By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - The leading ladies have exited stage left but the understudies kept this most volatile of Wimbledon scripts bubbling along on Tuesday to ensure a new name will be engraved on the trophy come Saturday.
Emerging from a quarter-final line-up featuring women from eight different nations and with just two grand slam titles between them were Sabine Lisicki, Agnieszka Radwanska, Marion Bartoli and, most surprising of all, Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.
Lisicki beat unseeded Estonian Kaia Kanepi 6-3 6-3 to prove that Monday's shock victory over red-hot favorite Serena Williams was no flash in the pan.
Fourth seed Radwanska, last year's runner-up, outlasted China's Li Na in an absorbing three-set battle before the unorthodox Bartoli beat American upstart Sloane Stephens 6-4 7-5 and Belgian Flipkens reached her first grand slam semi-final by defeating 2011 champion Petra Kvitova in three sets.
Lisicki, trying to become Germany's first grand slam singles champion since Steffi Graf in 1996, will take on fourth seed Radwanska on Thursday while Flipkens, languishing at 262nd in the world a year ago, will play 2007 Wimbledon runner-up Bartoli.
After the demise of so many fancied players, opportunity is knocking loudly for one of them.
"It's not exactly what we were planning on," nine-times Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova told Reuters.
"But it's the best opportunity ever for one of them. It's great we'll have a new champion and it just shows that this sport can be so unpredictable.
"Serena was the favorite now we'll have a new winner."
Navratilova picked out Lisicki as her tip for the title and the way the world No. 24 dismantled Kanepi a day after stunning five-times champion Williams the momentum appears to be with the big-serving German who was a semi-finalist two years ago.
Until Tuesday the giant-slayers have had short shelf lives with Steve Darcis, Sergiy Stakhovsky and Michelle Larcher de Brito - who took out Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova respectively - all failing to last another round.
Not so Lisicki, who needed only 65 minutes for victory.
"I feel much fresher, fitter, better than two years ago," said Lisicki who lost to Sharapova in the 2011 semis.
"I was just as focused as yesterday because ... I knew it's going to be tough after yesterday to just keep the level up.
"But I think I did a very good job to go for my shots and play smart. It had to be a different game today."
Radwanska and former French Open winner Li produced two hours 43 minutes of enthralling action on Center Court in a match that finished under cover after two rain interruptions.
Great improviser Radwanska, one of three Poles to reach the singles quarter-finals here, showed incredible resistance and Houdini-like escapology to win points that seemed beyond her during a 7-6(5) 4-6 6-2 victory over the powerful Chinese.
She even played one contorted backhand winner from a sitting position during the heat of battle and needed eight match points to claim only her second win in nine grand slam quarter-finals.
"From the first point to the last it was a really great battle," Radwanska, who saved four set points before winning the opening set, told reporters.
She needed an injury time-out after Li stormed back from 4-2 down in the second set with some aggressive tennis and played the decider with bandages on both thighs.
"It's been really tough," she said. "My legs are bit over-used but I'll do everything in my power to be ready."
A quarter-final line-up lacking the A-listers of the women's game had prompted some scornful headlines.
However, the novelty factor added to the intrigue and fans flocking into the grounds reading up on the merits of Sloane Stephens and a Belgian nicknamed "Flipper" were provided with a refreshing variety of styles.
The was also an absence of the grunts and shrieks that often get louder and louder at the business end of grand slams.
American Stephens, the 17th seed, is being tipped as the natural successor to Williams but against idiosyncratic Frenchwoman Bartoli, whose punchy groundstrokes are tailor-made for grass, her inexperience was exposed.
Bartoli angered the Court One crowd by refusing to play in light rain when Stephens served to stay in the first set and after a lengthy break returned to move ahead.
Stephens was broken to love three times in a second set containing eight consecutive service breaks and doube-faulted when serving at 5-6 to help Bartoli over the finishing line.
Flipkens, who is short-sighted and plays in glasses, slipped down the rankings last year after suffering blood clots in her legs but has soared back up the standings this year.
Serving beautifully and showing no nerves in her first grand slam quarter-final the Belgian 20th seed recovered from being out-hit by left-hander Czech Kvitova to win 4-6 6-3 6-4.
"It's amazing, more than a dream coming true," said Flipkens who became the first Belgian to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals since Justine Henin in 2007.
"Semi-finals of a grand slam, ridiculous. Last year I didn't get into qualifying of Wimbledon."
Attention turns back to the men's quarter-finals on Wednesday with top seed Novak Djokovic facing Czech Tomas Berdych and home favorite Andy Murray up against Spain's Fernando Verdasco.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)