Worst-case scenario for Sharapova

WIMBLEDON, England -- Middle Monday is universally acknowledged as the greatest day in Grand Slam tennis. All of the round-of-16 matches are played (weather permitting), showcasing the best and brightest athletes the sport has to offer.

It is a day of celebration -- unless you are a member of the All England Club and your top seeds are treading water on a damp, drizzly day.

This was the worst-case scenario that had those nattily attired fellows, not to mention the heavily invested broadcast partners, terrified early Monday afternoon. There was a queasy, sweaty-palms moment when it looked as if three leading ladies were going to crash out in the fourth round.

Four-time champion Serena Williams was in a nasty three-set clash with Yaroslava Shvedova; defending champion Petra Kvitova lost her first set to Francesca Schiavone; and No. 1 seed Maria Sharapova was getting whipped by Sabine Lisicki.

As it turned out, Williams came up with her second straight late escape, winning 6-1, 2-6, 7-5, and Kvitova came back from a break down in the second set to hammer Schiavone 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Sharapova, the French Open champion, was not so lucky. Lisicki, motivated by the prospect of revenge, blew the bookmakers' favorite off the court 6-4, 6-3. Last year in the semifinals, Sharapova beat her by the identical score.

Lisicki, who giggled at several junctures of the second set, fell to her knees in tears after firing a cheeky second-serve ace for the match. Was she laughing or crying after beating Sharapova for the first time in her career?

"I think both at the same," the No. 15 seed said afterward. "It's just unbelievable."

Certainly the Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki, who was watching from Lisicki's box, would agree.

Lisicki's biggest asset -- a serve that is bigger than some of the men's offerings -- gives her an advantage at Wimbledon, but there is more to her game than that.

"She stays really low," Sharapova said. "She's a strong girl. She hits the ball really hard. If you don't get a good first ball on her, I mean, she likes to be the aggressive one and likes to start the point with a really heavy shot."

Lisicki has now beaten three French Open champions at Wimbledon: Svetlana Kuznetsova (2009), Li Na (last year) and Sharapova.

"I guess they shouldn't be in my part of the draw," Lisicki said.

In the spirit of this gloomy day, four-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters was knocked out by Angelique Kerber 6-1, 6-1.

The women's game, which has seen six straight different major champions, remains unsettled at the top. Monday's victory by Victoria Azarenka guarantees that Sharapova will lose the No. 1 ranking. There is actually a scenario by which Agnieszka Radwanska -- who has never reached a Grand Slam singles semifinal -- could be the top-ranked WTA player.

Though the heavy artillery is alive in the bottom half of the draw, the top will produce a first-time Grand Slam finalist.

"At the end of the day, the reason we start at the first round is you have to go through all those opponents to get to the final stage of a tournament, whether it's a Grand Slam or the middle of nowhere," Sharapova said. "It could be the No. 1 seed against someone that's, you know, come out of the woods. It doesn't matter. You still have to go and play and win.

"On any given day, of course, there can be an upset. That's the sport. That's why we watch."

Venus Williams was watching on Court No. 2 on Monday when her sister was struggling. There were times when her hands were clasped and eyes closed in prayer mode.

When Shvedova had back-to-back double faults serving at 5-all in the third set, the match swung to Serena's favor.

Kvitova came back from a break down in the second set to reel in Schiavone. That set up Tuesday's marquee quarterfinal between Kvitova and Williams. The Czech Republic player has lost both of her previous matches with Serena.

"I think it will be huge match for both of us, and I'm looking forward to playing against her," Kvitova said. "Looking forward to have a challenge. She is a great champion. I will try my best, and we will see."