Women's final is an unexpected treat

LONDON -- It is a women's final that no one expected and yet fulfills all that Wimbledon demands.

A great server against a great returner. One player who seems to relish comebacks, the other a fierce competitor seemingly incapable of wilting. Two exceedingly appealing players, one of whom will win her first Grand Slam title.

Marion Bartoli's mantra has been that she wants to have no regrets when she leaves the court. Sabine Lisicki says she wants nothing more than to be better than her opponent, to be happy when she walks off.

One way or the other, something and someone has to give.

Lisicki, the No. 23 seed, has had a tougher road to the final, famously defeating Serena Williams in the fourth round, and toppling six players ranked among the top 50.

Bartoli, seeded 15th, toiled in a bottom half of the draw that saw the withdrawal of No. 2 Victoria Azarenka and the loss of No. 3 Maria Sharapova -- both in the second round -- and has faced no player seeded higher than No. 17 American Sloane Stephens, and took full advantage of it.

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Sabine Lisicki has used her powerful serve to defeat some of the game's best returners at Wimbledon, and will face another in the final against Marion Bartoli.

As for previous meetings, Lisicki, of Germany, leads head-to-head against France's Bartoli 3-1, but they have split their two meetings on grass -- both at Wimbledon. The previous one, in 2011, was a 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1 Lisicki victory.

But while Lisicki's best result here previously was a semifinal finish, also in 2011, Bartoli is playing in her second Wimbledon final, which she believes could be an advantage.

"I'm feeling less stress than I was for my first final, for sure," Bartoli said. "Hopefully it will help me. But Sabine has played some amazing tennis so far. She might be too good for me tomorrow, as well."

Bartoli lost the 2007 final to Venus Williams 6-4, 6-1, but said she is serving better, moving better, hitting the ball harder.

"I mean, I just do everything a bit better than what I was doing six years ago," she said. "I think if I would play myself now with my game six years ago compared with my game today, I probably would be beating myself quite easily because I'm just doing everything better."

Though Lisicki has been a crowd favorite here after knocking off five-time and defending champion Serena Williams in the fourth round and exhibiting a perpetual smile on court, Bartoli said she was not concerned.

"At the end of the day, she's not British as far as I know, so ...," she said to laughs in the interview room. "I think it will be pretty fair regarding that. I mean, it will really depend on the way I'm playing and if I'm able to put a great level of tennis.

"I think the crowd will just enjoy a great match, hopefully."

All indications are that it will.

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Marion Bartoli said she is a much better player now than when she lost the Wimbledon final to Venus Williams in 2007.

If Lisicki is leading in the match, there is no guarantee she will continue to, as she has shown a propensity for letdowns. But perhaps the worst thing Bartoli can do is take a significant lead.

Against Williams, Lisicki dropped nine straight games through the second set and into the third, trailing 3-0 and 4-2 before winning the last four games of the match.

Against No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, Lisicki dropped eight of nine games that also included the first three games of the third set before outbattling Radwanska to win.

Lisicki, who leads the tournament with 39 aces and has a serve that reached 123 mph, defeated two of the best returners in the game in Williams and Radwanska. Bartoli, too, is a top returner, but unlikely to let her opponent off the hook.

"First of all, it will be a battle of nerves and who is able to come up with the best game on that day," Bartoli said. "But as I've said, a final of a Grand Slam is always a matter of details. Maybe a point here, a point there will make the difference. Maybe someone who is a bit more gutsy than the other player, someone who is having a better day than the others.

"We are very close in terms of level, I believe."

Lisicki's game is ostensibly better suited to grass with her powerful serve and groundstrokes, particularly a forehand that has been compared to countrywoman Steffi Graf's. She leads Bartoli in winners, 201 to 113, but Bartoli has had fewer unforced errors, 89 to 130.

Bartoli, 28, is an aggressive returner who likes to attack the ball early, with flat groundstrokes off a two-handed forehand and backhand, and who relies on landing a high percentage of first serves.

"She plays aggressive tennis, so it will be a totally different game than [the quarterfinals]," said Lisicki, 23. "I had a lot of challenges on my way to the finals with players being aggressive, players who were very solid, moving very well, so it will be another challenge."

Both are highly animated on the court, but neither player's theatrics are likely to throw off the other -- Bartoli practice-swinging between serve returns and hopping up and down between points, and Lisicki playing to the crowd.

"Well, that's just myself," Lisicki said. "I enjoy myself out there. Why shouldn't I show it? I'm an emotional person. It helps me to stay relaxed, enjoy the game and play my best tennis. I won't change anything."

"I've been doing that forever," Bartoli said of her hyperactivity. "I have some tapes of myself when I was 7 years old or 6 years old, and I was still doing the same. It's just part of me. It's just a great way for me to, again, focus on the next point, focus on what I need to do, not thinking about this court, the occasion, the break point, the game point, whatever. Just trying to be ready for what's coming.

"It's not like I want to annoy my opponent. It's really me trying to be ready for the point that is coming out."

Each player has strong ties to her country's tennis heroes, Bartoli leaving her coach and father in February and now being advised by two-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo. Lisicki cherished good-luck texts from Graf and an interview with three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, and even shares Becker's nickname "Boom Boom," though they call Lisicki "Boom Boom Bina" (Bina is her German nickname).

The two also share tight bonds with their families.

Regardless of the ups and downs she has had with her father, Walter, who gave up his medical practice to coach his daughter and stayed away from the tournament until now so as not to make her more nervous, Bartoli made it clear how she feels about him.

"He's coming to the final," she assured reporters. "Don't worry."

For Lisicki, it's all about gratitude for her parents' longtime sacrifice.

"My parents did everything possible to let me play tennis," she said. "That's what I appreciated so much. My dad has worked from 8 in the morning until 9 in the evening to make it possible so I can play. We had to cancel tournaments because we couldn't afford to go there. You know, we'd been driving by car. It's been a big, big challenge.

"So to get to this point means a lot to us."

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