THE hoodoo which has turned this summer’s Wimbledon into one of the most unpredictable and riveting in living memory yesterday claimed its latest victim after Serena Williams, the reigning queen of the women’s game, was unceremoniously dethroned.
A capacity crowd on centre court was left shocked after the five-time champion of SW19 was defeated by unheralded German Sabine Lisicki in one of the biggest upsets the tournament has ever seen.
On a day when Andy Murray emerged from a fraught encounter with Russian Mikhail Youzhny to secure his place in the quarter-finals, the tennis world was left reeling as yet another illustrious name was sent home early from the All-England Club.
Williams, who until yesterday had enjoyed a 34 game winning streak, became the third superstar to tumble out of the competition so far after both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer succumbed to unlikely defeats in the first week. Paying tribute to her opponent’s ability on grass, the 31-year-old insisted her loss was “not a shock” but few in the game agreed with her.
The so-called “Wimbledon wobble” which has characterised the 2013 event to date briefly threatened to undermine Murray’s tilt at glory, with the world number two forced through a gruelling second set and injury scare before staging a spirited recovery to ultimately triumph in straight sets.
The Scot will once again fly the flag alone for Britain after a faltering performance in the fourth-round by Laura Robson dashed hopes that she would join a two-pronged assault towards the closing stages.
Some members of a capacity crowd on centre court had started queuing as early as Friday for tickets to a schedule of play dubbed Magic Monday. Many more gathered on Murray Mound – at one point renamed Robson Green – in the July sunshine in expectation of straightforward British victories.
Many wore cowboy hats decorated with the Union flag, while a hearty band of Murray fans wore Saltires and messages of support. One enterprising fan even thought to mention both British players with a slogan on his T-shirt which read: “Laura will you Murray me?”
Watching on from the Royal Box was a host of international sporting talent past and present, including rower Sir Matt Pinsent, and golfers Jack Nicklaus, Ian Poulter, Paul McGinley and Ernie Els. Murray’s mother, Judy, also took her place to watch the game.
However, the early defeat of Williams led to a tense atmosphere, with a partisan crowd famed for its roar, at times silenced by the fear that Murray might follow her out the door.
When the reigning US Open champion took to centre court shortly before 3:30pm, proceedings remained largely subdued, and the nerves of onlookers did not fully abate until he began to dominate in the third and final set.
After what he described as a “tough” match, Murray insisted that he was taking nothing for granted, explaining: “Serena Williams lost today, she doesn’t lose particularly often. Roger lost and Rafa lost. All these guys and girls are better players than me and have achieved a lot more than me so if they can lose, so can I.”
Earlier, Robson was left close to tears after losing to Estonian Kaia Kanepi, despite some spirited play at times. On occasion, she shouted as her temper deserted her, and in the end, was both overpowered by her opponent and overwhelmed by the occasion.
Afterwards, the 19-year-old conceded that the expectation had proved too much in her quest to become the first British female quarter finalist since Jo Durie in 1984.
“I think I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and at the end of the first set I had my chances,” she reflected. “At that point I was willing myself to play unbelievable tennis when just serving would have been fine. I know it’s a cliché but it’s all part of the experience.”