LONDON – Trailing 5-4 in her first Wimbledon quarterfinal, Sloane Stephens already had saved two set points and was about to serve at deuce when a fairly nondescript match became anything but.
Raindrops were falling and Stephens' opponent, 2007 runner-up Marion Bartoli, was trying to persuade a tournament official the Court 1 grass was dangerously slick. Spectators were booing and derisively whistling, angry at the prospect of play being suspended.
Eventually, Bartoli got her way. They stopped. The court was covered. For the ensuing 2˝ hours, no points were played. When they returned, Stephens – the last U.S. singles player at the All England Club this year – was completely out of sorts.
Soon, she was out of the field, dropping a hard-to-believe 19 of her first 20 service points after the rain delay and losing 6-4, 7-5 Tuesday to France's Bartoli, one member of an altogether surprising semifinal quartet.
"I was like, 'Wow, my serve is not happening right now.' I tried a couple different things to kind of get it going. It just never really happened for me," said Stephens, who won the first four games she served, then lost six of seven the rest of the way. "So as I was playing, I was like, 'OK. This is not good.'"
The initial point when play resumed ended with Stephens pushing a backhand long, giving Bartoli her third set point. The next lasted 27 strokes, with Bartoli hitting a drop shot and Stephens responding with a forehand that caught the net tape and bounced wide. Just like that, the opening set was gone.
Stephens, a 20-year-old based in Coral Springs, Fla., never recovered. After Bartoli went up 1-0 in the second set, part of a 10-point run, fans jeered her, and she put her hands near her ears.
"Honestly," she said with a smile later, "it didn't matter much to me."
Asked whether Bartoli was employing gamesmanship by pushing for a delay at such a crucial moment, the 17th-seeded Stephens shrugged her shoulders and replied: "I don't know. I don't know. Who knows?"
The 15th-seeded Bartoli – who grips her racket with two hands off both wings, like her idol, Monica Seles – is seeking her first Grand Slam title.
So are the other women left at the least predictable Wimbledon in memory: fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, 20th-seeded Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, and 23rd-seeded Sabine Lisicki of Germany.
It's the first time in the 45-year Open era that no previous major champion reached the women's semifinals at the All England Club.