The last American competing at Wimbledon, Sloane Stephens, was eliminated… (Julian Finney / Getty Images )
WIMBLEDON, England — The abnormal has become the new normal at Wimbledon, where one of the women's semifinalists was playing too poorly a year ago to compete here and the lone remaining past champion was eliminated Tuesday in the quarterfinals
"Tennis, it's kind of a crazy game," 15th-seeded Marion Bartoli said after defeating American Sloane Stephens, 6-4, 7-5, in a rain-delayed match to advance to Thursday's semifinals.
"But that's also the magic of it."
There was far more craziness than magic Tuesday in the quarterfinals, producing a final four so unlikely one of them couldn't grasp it.
Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, who has one career tournament win to her credit at age 27, upset No. 8 seed and 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, on Centre Court to set up a semifinal against Bartoli on Thursday. Kvitova, who later said she was weakened by a virus, saved two match points Tuesday before Flipkens served an ace that withstood a challenge.
Flipkens' stunner continued the string of surprises that began last week with the early exits of Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka and continued with No. 1 Serena Williams' loss in the round of 16. It also stood out as a shining moment in a career stalled by injuries and frustration as recently as a year ago, when she wasn't invited to the pre-Wimbledon qualifying tournament.
"I was ranked 262. Today I'm a semifinalist in a Grand Slam," said the 20th-seeded Flipkens, who trains with four-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters "It's a dream — more than a dream — coming true. There are no words."
No. 23 Sabine Lisicki of Germany, playing less than 24 hours after she conquered Williams, maintained her strong serve and solid composure in a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. Lisicki's semifinal opponent will be No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who prevailed over persistent sixth-seeded Li Na of China, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-2.
"I think the bigger pressure is in the first week," Radwanska said. "The quarterfinal is the minimum for everyone, especially when you are seeded."
Bartoli, who lost to Venus Williams in the 2007 Wimbledon final and is making her 11th consecutive appearance at Wimbledon, gave the 20-year-old Stephens a lesson in perseverance. Bartoli might also have delivered a tutorial on gamesmanship.
Gray skies had spit rain a few times during the match between Lisicki and Kanepi on Court 1, and the precipitation intensified to fat drops as Bartoli and the 17th-seeded Stephens followed and got deep into their first set. Each held service through the first nine games, though Bartoli had to save two break points to take that 5-4 lead. Bartoli had two set points in the 10th game but Stephens, moving well and adjusting to Bartoli's fierce, two-handed forehand, fought them off.
The game had gone to deuce for the second time with Stephens serving when Bartoli began to talk to match officials and slid her foot along the grass, as if to illustrate how perilous the surface had become. She wouldn't continue, ignoring the boos of fans who wanted to see more tennis. After a consultation among the officials, the court was covered and play was suspended.
The match resumed 21/2 hours later and took on a different tone as Bartoli broke Stephens' suddenly erratic serve to win the set. Stephens returned well, but they combined for seven consecutive service breaks and Bartoli got the eighth to win the match.
The delay was a turning point, but it's a matter of debate as to whether Bartoli acted out of a concern for safety or to get into Stephens' head.
"I was feeling the courts were getting very slippery," Bartoli said, quashing suggestions she had tried a psychological ploy against a less-experienced opponent.
Stephens, who has trained for more than five years at the U.S. Tennis Assn.'s training center in Carson, tried to sidestep a controversy when asked if Bartoli had engaged in gamesmanship.
"I don't know. Who knows?" she said.
Anyone who watched Stephens progress this season and reach the Australian Open semifinals before making her run here as the last American hopeful knows she earned her place, and more. "To get where you want to go you have to work really hard," she said, acknowledging disappointment that her service game let her down but vowing to learn from it.
"You have to do everything that it takes to get to where you want to be. I've had some ups and downs but I think overall I've been pretty consistent. I'm happy with that."
As well she should be, on a day that was anything but normal.