After playing so well, so often, at this year's first two major tournaments, Li Na's run at Wimbledon came to an early end.
Only 2 1/2 weeks after giving China its first Grand Slam singles championship at the French Open, and five months after being the runner-up at the Australian Open, Li was knocked out in the second round at the All England Club on Thursday, the grass-court tournament's biggest upset so far.
The third-seeded Li wasted two match points and succumbed to the speedy serving of wild-card entry Sabine Lisicki of Germany in a 3-6, 6-4, 8-6 loss. Lisicki hit 17 aces, including one at 124 mph, which the WTA said is the fastest serve by a woman all season.
"I mean, [from] the first point 'til the end of the match, every serve was, like, around 117 miles [per hour]," said Li, 14-1 in Grand Slam play in 2011 before Thursday. "I mean, this is impossible for the women."
Elsewhere, Serena Williams again was pushed to three sets before winning, then complained a bit about having to play on Court 2 instead of Centre Court or Court 1; Roger Federer overwhelmed his opponent in straight sets, then basked in a standing ovation after playing under the retractable roof at the main stadium for the first time; and two-time French Open runner-up Robin Soderling came back after losing the first two sets to beat 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt, 6-7 (5), 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.
Li appeared headed to the third round, too. Leading by 5-3 in the third set, she was a point away from victory while Lisicki served at 15-40. But Lisicki got out of that jam this way: 122 mph service winner, 123 mph service winner, 124 mph ace, 122 mph ace.
"Obviously, a good serve is important, but also, you have to use it well," the 62nd-ranked Lisicki said. "And I think I'm serving quite smart, as well. So it definitely helped me today."
Talk about an understatement.
Thanks to that serve, Lisicki is no stranger to success on grass, reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2009 and winning a tune-up tournament this month at Birmingham, England; she's won 12 of her last 13 matches on the slick surface.
But she missed five months last year because of a left ankle injury, temporarily dropping out of the top 200 in the rankings.
"Oh, it's been terrible. I mean, I really, literally, had no muscles in my left calf after seven weeks on crutches. So I had to start to learn how to walk again," the 21-year-old Lisicki said. "It's been a very, very long road back, and tough road back. But that makes those moments right now sweeter."
Lisicki's return game was good, too, and she broke twice when Li served for the match, at 5-4 and 6-5.
Li became an instant star in China with her French Open title; more than 100 million people in the nation of 1 billion watched that final on TV. Li may not have been kidding when she asked reporters at Wimbledon not to write that she'd be flying home now, so there might be a chance to have some private time with her husband.
Even though her Grand Slam triumph came so recently, Li already could sense a change on court -- not in herself, but in other players.
"I didn't feel different. I didn't feel, like, pressure. I mean, [the] only change is, right now, opponents see you different," she said. "Everyone [who plays] against you, they feeling nothing to lose. So they can play [their] best tennis."
By the looks of things so far, Williams is going to face a true test every time she takes the court this year at Wimbledon, which she has won four times.
She was forced to a third set for the fourth consecutive match since returning to the tour after nearly a year away because of a series of health scares. And while she eventually seized control to beat Simona Halep of Romania, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, it's clear that Williams is still working her way into shape.
"I definitely feel like I started slow," said Williams, who wondered aloud afterward why she and her sister Venus each had to play on Court 2, while top men like Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Andy Murray have been on one of the two principal courts for all of their matches this week.
"I got a little tight out there," Williams added, "and I just need to relax."
Tournament spokesman Johnny Perkins said there was no intentional snub, noting that several factors go into scheduling decisions, including TV broadcasting considerations, where players stand in the draw, and what ticket-buyers want to see.
"I don't think it's anything deliberate, clearly," Perkins said.