LONDON — Serena Williams joined a growing list of marquee names eliminated early at this wild and unpredictable Wimbledon.
The defending champion and five-time Wimbledon winner failed to close out a see-saw third set Monday, dropping the last four games to Sabine Lisicki of Germany and losing 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 in the fourth round. The result ended Williams’ career-best 34-match winning streak.
It was the latest in a string of improbable exits to jolt the tournament, with defending champion Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal knocked out in the first three days along with Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.
“I probably couldn’t be more disappointed,” Williams said. “I think I may have backed off of a success. I was playing something successful. I didn’t continue that path. The result didn’t go the way it could have gone had I continued to play the way I did in the second set.”
Her loss left top-ranked Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Andy Murray as the only pre-tournament favorites still standing.
Those two stayed on course for a meeting in the final by winning in straight sets on Centre Court. Djokovic ousted German veteran Tommy Haas after Murray beat Mikhail Youzhny of Russia. Neither player has dropped a set en route to the quarters.
Williams hadn’t either before this match. But after dropping the first against Lisicki, she won nine straight games to lead 3-0 in the third. The players then traded breaks to give Williams a 4-2 lead, but the American couldn’t win another game despite having four break points at 4-3.
Lisicki converted her second match point with a forehand winner.
“I’m still shaking,” Lisicki said in a post-match interview, covering her face with her hands to wipe away tears. “I’m just so happy.”
Williams said her serve — usually her main weapon — let her down in the third set.
“I felt that I was on the verge of winning,” she said. “At that point I just was physically unable to hold serve. ... You have to be ready and willing to hold your serve. I wasn’t willing or able, probably didn’t even want to hold my serve today.”
Lisicki reached the semifinals at the All England Club in 2011 but this will rank as her biggest victory at the grass-court Grand Slam. She has eliminated the reigning French Open champion the last four times she played Wimbledon, having missed the tournament in 2010. She ousted Sharapova in the fourth round last year.
Djokovic reached his 17th straight Grand Slam quarterfinal by beating Haas 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4). He failed to serve out the match at 5-3 in the third and wasted a match point in the next game before closing out the tiebreaker with a forehand winner on his fourth match point.
“I think that I’m playing really, really good tennis at this moment,” Djokovic said. “Maybe even better than back in 2011 when I won this tournament.”
Djokovic moved on to No. 7 Tomas Berdych, who reached his first Wimbledon quarterfinal since he was the runner-up in 2010 by beating Bernard Tomic 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4. Berdych beat Djokovic in the semifinals that year.
Djokovic’s quarterfinal streak is the third longest behind Roger Federer’s 36 and Jimmy Connors’ 27. Federer’s string ended with last week’s loss in the second round.
Murray, facing the ever-increasing pressure to become the first British man since 1936 to win Wimbledon, was in trouble in the second set. He trailed 5-2 against Youzhny, who was a 2012 Wimbledon quarterfinalist, but broke back when the Russian served for the set at 5-4. Then, down 5-3 in the tiebreaker, Murray took the set’s last four points. He broke immediately in the third, and cruised from there to set up a match with Fernando Verdasco of Spain.
Murray is the only British player left in the tournament, after Laura Robson lost. She couldn’t recover from her missed chances in the first set and fell 7-6 (5), 7-5 to Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, failing to become the first British woman in the quarters of any Grand Slam since 1984.
Robson, the first British woman to reach the second week at Wimbledon since 1998, squandered a chance for a headline matchup with Williams. Instead, Kanepi will face Lisicki in the quarterfinals.
Former champion Petra Kvitova, last year’s runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 4 David Ferrer all avoided upsets to advance, as did sixth-seeded Li Na of China.
Juan Martin del Potro, playing with his left knee heavily taped after a scary fall in the previous round, beat Andreas Seppi 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-3. He said his knee was “really painful” and he hopes it will be better by the time he plays Ferrer on Wednesday. Ferrer overcame another slow start to beat Ivan Dodig of Croatia 6-7 (3), 7-6 (6), 6-1, 6-1.
Despite Williams’ loss, there’s still an American woman in the quarters after Sloane Stephens beat 19-year-old Monica Puig of Puerto Rico 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.
On a busy day at Wimbledon with every round-of-16 match to be played, Kvitova was the first to reach the last eight, beating Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 7-6 (5), 6-3. She will play Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, who reached her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal by ousting Flavia Pennetta of Italy 7-6 (2), 6-3 — a year after her ranking plummeted to 262nd because of injuries.
Poland will send two men into the quarterfinals for the first time after 24th-seeded Jerzy Janowicz and 130th-ranked Lukasz Kubot each won five-set matches.
The big-serving Janowicz outlasted Jurgen Melzer 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, while Kubot defeated Adrian Mannarino 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. They’ll play each other Wednesday with the winner becoming the country’s first male Grand Slam semifinalist.
In other matchups, Li faces Radwanska, and Stephens plays 2007 finalist Marion Bartoli.
On one of Poland’s best days on the tennis court, one of Poland’s best players gave a shout-out to none other than ... America’s Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.
Hard to blame Janowicz for that.
Truth is, apart from Wojtek Fibak, a wily doubles foe of John McEnroe’s who made three Grand Slam singles quarterfinals in 1980, there aren’t many luminaries to choose from on the list of Poland’s greatest men’s tennis stars.
“Yeah, it’s unbelievable what’s going on right now,” Janowicz said after beating Jurgen Melzer 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 at Wimbledon on Monday to become Poland’s first men’s Grand Slam quarterfinalist since Fibek.
Janowicz’s next opponent: That would be Lukasz Kubot, whose five-set win over Adrian Mannarino ended minutes after Janowicz’s victory, thus making him Poland’s second men’s Grand Slam quarterfinalist in 33 years.
Kubot celebrated by walking to the far end of the service line, then doing his own version of the can-can, high-stepping it across the court before falling into the arms of his coach and friends in the stands.
“My (coaches) told me that every time I’m going to play on the big courts, the big tournaments, big events, I should do the can-can after a win,” Kubot said. “So I’ve had no other chances and I had to do it.”
Janowicz, the 22-year-old who said he grew up wanting to be like Sampras and Agassi, will meet Kubot on Wednesday and the winner will become Poland’s first men’s Grand Slam semifinalist.
Keeping an eye on that one will be Agnieszka Radwanska, also from Poland, who won her own match, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 over Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, to move to the quarterfinals and cap a great day for her country.
“They really have nothing to lose,” Radwanska said. “For sure that will be very good match.”
When Serena Williams lost, fourth-seeded Radwanska became the highest-seeded player left in an upset-strewn women’s draw. She was a finalist here last year, so seeing her this far along in the tournament isn’t such a surprise.
(Quick stat: Poland has three of the final 16 singles spots at Wimbledon this week. The United States? One: Sloane Stephens.)
The men are a different story.
Though Janowicz vaulted nearly 200 spots in the rankings when he made the finals at the 2012 Paris Masters — “I gave answer to this question about 58 times,’” he said when asked how that changed his life — this is only his fifth Grand Slam tournament. At 6-foot-8, he’s advancing with the help of a serve that has topped out at 140 mph, the fastest of the tournament so far.
In his win over Melzer, Janowicz was hardly acting like a newbie, bickering with the umpire, at one point complaining after a call on the baseline: “The ball was so out. It’s only one line! It’s not complicated! One line!”
Afterward, he griped about the condition of Court 12, saying he slipped four times during his 3 hour, 12 minute match.
“I think this Court 12 is unplayable,” he said. “Was really bad conditions today.”
Kubot’s court assignment for his match against Mannarino was even less plum.
They played on Court 14 — a court near a busy walkway that more fans breeze past than pay attention to. The match all the makings of a typical Monday showdown at the All England Club. The first Monday, that is, not the second.
Couldn’t blame the schedulers for that.
Mannarino was ranked 111 and Kubot 130.
Kubot’s career record before Monday’s match was 90-106 and he hadn’t been past the round of 16 in any tournament this year.
But things are changing quickly. After getting a walkover over Steve Darcis, the man who beat Rafael Nadal in the first round, Kubot won in straight sets over 25th-seeded Benoit Paire. He had 26 aces against Mannarino — 10 more than his big-serving countryman had in his five-setter — including 11 in the fifth set.
The 31-year-old Kubot said playing doubles, where he’s enjoyed more consistent success, has put him on the court with a lot of the best players and prepared him for something like this.
“So I didn’t feel surprised,” he said of the feelings of being in a big match.
Next up, a meeting with Janowicz, his Davis Cup teammate who, back in 2006, was approached by the Qatari government, asking if he’d play for that oil-rich country.
“I actually said, straightaway, ‘No,’” Janowicz said.
Why not? “Because.”
Turns out, playing for Poland has served him quite well.
“You should go to Poland and see what’s going to happen,” Kubot said. “I think that tennis is getting very popular in Poland, and I’m happy and proud we can represent our country in these kinds of tournaments.”