. She badly wants to win this slam but she can’t let that emotion choke her in key moments.
For her part, the biggest unknown of this finals matchup is whether the really good Lisicki can keep the really bad version of herself from showing up in critical moments against Bartoli.
After winning the first set in the fourth round against Serena, the German was dusted in the second set and fell behind early in the third before rallying for the stunning upset. That exact roller coaster ride repeated itself in the semifinals against Radwanska before Lisicki recovered from being down a break in the third set to eventually win 9-7.
If Lisicki pulls the same disappearing act at crucial points of her match against the veteran Bartoli, there’s no guarantee she can recover as she did against Williams and Radwanska.
Bottom line, the player that handles the pressure the best in critical moments on Saturday will have the advantage.
Bartoli holds the experience edge over Lisicki and that could prove to be a big advantage considering the immense amount of pressure involved in a Wimbledon final.
Albeit in a losing effort, Bartoli witnessed first-hand the significant moment of the finals at the All England Club and will have the experience of her loss to Venus Williams in 2007 to draw on.
That said, it will take more than experience to get Bartoli through against the powerful and driven Lisicki.
First and foremost, Bartoli will have to put pressure on the German’s serve with her own strong return game. If Lisicki gets easy points on serve she can conserve energy and settle into the match much easier.
In addition to the return game, Bartoli will have to counter Lisicki’s ground strokes with her own powerful forehand and work to keep her opponent off balance and pinned deep. With that done, Bartoli can straddle the baseline as she likes to do and then come to the net on her terms to end points early.
Given what Lisicki has accomplished during this Wimbledon fortnight, Bartoli will look for a strong start to sap some of the 23-year-old’s confidence and momentum, and to put added pressure on the her first start in a Grand Slam final.
It’s an uphill battle for the veteran, but Bartoli knows this may be the best chance she has to win a Grand Slam title and will be ready for the moment.
If Lisicki can handle the pressure of her first Grand Slam final and maintain her focus all the way through the match, she has every opportunity to claim that elusive Wimbledon championship on Saturday.
As she did against Serena and Radwanska, Lisicki will rely on her powerful serve to counter Bartoli's strong return game and keep her from getting comfortable on Centre Court.
Likewise, Lisicki will depend upon on her powerful ground strokes to keep Bartoli from controlling the points from the baseline and moving her around the court as Radwanska was able to do on Thursday.
It's above the shoulders where the German needs to improve from her past couple matches. Lisicki has been able to survive some moments in which she seems to lose focus and confidence. Repeating that against the experienced and determined Bartoli would certainly be a mistake.
To that end, Lisicki needs to avoid being her own worst enemy and needs to rely on her significant grass court skills to carry her through what should be a very tight match.
Like her opponent, Lisicki understands this is her best chance to win a Grand Slam. The 23-year-old also knows, considering the run she has made and the talented players she has beaten, that this is her title to win.
She's earned the opportunity and now has to earn the title against a talented foe.
Lisicki has accomplished too much during this fortnight at the All England Club to do anything but win her first Wimbledon title on Saturday.
The shocking victory over Serena, the semifinal triumph over a determined Radwanska 9-7 in the third set and all the fine play during the past two weeks is too much to bet against, even with such a strong opponent in Bartoli standing in the way.
Outside of a tense battle with American Sloane Stephens, Bartoli hasn't been tested. She also hasn't yet faced a player with the grass court skill and power that Lisicki brings to the finals on Saturday.
To be sure, even though she's faced the tougher run through the fortnight, Lisicki has really only been challenged by her own inconsistency and at times has been her own worst enemy.
Assuming she keeps the lapses and miscues to a reasonable minimum, her powerful ground strokes and sometimes overwhelming serve will get her all the opportunities needed to distance herself from the veteran Bartoli.
Lisicki will celebrate her first Grand Slam title after a straight sets victory on Centre Court this Saturday.