Friday, July 29, 2011
Lisicki: Crushing in the Clutch
It's hard to say how high the ceiling is for Sabine Lisicki right now. Maybe it'd be better if we waited until Saturday evening, when the promising German plays the winner of tonight's highly anticipated Serena Williams-Maria Sharapova tilt in the Bank of the West Classic semifinals. Or, maybe, it'd be better if we did like all the players like to do and submit to the tried-and-true cliche: One match at a time, one point at a time and...we'll see.
For those of us who can't get enough of the next big thing, Saturday's your big day. Sabine Lisicki -- ready for the challenge or not -- is going to take a shot at the pinnacle of tennis. Think she's excited? You bet. "I love those kind of matches...I just love competing in front of a big crowd," said Lisicki, with a gleam in her eye and an air of excitment in her voice.
But lets not get ahead of ourselves: first Lisicki will need to get a good night's rest.
After a tough 3-set win over cagey veteran Agnieszka Radwanska under a baking California sun today ("It was long," Lisicki confirmed with a giggle), Lisicki can take comfort in the fact that she's now made the semifinals of three consecutive Tour level events (Birmingham, Wimbledon and Stanford) for the first time in her career. She's parlayed her big serving and go-for-broke style into an eye-opening hot streak that has her perched on the precipice of the top 20 for the first time in two years. (A title would guarantee it.)
Lisicki was the next big thing then, when she put on a serving clinic at Charleston in '09, won her first WTA level title, and reached a career-high of No. 22 in the rankings.
But in the year that ensued, she nearly became the next forgotten thing.
Lisicki's 2010 campaign was a season marred by injury, and even though she worked like a house on fire in the off-season to get into playing shape for 2011, the results didn't start to come until late this spring.
Now that she's finally getting results again, Lisicki is a more confident player than she was at the start of the year. "I feel like I can rely on my serve when I need it," Lisicki said after her 14-ace performance in the quarterfinals today. "I showed it today," she added. "I think in the second set it was a little bit off, but when I really needed it in the first set and the third set I had it right there."
Even if the serve falters a bit, Lisicki still feels like she can bide her time until it returns. "I still have a forehand and backhand that I can play, so, my game is improving," she added confidently.
Cue the next big thing talk.
But only time will tell us if Lisicki can be the kind of clutch server who can consistently worm her way out of sticky situations and develop a knack for winning the big points, a la Serena.
Today she passed the test. She hit two aces on game points in her first two service games of the first set, another at deuce in her third, and another when down 0-30 in her fourth.
Moving ahead to the third set, Lisicki finished strong with an ace on a second serve to move ahead 2-0, and tossed in two aces from deuce in the fourth game of the set to move ahead 3-1.
For good measure, she also slammed an ace when facing break point in the sixth game of the set.
All this against a crafty, intuitive returner like Radwanska.
In the context of an otherwise average serving day, Lisicki proved that timing is everything in tennis. She served only 51% first serves, but she make them count on the big points.
Whether she can do that tomorrow against either Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova is another story entirely. It's one we can only speculate on today, as is the future of Sabine Lisicki and her thunderous serve.
Will she or won't she enter the top 20 by the end of the summer?
Will she or won't she become known as a big match player who can ride her serve to victory when the situation calls for it?
Will she or won't she be the next WTA player to win her first Grand Slam?
As fun as it is to ponder these questions, the wiser approach might be to sit back, grab some popcorn, and let it happen.
One point at a time, one match at a time.