Sabine Lisicki: The girl with a Midas touch on grass
What is this eerie connection between Sabine Lisicki and the reigning French Open champions on the revered grass of Wimbledon? Is it just the touch and feel of the soft, unsullied grass that inspires her to rise above all odds? Or is it the underdog status that triggers the latent giant-killer within her? Or is it that the serves magically come booming right when she needs them and the forehands start kissing the lines at her beck and call?
What Sabine Lisicki did at Wimbledon on Monday simply added to her fabled story on the verdant courts of SW19. It is a story which hasn’t crowned her as the queen yet, but with her dazzling display time and again and that joyful exuberance marked by that contagious smile, it has captured a million hearts.
This is her self-acclaimed favourite tournament, and Centre Court is her favourite court in the world. And she underlines those words with as much emphasis as she can muster with her burgeoning self-belief. Before the media started foreboding her destiny at the hands of the irrepressible Serena Williams, she reminded, “I was in this situation last year when everybody was saying Sharapova was the favorite. I’m probably going into this match being the underdog too, but I like it like that.”
For the 23-year-old German, pressure is a privilege, and she fully abides by those invaluable words. And it is what motivates her to come up with unbreakable resistance, an unshakeable power game and a mind as tough as a nut at Big W. Above all, the desire to achieve these colossal heights on the most magnificent court in the world gives her a serene ecstasy and tremendous confidence. After finishing her match with Serena Williams she wept with the words, “I am so happy,” and that moment reflected the innocent and overflowing mirth within her at realising the magnitude of her achievement.
The smiling assassin has been spurred to plot the most devious end to an apparently scripted Wimbledon story almost every year since 2009. Maria Sharapova can vouch for that and so can Li Na and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Each of them arrived at the Big W on a euphoric high after reaching the pinnacle of their success on the other side of the English Channel. And each had wanted to quietly burrow their ways through the draw and end up with the prestigious Venus Rosewater Dish on the second Saturday. But all of them uncannily and weirdly faced the impervious German obstacle – Sabine Lisicki.
Sharapova arrived here last year on the back of a wondrous run at the French capital that saw her complete the Career Slam. Yet she was jolted by an ignominious defeat despite having triumphed against the German at the Australian Open. Li Na had just made the headlines as the first Asian major winner in singles before Sabine rudely woke her up from her dreams in 2011, warding off match points in the process.
The latter feat is even more commendable because Lisicki accomplished it after losing a chunk of the previous year owing to injuries. It was a great emotional upheaval as the long injury lay-off had seen her fall out of the top 200, but the Midas touch of grass brought about a miraculous turnaround. She had sizzled in Birmingham, winning her only grasscourt trophy till date and as a wild card, hurried past baffled opponents at Wimbledon en route to the semifinals.
Perhaps even more impressive was her journey in 2009 when the fledgling 19-year-old Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy-trained protégé looked and played like a new star. She demolished everyone on her way to winning the clay title at Charleston, with her victims including Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki.
Her game was soon lauded, especially her serve, which came as a breath of fresh air in an age which sees the predominant existence of fragile serves on the tour. Lisicki soon repaid the faith at Wimbledon by stunning the Danish teenager once again and the then newly-crowned Roland Garros queen Svetlana Kuznetsova.