Saturday, July 06, 2013

2013 WIMBLEDON: Women's Final Preview

Sabine Lisicki (GER) [23] vs. Marion Bartoli (FRA) [15]
The players are set for the 2013 women's final at the Wimbledon Championships. Last year correctly predicted Serena Williams would defeat Agnieska Radwanska in the Women's Final and I also correctly predicted Roger Federer would defeat Andy Murray in the Mens Final. This year I correctly predicted 2 of 2 women's semifinals and and the 2 of 2 men's semifinals. What follows is my analysis of this year's women's final between Sabine Lisicki and Marion Bartoli.

How They Got Here: Women's Semifinals Review
Sabine Lisicki (GER) [23] d. Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) [4] 6-4 2-6 9-7. Somewhat surprisingly, this was the best match of the tournament so far, which is something I didn't think we would be saying after Lisicki's astonishing 6-2 1-6 6-4 termination of Serena William's winning streak in the Round of 16. Many people expected that Radwanska's "bag of tricks" would be too much for the somewhat one-dimensional "Big Babe" playing style of Lisicki, who is known as Boom-Boom for her big serve and forehand. Radwanska doesn't force a win in her matches, she forces her opponents to go for too much so that they lose the match. This is a brilliant strategy in a game which is built around the mathematics of the zero sum: every point your opponent loses is a point that you win. No one embodies that central rule of tennis into their game like the World #4. Lisicki loves to play on grass and on Centre Court especially. All of her best results (really, all of her major results) have occurred at Wimbledon. But Radwanska loves this tournament too, since she reached her first major final here last year

The book on Lisicki is that she can play strongly for periods of time, but that eventually she will go off and that's where your opponent has their chance. Serena thought that's what had happened when she was up 3-0 in the third set and surely Radwanska must have thought the same thing when she was in the same position. The only person at Wimbledon who thought that Lisicki would be able to complete another comeback from such a deficit was Lisicki herself, and she did it. But then Radwanska refused to buckle and the two went deep into the deciding set, past 4-all, to 5-all, 6-all and even 7-all. Radwanska was then broken in the 15th game of the third set after some hard hitting returns and a volley error by the Pole. Boom-Boom did a better job of serving for the match on her second opportunity (she had done so at 5-4 but was only one point on serve that time), going up quickly to 40-0 to triple match point and after blowing one she was able to finish it off with a clear winner on the return of service return. She becomes the first German player to reach a grand slam final since Fraulein Forehand herself, Stefanie Graf did, in 1999. (It should be noted, Graf lost that final to Lindsay Davenport).

Marion Bartoli (FRA) [15] d. Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) [20] 6-1 6-2. This match turned out to more of a mismatch, as Bartoli came out with a determined game plan to absolutely crunch ever service return and Flipkens' backhand slice did not prevent the Frenchwoman from pounding the ball into the corners on both wings. Clearly the Belgian did not play her best tennis, seemingly a bit overwhelmed by the occasion, but Bartoli saw her opportunity, grabbed it by the throat and throttled it viciously, reaching only her 2nd major final in 6 years, the longest gap since her countrywoman (and part-time "advisor") Amelie Mauresmo took 7 years between reaching the Australian Open finals in 1999 (l. Martina Hingis) and 2006 (d. Justin Henin). Could the second time be as charmed for this Frenchwoman?

What Will Happen: Women's Final Preview
Sabine Lisicki (GER) [23] vs. Marion Bartoli (FRA) [15]. Mentally you have to give the edge to Bartoli because she has reached the final of Wimbledon before and she has to be less mentally tired having a much easier run to the final (the Frenchwoman has not dropped a set!) compared to Lisicki who had two emotionally draining victories against Serena in the 4th round and Radwanska in the 6th round. I think Bartoli's apparently large mental edge is countered somewhat by the Lisicki's inherent belief that she is destined to win Wimbledon. From the beginning of the tournament she has been telling the press that she knows it takes seven matches to win the tournament, even though she embraces her reputation as a Giantkiller who can put together a great match against any one in the draw. Clearly the bookmakers agree, since they have made the German the betting favorite ever since she eliminated the defending champion from the draw

Physically you have to give the edge to Lisicki, primarily because she is in better shape than Bartoli and because she is a better mover, especially on grass. Bartoli plays with two hands on both sides, a la Monica Seles which gives her balanced power on both sides at the expense of reach. She also has surprisingly good hands and can generate spins whenever she wants, which is something Lisicki is not known for. The German is fond of her drop shots, and I expect she will be deploying that fairly often to exploit the deficits in movement of her opponent. But Bartoli is in much better shape than she was when she got to the final in 2007 and is faster than she looks. On the forehand side, Lisicki is clearly superior but on the backhand side Bartoli has the edge, and her edge on the backhand side is bigger than Lisicki's on the forehand side. The serve you have to also give to Lisicki, both  her first and second serve are better than Bartoli, but "The Genius" has shown us that she can produce brilliant serving before, most notably when she took out the defending Wimbledon champion Serena Williams in 2011. (It should be noted that the very next round she played Lisicki and lost a tough 3-set quarterfinal, getting blown out in the 3rd set.) 

In their career head-to-head Lisicki leads 3-1, although the two have split their two meeting here at Wimbledon on grass, with Lisicki winning their last meeting in 2011 and Bartoli winning their first in 2008 when both players were very different players. This is a pretty hard match to call, but just as the Li-Radwanska and Lisicki-Radwanska matches, I have to go with the power over control, with the better athlete. (I was wrong in the first example, but vindicated in the second.) I have been told that it is likely that this match will be first-strike tennis, with lots of short points. If this does happen, it would greatly favor Bartoli, and she could win in two lopsided sets (especially if Lisicki is overwhelmed by the occasion.) But I think that Lisicki can scramble enough to complicate things for Bartoli fairly often, and with good serving on Lisiki's end, more of the scoreboard pressure will be on Bartoli, who may also have more pressure because she wants it too much. At age 28 she knows how rare these opportunities arise in a career. That being said, it is a great day for women's tennis when a new Grand Slam champion is crowned and regardless of who wins tomorrow will be a great day.


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