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July 2, 2013

Down goes Serena in three sets

LONDON — For 34 matches over 41⁄2 months, on hard, clay or grass courts, Serena Williams was unbeaten — and, in the minds of many, unbeatable.

So it was apt, somehow, that the longest winning streak in women’s tennis since 2000 would end at this memorably unpredictable edition of Wimbledon, where up is down, where seedings and pedigree mean nothing whatsoever, where even five-time champion Williams looked lost at the start and, most surprisingly of all, the finish of her fourth-round match.

Stumbling on the Centre Court grass a couple of times while her game slumped in crunch time, the No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Williams dropped the last four games to bow out 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 Monday against 23rd-seeded Sabine Lisicki of Germany.

“Didn’t play the big points good enough,” said Williams, who had won three of the past four Grand Slam titles, including Wimbledon a year ago and the French Open less than a month ago. “I didn’t do what I do best.”

Oddly passive down the stretch, Williams essentially let Lisicki to do what she does best: dictate points quickly with a big serve, powerful returns and pinpoint groundstrokes. If that sounds familiar, it could be because it’s the formula Williams uses to dominate her sport. Except on this breezy afternoon, Lisicki compiled a 10-7 edge in aces, a 35-25 lead in winners, and broke Williams five times.

“Come on, guys, let’s get with it. She’s excellent,” a composed Williams said at her news conference after blowing leads of 3-0 and 4-2 in the third set. “She’s not a pushover.”

Especially at Wimbledon. Her game is built for grass. Lisicki is a mediocre 16-15 at the other three Grand Slam tournaments and 17-4 at the All England Club. She reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2011, and is into her fourth quarterfinal, coincidentally beating the reigning French Open champion every time: Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009, Li Na in 2011, Maria Sharapova in 2012, and Williams in 2013.

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