Lisicki beats Sharapova at Wimbledon

LONDON — Sabine Lisicki, with all of one-10th of Maria Sharapova’s career earnings and roughly 99 percent less of her fame and Q factor, smiled amid the perpetual drizzle Monday afternoon at Wimbledon and ultimately laughed to a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Sharapova in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon.

The German-born Lisicki, 22, brought down Sharapova less than a month after the 6-foot-2-inch Russian Rockette won the French Open for a fourth Grand Slam title that helped her regain her No. 1 world ranking. But faced with Lisicki’s fluid, hard serves and flat and fiery and penetrating ground strokes, Sharapova and her trademark screams faded faster than a hiccup in a tropical storm.

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Hurricane Sabine simply blew her away.

“I just love playing tennis and I love being out there,’’ said Lisicki after the Round 4 triumph about her ever-present smile, which she flashed even on the rare points won by the far more serious, at times dour, Sharapova. “I love being out there, especially at my favorite tournament.’’

After erasing Sharapova in the first set, Lisicki returned even stronger after a rain delay, breaking the tournament’s No. 1 seed early to move to a 3-0 lead, then holding serve in the fifth game to make it 5-1.

“I felt very good, even in the start of the first set,’’ said Lisicki, never a winner here, though a runner-up in last year’s women’s doubles with Samantha Stosur. “I felt like I am hitting the balls very clean. When I took the first set, it obviously gives you another lift — more confidence — and as soon as I got the break in the second set I knew I’m going to take it home.’’

Sharapova, 25, had her gargantuan career break here in 2004 when, at age 17, she rubbed out the heavily favored Serena Williams to win the singles title. Now one of the best-known faces in the game, she has more than $21 million in career earnings and lucrative commercial endorsements, despite her career sputtering slightly three years ago because of a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery.

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Born to Polish parents, Lisicki, with some $2.2 million in career earnings, has never won a Slam event, her best showings in showcase events coming here in ’09, when she made it to the quarters, and in ’11, when she was bounced in the semis. Grass is by far her best surface and Wimbledon’s green lawn is rapidly becoming her preferred field of dreams.

“She’s always had that potential,’’ said Sharapova, her game decidedly lacking the verve and vigor it had last month in Paris. “Obviously, she did really well here last year, getting to the semifinals. If she stays at this level, of course she belongs at the top. If she serves as well as she did today, and is as aggressive as she was . . . there’s no doubt she has a lot of potential.’’

In the eighth game of the second set, with Sharapova serving at 2-5, Lisicki was at her smiling best. Sharapova moved to a 15-0 lead on a second serve that looked wide, with Lisicki left frozen, exaggeratedly flashing her teeth as if expecting someone else to challenge the call. Instead, she let it ride.

Two points later, Sharapova moved to 40-0, and this time Lisicki called for a review. The shot was good, just by a hair, causing Lisicki to smile even wider. Nothing but blue skies here in SW 19, no matter the gray clouds and the spit that wouldn’t quit.

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In the ninth and final game, Sharapova fought off a pair of match points, Lisicki seeming intent on letting her opponent back in the match by committing unforced errors. Then, on the third match point, following a failed first serve, Lisicki put it away by ripping an ace right down the middle. For just an instant, the smile melted away, Lisicki fell to her knees, dropped her racket, and covered her face with both hands.

“I just have fun out there,’’ she said. “There’s nothing to be mad about.’’

► Hall to investigate Hewitt. A1

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