LONDON — Spurred on by Steffi Graf and inspired by an array of other sporting greats, Sabine Lisicki pulled herself out of a big hole and climbed right into the Wimbledon final.
The 23rd-seeded German, a Wimbledon semifinalist two years ago, overcame a 3-0 deficit in the third set to beat Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 2-6, 9-7 Thursday and advance to her first Grand Slam final.
On Saturday, she will face Marion Bartoli, a 6-1, 6-2 winner over Kirsten Flipkens in the other semifinal.
"It's another challenge, and I'm looking forward to it," said Lisicki, who beat defending champion Serena Williams in the fourth round.
The men's semifinals are set for Friday, with top-seeded Novak Djokovic playing Juan Martin del Potro and 2012 finalist Andy Murray up against the surprising 24th-seeded Jerzy Janowicz.
Saturday's final will be the second at Wimbledon in the 45-year Open era between two women who have never won a Grand Slam title. Although Bartoli has the edge in experience after reaching the 2007 final at the All England Club, Lisicki may have the bigger advantage with a 3-1 record against the Frenchwoman, including a quarterfinal win at Wimbledon in 2011 in their last meeting.
Lisicki started off Thursday playing aggressive tennis on Centre Court, and it yielded immediate results. She won 22 of her 30 points on serve and broke Radwanska once.
But soon after, Lisicki's serve deserted her, and so did her lead.
Lisicki lost all four of her service games in the second set, with the lowlight coming in the final game. Leading 30-0, Lisicki lost four straight points, including two double-faults.
"She made some really good points. I made a few errors too many," said Lisicki, the first German to reach the Wimbledon final since Graf in 1999. "But I regained my focus and game in the third set, and that's the main part."
Graf may have played a small role in the comeback. The seven-time Wimbledon champion sent Lisicki a text message before the match to wish her luck.
"She told me to go for it, and I'm just so happy," Lisicki said. "I was just fighting for every single point out there. Fought my heart out there."
Besides Graf, Lisicki also named a few others who have helped inspire her to come back from a serious left ankle injury in 2010, including ski great Hermann Maier and NFL quarterback Drew Brees.
"I read his book while I was injured," Lisicki said of Maier, an Austrian who won several Olympic and world championship medals. "Almost losing his leg and then to come back and be the world champion in his sport, I think was an unbelievable story.
"Also Drew Brees. ... He has torn everything there was in the shoulder, and he still came back and was one of the best."
Bartoli needed no such motivation, making quick work of Flipkens with her two-handed backhands and forehands mixing with little hops between points, as is her custom.
"I played great. I executed very well. I hit lobs, passing shots, winners, returns, everything worked out perfectly," said Bartoli, who won in 62 minutes. "When I fell on the grass after match point, it was just so emotional. I dreamed about that moment, about returning to the Wimbledon final."
The last time she made it this far, it didn't turn out so well. She lost to Venus Williams 6-4, 6-1.
But this time is different, or at least Bartoli believes it will be.
"God, I think I'm serving better," Bartoli said. "I mean, I do just everything a bit better than what I was doing six years ago. I think if I would play myself now, with my game six years ago compared with my game today, I would probably be beating myself quite easily because I'm just doing everything better."