LONDON – Whether in a match, a set, a game — or even within a single point — Sabine Lisicki cannot be counted out.
Especially at Wimbledon, where she’s a win from becoming a Grand Slam champion.
Fashioning the same sort of comeback she used to eliminate defending titlist Serena Williams at the All England Club, the 23rd-seeded Lisicki reached her first major final by edging No. 4 Agnieska Radwanska of Poland 6-4, 2-6, 9-7 in a compelling back-and-forth match Thursday.
“I just fought with all my heart,” said Lisicki, who twice was two points from losing to Radwanska, the 2012 runner-up. “I believed that I could still win no matter what the score was.”
On Saturday, Lisicki will face 15th-seeded Marion Bartoli, who took a nap on a locker-room couch before heading out to Centre Court and earning a berth in her second Wimbledon final with a 6-1, 6-2 win over No. 20 Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium.
It’s only the second time in the 45-year Open era that two women who have never won a Grand Slam will play for the title at the grass-court tournament.
Germany’s Lisicki and France’s Bartoli also form the second-lowest seeded women to meet in the final.
In 2007, Bartoli was No. 18 when she lost to No. 23 Venus Williams.
“In the beginning of the tournament, no one, I think, (expected) those names in the semis or in the final,” Radwanska said.
In 11 of the past 13 years, one Williams sister or the other, and sometimes both, reached the final at the All England Club. This year, five-time champion Venus sat out because of a back injury, while five-time champion Serena’s 34-match winning streak ended with a loss to Lisicki in Monday’s fourth round.
In that match, Lisicki won the first set, dropped nine straight games to trail 3-0 in the third, and took the last four games.
In the semifinals, Lisicki won the first set, dropped 9 of 11 games to fall behind 3-0 in the third, and turned it around.
“I thought, ‘I’ve done it against Serena, so you can do it today as well. Just hang in there,’” Lisicki said. “It gave me so much confidence.”
Some of that derives from a more daunting recovery. In 2010, she badly injured her left ankle and missed five months.
Not only did she fall outside the top 150, but Lisicki said her rehabilitation felt like a course in how to use that leg.
“I can still remember when the doctor told me that I have to be on crutches the next six weeks. I was like, ‘OK, when can I get back?’ That was my first question,” Lisicki said. “That period made me such a much stronger person and I know anything is possible after learning how to walk again.”
She cited inspiration drawn from two injured athletes in other sports, NFL quarterback Drew Brees and Alpine ski racer Hermann Maier.
Brees tore his throwing shoulder in the last game of the 2005 regular season and needed a complicated operation. Let go by the San Diego Chargers, he signed with the New Orleans Saints and led them to the Super Bowl title in 2010. Maier, who won two Olympic gold medals and four overall World Cup titles, nearly lost his right leg — and his life — in a 2001 motorcycle accident. Sidelined for two years, he won the World Cup in 2004.
Lisicki’s formula against Radwanska was the same she used while beating major champions Francesca Schiavone in the first round, Sam Stosur in the third and Williams: powerful serves, stinging returns and an uncanny ability to get to balls that seem out of reach. Lisicki smacked serves at up to 122 mph, including nine aces, and hit eight return winners.
Her game is built for grass. She is 19-4 at Wimbledon, 16-15 at the other three majors. She’s 8-2 in three-setters at Wimbledon, 5-9 at the other Slams.
Bartoli also has been most successful at what many players consider tennis’ most prestigious site. Her career winning percentage at Wimbledon is .730; it’s .586 at the other Slams. She is 2-0 in Wimbledon semifinals, 0-1 elsewhere.
“I had to play, I don’t know, 500 percent, I think, to beat Marion today. She was just too good,” said Flipkens. “I tried my slices. She didn’t have any problem with that. I tried the drop shot. She got it. I tried a lob. I tried everything, actually.”