INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Flavia Pennetta and Sabine Lisicki put on a dazzling display at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday night, but in the end there could only be one winner and Lisicki was the one who came through, taking the defending champion out in a grueling two-hour, 40-minute thriller.
Perhaps surprisingly given the number of years they had been on the tour, this was a first-time meeting, and it was Lisicki who came out just a little bit stronger, capturing the first set, 6-4, and then rallying from 3-1 down to go up 5-4 in the second set, even bringing up a match point that game.
With her title on the line Pennetta wasn't about to go quietly like that, though, and she put together one of the best points of the match to fight off the match point, ripping a series of crosscourt backhands into Lisicki's backhand corner and then, after getting the short ball, nailing a forehand down the line just inside the line for a winner. She would go on to squeak out the second set in a tie-break.
The two held tightly to their service games throughout the third set but it was Pennetta who drew first blood, bringing up three match points with Lisicki serving at 4-5. But the No.24-seeded German fought them all off - one with a huge serve, one with a huge forehand and the other with another serve - and in the end she edged the No.15-seeded Italian in another breaker to clinch it, 6-4, 6-7(3), 7-6(4).
Lisicki hit a whopping 44 winners in the match and served her fifth and final ace on match point.
"It's unbelievable," Lisicki said in her on-court interview straight after the match. "It's such a great feeling to be part of such a great match. She saved a match point with an unbelievable backhand - I could not have done much different there. And then I saved three match points in the third set.
"It was just an unbelievable feeling to play in front of all of you," she added for the fans.
Lisicki's run to the semifinals in Indian Wells isn't just a surprise given her record on the season coming in - she was 1-6 - but the German had never even won a match at this tournament before.
This is also the biggest semifinal of the German's career outside of her two trips to the semifinals or better at Wimbledon (she was a semifinalist there in 2011 and a runner-up there in 2013).
Jankovic leads Lisicki in their head-to-head series, 4-1, but all four of Jankovic's wins went to three sets while Lisicki's only win was in straight sets (in the early rounds of Stuttgart back in 2013).