LONDON, June 28 (Reuters) - Fans turning up for the Wimbledon women’s quarter-finals might have been forgiven for feeling a little short-changed by Tuesday’s lineup yet the action served up by some of the sport’s lesser lights was undoubtedly worth the ticket.
It was the first time in 98 years that the last eight had been an all-European affair and with Serena and Venus Williams both knocked out in the fourth round a few of the remaining players were not exactly household names.
Maria Sharapova, Wimbledon champion in 2004, was the only one with a grand slam title to her name and 2007 Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli was the only other player to have reached a final.
Amid the clutch of eastern Europeans still involved were Slovak Dominika Cibulkova and Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, who have earned almost $4 million in prize money between them without ever winning a ranking tournament.
However, for the players involved it was obviously a huge opportunity and, for the most part, they provided rich entertainment.
Of course, had the Williams sisters returned from their lengthy layoffs and gone on to contest the final again there would have been widespread complaints about the lack of quality in the women’s game.
Battling German Sabine Lisicki, who reached the quarter-finals as a 19-year-old in 2009, would probably be something of top name by now had she not missed much of last year through injury and she brought a touch of romance to the tournament when she became only the second wildcard to reach the semi-finals.
She and Bartoli served up a superb match to open proceedings on Centre Court, with the atmosphere cranked up by the rain drumming on the roof as lightning flashed above.
Bartoli saved three match points in the second set as both women traded ferocious groundstrokes but with Lisicki also mixing things up by liberal use of the drop shot.
The packed crowd certainly appreciated the effort and quality they were seeing and provided raucous support to both players.
Bartoli, who gave absolutely everything on each shot, eventually ran out of steam and lost the third set 6-1 but she was quick to defend the state of the women’s game.
“Maybe people outside (of tennis) are just thinking about the names,” she said.
”But I think we showed a very good match today and I don’t really think that because we are not named Serena or Venus Williams it means we don’t know how to play tennis.
”I think everyone really enjoyed that kind of match. I think woman’s tennis just has to get to have more matches like that so people will enjoy to come and watch us. Even though we don’t have some big star names, we still be able to play some good matches.
“I think it all depends on the level of intensity we show up on the court.”
Sharapova certainly showed that as she steamrollered Cibulkova 6-1 6-1 in an hour and though the match was not a contest in any way, it was certainly an exhibition of fabulous hitting by the number five seed and hot favourite.
Czech Petra Kvitova’s clash with Pironkova was a meeting of two of last year’s semi-finalists and though lacking the quality of the Lisicki-Bartoli match, there was drama before Kvitova triumphed in three sets against a woman who arrived at Wimbledon having won only four matches in 14 tournaments this year.
Fourth seed Victoria Azarenka then overpowered Austrian Tamira Paszek in straight sets to set up a last-four clash against Kvitova and with Sharapova taking on Lisicki in the other semi-final there was still plenty of life left in the women’s singles tournament.
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