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Beating the Top Players - The Difficult Next Step

Sabine Lisicki’s victory over Serena Williams at Wimbledon yesterday saw her odds slashed for both her quarter-final match against Kaia Kanepi and for the overall Wimbledon title – indeed, she is now the favourite to lift the title with most major bookmakers.

However, the pressure generated by beating one of the top players in such a manner is tough for players that are not used to it to bear. We have already seen this fortnight a number of players who have meekly exited after a major shock.

Sabine Lisicki
Sabine Lisicki has been under the spotlight since her win over Serena Williams

Steve Darcis was unable to participate in his second round match after beating Rafael Nadal on Tuesday, while Sergiy Stakhovsky and Dustin Brown both crashed out on Friday after their big victories over Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt respectively. On the ladies side, Michelle Larcher de Brito was unable to follow up her big win over Maria Sharapova as she lost to Karin Knapp in straight sets. Last year, Lukas Rosol was unable to back up his big win over Rafael Nadal as he lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber in straight sets.

Especially at a Grand Slam, the media attention that comes in the 24 hours after a major upset like this is unlike anything these players have ever experienced. Every media outlet wants an interview and so much time is taken up with these duties that it impacts on their ability to adequately prepare for their next match.
So, looking back at the record of all the players that have beaten a top name player over the last few years, do the figures back up this observation?

Starting on the men’s side, of all the players to have beaten Novak Djokovic since the start of 2011 when he really ascended to the elite level, only five of them have gone onto win their next match. Arguably we can exclude Roger Federer from this as those wins were not huge upsets and he is more than used to the attention. He has two wins over Djokovic backed up with another win, leaving us just three players – Tommy Haas, Sam Querrey and Michael Llodra. Tommy Haas is a former world number two and a four-time Grand Slam semi-finalist, so has experience of the pressure that comes with being in the spotlight.
Both the other two wins from Querrey and Michael Llodra came in Paris at the end of the season. Not wanting to take anything away from these results, the Paris tournament always throws up upsets, so while not exactly expected, they are far from the big surprise.

Moving onto Roger Federer, since the start of 2012, only Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells this year and Julien Benneteau in Rotterdam have beaten the Swiss and won their next match. Again, we can arguably exclude Nadal from this. The victory from Julien Benneteau is a particular standout though.

In 2011, there were three players that beat Federer and won their next match – Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet. All of these are top players, established in the top 10 in the world.
With Rafael Nadal, although he has missed plenty of time with injury, there are only two players that have beaten him since 2011 that have won their next match – Roger Federer at Indian Wells last year and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Queen’s in 2011.

It is interesting to note that no unexpected player has beaten any of these three players at a Grand Slam tournament and backed it up with a victory in the next round.

Moving onto the ladies, the cost of a victory over one of the big 3 is significant. Since the beginning of 2010, there are only two ladies that have beaten Serena Williams and backed it up with another victory – Angelique Kerber in Cincinnati last year and Sam Stosur at the French Open in 2010. That is an extraordinary record given the three-and-a-half year time period.

Since her rise to the top at the start of last year, only two players have beaten Victoria Azarenka and backed it up – Serena Williams, who we can exclude for obvious reasons, and Ekaterina Makarova in Madrid this year.

The final member of the big 3 is Maria Sharapova. Since the start of last year, only Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber have beaten her and won their next match. If we go back a further year to the start of 2011, we can add Li Na, Caroline Wozniacki, Flavia Pennetta and Greta Arn to this list. Greta Arn is the clear standout, but this came in a relatively minor tournament in Auckland. Indeed, just Li Na and Flavia Pennetta have beaten Sharapova in a Grand Slam and backed it up in the next round.

Flavia Pennetta
Flavia Pennetta is one of the few to have beaten a top name and backed it up
in the next match

Combining all of these six players, outside of each other, the only players to have beaten one of these in a Grand Slam, where the media attention is at its peak, and won their next match are Sam Stosur and Li Na, of course a Grand Slam champions themselves, and Flavia Pennetta.

So, all this suggests that Sabine Lisicki faces a real challenge tomorrow against Kaia Kanepi. Indeed, Lisicki’s history at Wimbledon highlights the danger. She now has the incredible record of having beaten the reigning French Open champion in her last four appearances at Wimbledon. Last year, she beat Maria Sharapova and lost against Angelique Kerber in the next round.

Sabine Lisicki is quite rightly the favourite, but the pressure on her will be extraordinary. She has been the focus of the media for the past 24 hours, but must now attempt to concentrate on Kaia Kanepi.

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