Maria Sharapova celebrates after defeating Sabine Lisicki in the Wimbledon semifinal.
When the Williams sisters and world number one Caroline Wozniacki were all eliminated from Wimbledon on the same day, the prevailing opinion was that fifth-seed Maria Sharapova was the one poised to benefit the most, her path to a second title at the All England Club now clear of major obstacles.
But despite a straightforward two-set semifinal victory of unseeded Sabine Lisicki of Germany, Sharapova also showed chinks in her armour that her opponent in the final, eighth-seed Petra Kvitova, who beat Victoria Azarenka earlier in the day, could exploit much better than Lisicki.
Sharapova fell to 0-3 at the start of the first set, dropping serve with a string of double faults and unforced errors, but quickly recovered to win six of the next seven games and take the set. In the second, she was far from dominant, but was bailed out by her big serve to win 6-3.
The Russian, a champion at Wimbledon in 2004 and one of only two winners not named Williams in the past 11 years, finished the match with 13 double faults (against Lisicki's four) and 18 unforced errors to the German's 14. She also hit fewer winners, but was better at hitting them at the right time and converting her first serve into points.
While that was enough against Lisicki, ranked 62nd in the world before Wimbledon, it might not be enough for big-serving Kvitova, who dispatched fourth-seed Azarenka in three sets, dominating proceedings for much of the match.
Azarenka briefly looked a match for Kvitova's powerful backhand in the second set, but could not maintain that level in the third, losing 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.
A losing semifinalist in 2010, Kvitova has improved her game over the past year, breaking into the WTA Tour's top 10 and winning three tournaments in that span. At Wimbledon this year, her powerful left-handed serve has left most opponents without an answer and the Czech only dropped two sets on her way to the final.
While Sharapova has the advantage of experience, should she commit the same number of errors in the final as she did against Lisicki, Kvitova could well be the first Czech to emulate the success of her childhood Martina Navratilova on the grass courts of the All England Club.