Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lisicki ousts defending champ in BNP thriller

Sabine Lisicki reacts after saving three match
points in a 6-4, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4) victory over Flavia
Pennetta in the quarterfinals at Indian Wells.
Photo by Paul Bauman
    INDIAN WELLS -- Sabine Lisicki and Flavia Pennetta seemed like unlikely candidates to produce a classic today in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open.
   Sure, Lisicki reached the 2013 Wimbledon final at 23 years old, losing to Marion Bartoli.
   And, yes, Pennetta won last year's BNP for the biggest title of her career.
   But this was their first career meeting, Lisicki was 1-6 this year entering the BNP, and she hadn't won a match in the tournament in seven years.
   Meanwhile, Pennetta had broken down in tears during her three-set victory over second-seeded Maria Sharapova in the previous round.
   Still, Lisicki and Pennetta played the match of the tournament, with Lisicki prevailing 6-4, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4) in 2 hours, 40 minutes. Pennetta saved a match point serving at 4-5 in the second set, and Lisicki survived three match points on her serve at 4-5 in the third set.
   "It was great to be part of a match like that," gushed Lisicki, a German seeded 24th.
   Pennetta, a 33-year-old Italian, expressed mixed feelings afterward.
   "I think it was a really good match," said the 15th seed. "We played really well the third set both, and was a good fight until the last point. Everything happened tonight. Match point for one, match points for the other one.
   "Sport is like this. Tennis is like this. I'm happy about the match, but of course I am upset, because when you are there, you want to win it."
   Pennetta showed no signs of the emotional turmoil that overwhelmed her after the first set of her 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Sharapova, a two-time Indian Wells champion.
   "In that match, I just pass the point where you have to (let) everything out," said Pennetta, who never specified what troubled her. "Today, I was perfect in the court and ready to do the match and ready to fight, and I think I did that." 
Lisicki prepares to hit her powerful fore-
hand. Photo by Paul Bauman
   The match in 16,100-seat Stadium 1 began slowly with numerous errors and service breaks, but it picked up dramatically when Pennetta served 4-5 in the second set. From then on, the players engaged in many breathtaking rallies featuring laser groundstrokes.
   On match point against Pennetta, she missed her first serve. Lisicki pounced on the second delivery, but Pennetta kept the ball in play and won the point with a forehand passing shot down the line after a tremendous rally. 
   The crowd grew in the third set as the afternoon match extended into the night session. When Lisicki ripped a forehand cross-court passing shot after making several incredible gets, the fans gave her a standing ovation.
   "It's always great to play in front of a full crowd," Lisicki said. "That's what I play for. That's the best thing that can happen."
   Lisicki, who set the record for the fastest women's serve (131 mph or 210.8 kph) in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford last summer, escaped the match points against her with a 117-mph (188.3-kph) service winner down the middle, a forehand cross-court passing shot set up by a strong serve, and a 111-mph (178.6-kph) service winner down the middle.
   "I just stepped up to the line and believed in my serve," Lisicki said of the three points.
   After Lisicki aced Pennetta with a slice out wide to end the thriller, she dropped to her knees and put her head in her hands. And after embracing Pennetta at the net and shaking hands with the chair umpire, Lisicki again put her head in her hands.
   Who could blame her, especially the way her year had gone?
   "I had a tough start to the season losing three close three-setters in a row," Lisicki said. "Even my preseason was good, and we had a feeling we were doing the right things off the court, working hard.
   "Somehow, it didn't pay off yet, but we kept working. I have a great team behind me. They kept telling me that I'm doing the right things and that they believed it will pay off. It's nice to see that it's starting to pay off finally."
Pennetta saved a match point while serving
at 4-5 in the second set. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Lisicki will face 18th-seeded Jelena Jankovic of Serbia in Friday night's first semifinal. Top-ranked Serena Williams, returning to the tournament after a 14-year boycott, then will meet No. 3 Simona Halep of Romania.
   Jankovic, a former world No. 1 who won the BNP title in 2010, defeated qualifier Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine 6-1, 4-1, retired (ankle). Tsurenko had beaten three seeds in a row, including seventh-ranked Eugenie Bouchard and No. 10 Andrea Petkovic for the first top-10 wins of her career.   
   On the men's side, half of a potential "Big Four" semifinals is set.
   Top-ranked Novak Djokovic advanced when 32nd-seeded Bernard Tomic of Australia withdrew with a lower-back injury and infected wisdom tooth. No. 4 Murray improved to 10-0 against No. 12 Feliciano Lopez with a 6-3, 6-4 victory.
   In Friday afternoon's men's quarterfinals, second-seeded Roger Federer will meet No. 9 Tomas Berdych, and No. 3 Rafael Nadal will take on No. 6 Milos Raonic.
   In tonight's men's doubles quarterfinals, eighth-seeded Jack Sock of Tampa, Fla., and Vasek Pospisil of Canada ended the two-year reign of top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan, 6-4, 6-4.
   It was a rematch of last year's Wimbledon final, also won by Sock and Pospisil. However, they fell to the Bryans one month later in the Cincinnati final. 
    The Bryans will play for the California Dream, Sacramento's new franchise in World TeamTennis, this summer.

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