- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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WIMBLEDON, England -- Rory McIlroy, sporting a pink tie in the royal box, stood and applauded Sabine Lisicki. Did he know the 21-year-old German's backstory? Did he know they shared an eerily similar rising-from-the-ashes trajectory in majors this year?
McIlroy famously blew a four-shot lead at the Masters earlier this year, then came back to take a wire-to-wire victory in the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, shooting a record 16-under par and winning by eight strokes.
Lisicki? She had led No. 3 seed Vera Zvonareva 5-4 in the third set at the French Open earlier this year, then collapsed in a mess of tears and leg cramps and was carried off the court on a stretcher. Tuesday, she gagged again in the second set of the Wimbledon quarterfinals, blowing a 5-4 lead against Marion Bartoli. Lisicki whiffed on three match points, lost in a tiebreaker and another appearance by the medics seemed inevitable.
But this time Lisicki rallied against the determined Bartoli, finishing emphatically 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1.
"I don't know what to say," Lisicki said in her BBC postmatch interview, giggling. "I am so speechless.
"I was very disappointed with myself at 5-4 because I missed so easily. I didn't just go for it. But I felt I was the better player and knew I had to focus and fight again in the third set."
As a result, Germany has its first women's Wimbledon semifinalist since Steffi Graf landed in the final four a dozen years ago. Lisicki, who once had dinner with Graf and her husband, Andre Agassi, in their Las Vegas home, will play Maria Sharapova on Thursday.
In 11 previous Grand Slams, Lisicki had truly distinguished herself only once -- when she reached the quarterfinals here at the All England Club as a 19-year-old. But last year at Indian Wells, she suffered a left ankle injury that sidelined her for five months. After seven weeks on crutches, her calf muscles were wasted and she had to reteach herself to walk.
Progress was slow until she found herself back on the grass she loves so much. Two weeks ago at Birmingham, she won the second title of her career. And now, after running the table here as a wild card, she has a perfect 11-0 singles record on grass this year.
Lisicki's varied game suggests she can contend here for a while. Not only did she hit one serve 121 miles per hour (Andy Murray's average first-serve speed Monday), but her drop shots and lobs consistently befuddled Bartoli, who looked exhausted in the third set.
"My mind was trying extremely hard, but just my body couldn't do anything anymore," Bartoli explained later. "I play a lot of matches, a lot of long matches. At the end, I couldn't anymore."
Lisicki entered the tournament as the WTA's No. 62-ranked player. Now she's projected to be the top-25 player she was two years ago.
"I cannot explain how I feel at the moment," she said. "It was such a tough road. To stand on Centre Court at Wimbledon … I'm just so happy."
A wounded Rafa will come out swinging: The look on his face was reminiscent of that pained -- almost scared -- expression when his right knee forced him to retire at last year's Australian Open. Nadal clutched his left heel during his fourth-round match with Juan Martin del Potro on Monday, and you sensed it was bad. Certainly, Rafa thought so. If you listened in on his conversation with the doctor and trainer during an injury timeout, you would have thought his campaign to win a third Wimbledon title was over. Not to worry. Through the miracle of Facebook, Rafa calmed fears with a post that read, in part: "Yesterday after the match I went to take an MRI at a London hospital. During the match I thought I had something serious but as the match went through the pain got better and thankfully the tests don't show an injury. Today I will practice at 4.30 p.m. and I'll play tomorrow." Rafa, who plays Mardy Fish in a Wednesday quarterfinal match, has won 18 straight matches at the All England Club.
Sharapova has the look of a champion -- again: It's rare to see a one-hour match in the quarterfinals of a major, but that's what happened Tuesday. Maria Sharapova, holding a height advantage of nearly a foot, wrecked Dominika Cibulkova 6-1, 6-1 in 60 minutes to advance to a semifinal against Lisicki. "This is a great chance for me to take it a step further," Sharapova said. Six ESPN.com prognosticators (including yours truly) chose Sharapova as their winner.
The men's side is as predictable as … rain at Wimbledon: It has never happened in the 44 years of the Open era, but it could happen Wednesday. The top four seeds have yet to advance to a major semifinal in back-to-back Grand Slam events, but No. 1 Rafael Nadal, No. 2 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Roger Federer and No. 4 Andy Murray are favored to do just that. At the French, Nadal and Federer made it to the final, beating Murray and Djokovic, respectively, to get there. For the record, in 1985 Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Mats Wilander made the semifinals at the French and U.S. Opens. The last time it happened at Wimbledon? Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic did it 16 years ago.
Active parenting power rankings: 1. Arsalan Rezai. His daughter Aravane has filed a lawsuit against her father, charging him with extortion and alleging "intentional violence and death threats." He is banned from WTA events. 2. Dr. Walter Bartoli. He and his wife Sophie were banished by their daughter Marion from Court 12 during her third-round match. She played considerably better while they watched on television in the players' lounge. 3. Judy Murray. Her tweets that prattle on about Feliciano "Deliciano" Lopez are distressing to her son Andy. "It's making me sick," he said. "It's disgusting."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Just a year ago, Sabine Lisicki had to learn to walk again. Now she's flying into the Wimbledon semifinals.