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The Lisicki Conundrum: Hard to solve
How many times have we seen an exceptionally talented player losing a match owing to unforced errors? Countless. But when that player wins one match as emphatically as giving away just 6 points on the opponent’s serve, and then goes on to succumb in her very next match to a much lower-ranked opponent, that too after enjoying a lead, you know something’s not right!
For Sabine Katharina Lisicki, it’s a sense of déjà vu. It’s like Groundhog Day and Sabine has been mindlessly repeating the same errors in the very same fashion. Caught in a maze, Sabine constantly struggles to find a way out and simply fails. Lisicki is one of those players whose winners are mesmerizing, and errors under pressure are, well, abysmal, to say the least. Needless to say, she is one of the most unpredictable players right now on the tour – unpredictable with her winners, unpredictable with her errors and of course, unpredictable with the outcomes of her matches. You never know when those outstanding winners will turn into an error, then another, and eventually a bombardment of errors. Before long, even before you have recovered from watching the ordeal, she is seen walking out of the court after yet another loss. It’s so tough rooting for the German.
In an age dominated by women with fragile serves, Lisicki comes as a breath of fresh air. Possessing one of the strongest serves amongst the current generation of women’s tennis, she is regarded by many as the best server after Serena Williams. Not only that, but she backs up her serve with a great forehand. She can hit from both flanks well – fast, flat, producing some awesome angles. With amazing athleticism and nimble hands, she can create some wonderful volleys, lobs, slices and dropshots as well.
When the 19-year old announced her presence on the WTA Tour by stunning Caroline Wozniacki in the final at Charleston in 2009, many greats saw a future top 10 player in her at once. That title run saw her conquering former champion Venus Williams and sixth seeded Marion Bartoli as well. Four years later, it was saddening to see that very player departing from Charleston after suffering her earliest exit at the tournament. And this came after she was leading with a break of serve in both the second and the third sets, and her opponent was Mallory Burdette, ranked 104th, which was not at all a tough proposition for the 41st ranked German. The worst bit about the loss? Sabine had just recorded the first double bagel of her career in the first round.
And this makes it all the more puzzling. The peaks and troughs of her career are so interspersed with each other. Just when it was believed that the player, who has had a career-best ranking of 12, was on the rebound after a tough loss in Miami which followed two final appearances this year, she continued to shock her fans. In the past one year, the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy protégé has lost 12 three-setter matches after winning the first set. She has lost a remarkable number of matches which she most definitely should have won. She has lost to opponents whom she had thrashed before. And sometimes, she herself is equally clueless after some of her losses. Recalling her defeat in Montreal, 2012, Lisicki said: “I couldn’t put one ball in. I think if my mother went on court she would play better! I never understood what happened.”
Perhaps that has been the cause of worry – that she remains helpless on court when put under pressure, especially when she needs to calmly finish a match. Her shot selection goes awry, the errors start to flow freely and she starts giving breathing space to her opponents. Much like how she inexplicably lost six games in a row in the deciding set, after leading 3-0 in the first round of the Australian Open 2013, to let Caroline Wozniacki record her first victory over her fellow Polish-origin player since 2008.
But then, Lisicki has recorded big wins after coming back from the jaws of defeat. Consider her fairytale 2011 Wimbledon performance after coming back from injury, when she became the second woman to reach the semi-finals as a wildcard. She saved match points to edge past the then French Open champion Li Na 8-6 in the third set. It’s not like Lisicki never knows how to find a way out of such dire situations. But is it that, part of her finding a way out depends heavily on her opponent? That she waits for her opponent to blink first and absolutely crumbles, which makes it easier for Sabine to take her chances? Or is it Sabine who runs out of patience too soon? It could be her trigger-happy self, that doesn’t know how to control aggression. Perhaps it is the worst that can be for players of any sport – she becomes complacent after taking a lead.
Perhaps it’s all in the mind for her. Perhaps she can learn a lot just by watching Serena Williams, who grows more composed as a match wears on. Not everybody can be a Serena. But Sabine can do far better with a little help. Maybe she should seriously work with a sports psychologist to get over that chink in her armour. At 23, Sabine has a promising future ahead of her. Affable, lively, and with an infectious smile – Lisicki has swooned many a fan. She is one the best players to have come out of Germany since the legendary Steffi Graf. It would just be such a pleasure to see the immense talent play well consistently and to her potential – just the way she should.
Well, apart from the bit about the serve.