Well – who saw that coming?
It would be fair to admit that, at the beginning of the tournament, The Sportist didn’t give much hope to this afternoon’s finalists. Yes, Marion Bartoli retained a certain degree of primacy in our minds having blasted her unorthodox way to the grass court slam final six years ago, but in truth the draw – and time in an increasingly youthful women’s tour – seemed to be against her. As for 23rd seed Sabine Lisicki, we’ll admit her name had the flicker of ‘quarter final and probably no further’ about it, despite a previous semi-final appearance at SW19 already being under her career belt.
But both players have emphatically defied expectations; and both are here firmly on merit. Yet their respective paths to today’s final could hardly have been more different. Where Lisicki has smashed, smiled, wept and overthrown her way through the draw, Bartoli’s progress has come somewhat under the radar, almost until the moment she took on pantomime villain status in arguing (correctly) that the playing surface had become unsafe in her quarter-final against American hopeful Sloane Stephens. Where Lisicki has charmed and wooed the Wimbledon crowds with her utterly infectious joy of the game, Bartoli has simply played her game, utilised her astonishing double-handed ground strokes and finds herself back in a Grand Slam final for only the second time in her career; the last, of course, her power-laden defeat to Venus Williams here at Wimbledon in 2007.
What should we expect?
In some ways, this could be the perfect final. Two contrasting styles, two players with powerful weaponry in their arsenal allied to a bewitchingly unexpected variation, two individuals who will approach the match with only a single Grand Slam final between them; this is, quite simply, a journey into uncharted territory. And while the head-to-head record favours Lisicki by 3 to 1, Bartoli’s understanding of the peculiar pressures that comes with a Wimbledon final may swing expectations back to an even barometer. Frankly, for the neutral, who could look for anything better?
This is the final of the unheralded. A final to once-and-for-all demonstrate the openness, sheer all-round competitiveness and the core of utter unpredictability that sits at the heart of women’s tennis. A final which will give us a new grand slam winner; the debutant crowd favourite, or the redeemed beaten finalist whose moment in the sun seemed to have passed her by.
And if we had to make a prediction? Frankly, given our track record this tournament, we’d prefer not to. So we’ll stick to a few things that we hope for: 3 sets; at least 1 tie break; blistering rallies; breathtaking invention; and, at the end of it, a grand slam winner who will have earned her place among the Wimbledon pantheon.
Image from TVNZ.co.nz – thanks!