Sabine Lisicki: What Have you Done for me Lately?

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Sabine Lisicki, the 25-year-old German power-house, typically let’s her racquet do the talking but for the better part of last season and the one prior, all we heard was silence. She is, and perhaps will remain, consistently unpredictable.

In 2009, at the age of 19, Lisicki made the quarters at Wimbledon and won her first of four WTA titles at the prestigious Family Circle Cup, defeating Caroline Wozniacki for the championship. Her ascent up the WTA rankings would be thwarted on numerous occasions and in the spring of 2010, was sidelined for five months with an ankle injury.

Lisicki rebounded nicely the following year winning the Aegon Classic – a Wimbledon tune-up event. Like Goran Ivanisevic ten years earlier, Lisicki made the most of the wild card awarded by the All England Club, reaching the semi-finals where she lost to Maria Sharapova in straight sets. Two months later, Lisicki secured her third tour title at the inaugural Texas Open.

Currently ranked twenty-one in the world, Lisicki would attain her highest career ranking of twelve in the world in 2012. History would repeat itself; she reached the quarters at Wimbledon and injured her ankle, once again impeding her steady progress on tour.

Her formidable serve and penetrating ground strokes are well suited for the lush lawns of the All England Club. Unquestionably, her consistent and successful doubles play has also been an invaluable asset on grass.

In 2013, after dismantling Serena Williams over three sets in the fourth round and Agnieszka Radwanska in three in the semis, Lisicki progressed to her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon. Lisicki, overwhelmed by the occasion, her emotions and the measured play of Marion Bartoli, lost in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4 in eighty-one minutes.

Last fall, after receiving a wildcard and number one seeding at the Hong Kong Tennis Open, Lisicki would win her first WTA tour title in 3 years defeating one of the tour’s hottest players–Karolina Pliskova–7-5, 6-3 for the championship.

Injuries aside, I often wondered why Lisicki was unable to replicate her success on grass on the hardcourts of the US and Australian Opens. Inarguably, her movement around the baseline and mid-court are sub-par; with blistering ground-strokes, she often doesn’t need to engage in long rallies or transition towards the net.

To date, her best finish at the US Open came in 2011 when she reached the fourth round. Similarly, her best showing down under came the following year when she progressed to the fourth round at Melbourne Park.

To assert that Lisicki has been an under achiever given her arsenal of weapons and that her form at the start of the current season was abysmal, would be an enormous understatement. In 2015, Lisicki lost in the opening round at the first three tournaments she entered, including the Australian Open. Additional first round losses would follow but that all came to a screeching halt in the desert at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

Lisicki would draw the defending champion, Flavia Pennetta in the quarter-finals. She would save three match points in this highly contested, enthralling dual before winning 6-4, 6-7, 7-6 to advance to the semi-finals at a Premier Mandatory event for the first time in her career. She would lose in three sets to the 2010 champion, Jelena Jankovic, despite being up a set and a break.

Though she has one of the most powerful first serves in the game, routinely surpassing 125 mph (her fastest recorded serve is 131 mph), she possesses an extremely weak and ineffective second serve and often double faults. Despite the vulnerability on serve, I contend her two most significant liabilities are her court coverage and mental stamina.

Having closed in on the top ten several times since turning pro in 2006, Lisicki should not routinely lose in the first round. Irrefutably, she has been plagued with a myriad of severe physical injuries but it has been her mental fragility and periodic inattentiveness that has most impeded her ability to consistently challenge the game’s elite.

Presently, Lisicki does not possess the patience, or the physical stamina to excel at Roland Garros. Not surprisingly, she has yet to progress past the third round on the terre battue. I am not precluding a deep run at the French Open in the coming years but I don’t foresee a drastic change in her game over the next two months that would enable her to do so this season. If Lisicki hopes to perform well over the course of the lengthy clay court season, she must consider working with a sports psychologist. Presently, she lacks the ability to maintain sustained focus and remain engaged particularly over the course of three sets where momentum is bound to repeatedly change hands.

Sabine has been coached by her father since the age of seven; perhaps it was time to consider a new addition or two to her team. This past December Christopher Kas, Lisicki’s mixed doubles partner at the London Olympics and former ATP tour player, joined her team, ostensibly as “head” coach. As long as she remains mentally focused, injury free and able to implement a more rigorous training regimen, I am confident she will produce more consistent results across surfaces and over the course of several seasons. History is the sole arbiter of success and Sabine Lisicki most definitely has time on her side.

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