Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sports

Stephens' loss sets up surprising semis

LONDON — Trailing 5-4 in her first Wimbledon quarterfinal, Sloane Stephens already had saved two set points and was about to serve at deuce when a fairly nondescript match became anything but.

Raindrops were falling and Stephens' opponent, 2007 runner­up Marion Bartoli, was trying to persuade a tournament official the Court 1 grass was dangerously slick. Spectators were booing and derisively whistling, angry at the prospect of play being suspended.

Eventually, Bartoli got her way. They stopped. The court was covered. When they returned 2½ hours later, Stephens — the last U.S. singles player at the All England Club — was completely out of sorts. Soon, she was out of the field, dropping a hard-to-believe 19 of her first 20 service points after the rain delay and losing 6-4, 7-5 Tuesday to France's Bartoli, one member of an altogether surprising semifinal quartet.

"I was like, 'Wow, my serve is not happening right now.' I tried a couple different things to kind of get it going. It just never really happened for me," said Stephens, who won the first four games she served, then lost six of seven the rest of the way. "So as I was playing, I was like, 'Okay. This is not good.' "

The initial point when play resumed ended with Stephens pushing a backhand long, giving Bartoli her third set point. The next lasted 27 strokes, with Bartoli hitting a drop shot and Stephens responding with a forehand that caught the net tape and bounced wide. Just like that, the opening set was gone.

The 17th-seeded Stephens, 20, never recovered. After Bartoli went up 1-0 in the second set, part of a 10-point run, fans jeered her, and she put her hands near her ears.

"Honestly," she said with a smile later, "it didn't matter much to me."

The 15th-seeded Bartoli is seeking her first Grand Slam title. So are the other women left at the least predictable Wimbledon in memory: fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, 20th-seeded Kirsten Flipkens and 23rd-seeded Sabine Lisicki. It's the first time in the 45-year Open era that no previous major champion reached the women's semifinals at the All England Club.

"Very unexpected," Bartoli said, summing up this crop of semifinalists and this entire tournament, "but that's also the magic of it."

On Thursday, Bartoli faces Flipkens, and Radwanska faces Lisicki. Bartoli is the only one who hasn't lost a set — and she's also the only one who hasn't faced a past major champion.

Lisicki beat three along the way, most stunningly 16-time Grand Slam titlist Serena Williams in the fourth round Monday then followed that by eliminating 46th-ranked Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals.

Flipkens, who missed two months last season because of blood clots in her leg, continued her climb back from outside the top 250 in the rankings by winning her first major quarterfinal, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 over 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. Radwanska, who lost last year's Wimbledon final to Williams, got past Li Na 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-2.

"Now I'm just more relaxed. … Semifinal — it's already (a) great result," Radwanska said. "I will just go on court and try my best again, without that big pressure."

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