Recap: Sabine Lisicki 2014 Season

Note – I’m formatting this post with a couple headings: season highlights and analysis.  Season highlights recaps her season, including most of her tournament results, and is just a general recap.  Analysis looks at the season by the numbers and looks forward to 2015.  I’ve done this so you can skip to the good stuff because you probably already know the story of 2014.  Also, there’s a poll at the end.  Be sure to vote 🙂

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS

Sabine's 2014 season by tournament. (Tournaments are highlighted to signify court surface changes. Players are highlighted to signify withdrawal or retirement)

Sabine’s 2014 season by tournament. (Tournaments are highlighted to signify court surface changes. Players are highlighted to signify withdrawal or retirement)

2014 was much like Sabine Lisicki’s game – it was up and down.  One minute greatness, the next disappointment.  The first match of the year she beat a quality opponent, Magdalena Rybarikova, in straight sets.  The next match she never took the court due to food poisoning.  At the first major of the year she seemed to suffer from the extreme temperatures in Australia.  She lost in the second round to Monica Niculescu, losing the last two sets after dominating the first set.  Next she went to Pattaya where she was defending finalist points.  In the first round she had a problem with her shoulder.  She battled through and won against Donna Vekic in three sets.  She withdrew from the tournament following the loss based on a doctor recommendation.  Dubai saw her first challenge against a top ten opponent, Caroline Wozniacki.  She won the first set, but was unable to win another.  With Memphis not being on the WTA calendar this season Sabine was unable to try to defend those finalist points from 2013.

Sabine and Martina with their doubles trophy

Sabine and Martina with their doubles trophy (photo by Matthew Stockman)

Indian Wells was next, where Sabine has never won a main draw match.  It seemed to way on her because she couldn’t perform well in winning positions.  She had two sets points in the first set and was up 5-2 in the tiebreak in the third set.  She didn’t win either set.  Miami brought another withdrawal.  This time for the flu.  But this is where one of the best moments of 2014 happened for Sabine.  The tournament gave her an extra day to recover, so she was able to recover and play doubles with Martina Hingis.  In their quarterfinal matchup against Anabel Medina Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova, Sabine and Martina saved seven match points before prevailing.  They wound up winning the Premier Mandatory event!  The biggest title Sabine has ever won in her career.

Don’t get too excited though because the clay season arrived afterwards and it brought with it the worst defeat of the season.  A 6-1, 6-0 beat down by fellow German, Andrea Petkovic.  Madrid was the highlight of Sabine’s clay season in 2014.  She beat Karolina Pliskova in the first round and gave Simona Halep a tough match in the third round. Sabine was up a set and got to 3-all in the second set before Simona took over the match.  Halep went on to the finals of the tournament, losing a three setter to Maria Sharapova.  The French Open brought a huge fear.  Sabine fell and injured her wrist in a second round match vs Mona Barthel.  Sabine retired from the match and there was fear it could mean missing Wimbledon.  She was able to play Wimbledon, but she wasn’t able to play in Birmingham.  A tragic injury to force her to miss a tournament on her best surface.  Another negative heading into Wimbledon was Sabine parted ways with coach, Martina Hingis.  Right before when she’d need her the most and could achieve great things.

Sabine before playing first match at Wimbledon in 2014. She got the honor of playing the first match on Tuesday. (Photo by Michael Mayhew)

Asderaki, Glushko, Bartoli, and Sabine (left to right) before first match at Wimbledon in 2014. Sabine got the honor of playing the first match on Tuesday. (Photo by Michael Mayhew)

The season turned around starting at Wimbledon.  Wimbledon brought with it the honor of opening center court on Tuesday.  A match saved for the defending champion, but with Bartoli having retired following her loss to Simona Halep in Cincinnati in 2013, the slot was open for someone else.  The club could choose the 2013 finalist, 2012 winner, or the number one seed.  Many people thought the honor should go to Serena Williams, since she held two of the three criteria, but the club gave it to Sabine and she opened center court with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Julia Glushko.  The third round brought Sabine’s best win of the season, up to that point, beating Ana Ivanovic in a match that stretched three days due to rain delays, darkness, and no play on the middle Sunday.  Sabine’s fourth round match against Shvedova brought with it some scrutiny.  Down break point in a long third game of the set, Sabine called for the trainer.  Her serve was a mess, coming in at 50 MPH at times, and she double faulted 20 times in the match.  There was clearly a problem.  Sabine later said it was her back.  Although Sabine was having trouble serving, Shvedova didn’t know what to do with such slow serves and had an awful time trying to return them.  Sabine battled through and faced Simona Halep in the quarterfinals.  Sabine’s fifth straight quarterfinal at the most prestigious tournament in tennis.  She started out well against Simona, winning four of the first five games.  She lost the last eleven games of the match, however, and her Wimbledon dream ended without the magic we’ve seen the previous two seasons.

Sabine with her Guinness world record: 131 MPH serve

Sabine with her Guinness world record: 131 MPH serve (photo by Mike Stobe)

After Wimbledon, Sabine went to Stanford and played a great opening first set.  Breaking the record for fastest serve in WTA history by hitting a 131 MPH serve at 5-all in the first set.  Unfortunately after she hit that shot it seemed to get to her and she lost the remaining eight games of the match.  Rogers Cup and Cincinnati saw third round appearances each.  Winning tough matches against high ranked players, before losing to Aga Radwanska in both events.  Aga won the title at the Rogers Cup and Sabine gave her a tough match.  Holding a break lead in the third set before losing it 6-3.  At the final major of the year, Sabine got to the third round once again, before losing to Maria Sharapova in a match I would say was the most disappointing of 2014 considering how Maria had been up-and-down and Sabine wasn’t able to take a set and make it close.

Sabine with her trophy in Hong Kong

Sabine with her trophy in Hong Kong (photo by Victor Fraile)

Following the US Open, Sabine took a wild card into a new WTA event in Hong Kong.  Sabine was the number one seeded player in the field.  Sabine beat her nemesis Monica Niculescu in the first round.  Sabine was two points away from losing the match in the second set before running away with the third set.  Wins over Grace Min and Sai Sai Zheng put Sabine into her first semifinal of the season, where should would face veteran Francesca Schiavone.  Schiavone fought hard and took it to a third set, where she had a break lead, but Sabine was too strong and beat her to make the final.  In the final Sabine played Karolina Pliskova, who had a great ending to the season following the US Open.  Karolina took a 5-1 lead in the first set over Sabine, then her forehand went off and Sabine won six games on the trot to close out the first set.  Sabine never looked back and won her first title since Dallas in 2011, the fourth of her career!  This was the first WTA title Sabine won where she dropped a set during the course of the week.  Also, making the WTA tournament of champions was now a possibility.

After Hong Kong the results were mostly dodgy.  She lost in the first round of Tokyo the week after Hong Kong.  The next tournament was the Premier event in Wuhan.  Sabine won her opening match against Lucie Safarova, one of her best wins of the season. then followed it up by dropping a set where she had a 5-0 lead vs Elina Svitolina.  The last Premier Mandatory event of the season brought with it Sabine’s only top ten win of the season.  A win versus Genie Bouchard, who made the final the previous week in Wuhan.  Genie was not in form on this cold day and Sabine took advantage of the poor play.  The tournament ended at the hands of Ana Ivanovic for a third time in 2014.  Sabine put up a great effort though, losing 6-3, 7-5.  Had Sabine won against Ivanovic or Svitolina, she would’ve had a walkover in the next round.

The singles season ended with indoor tournaments in Linz and Luxembourg.  Sabine took a wild card into Linz, but lost in the first round.  Again in the next round Sabine’s would be opponent, retired.  Three straight tournaments with basically free ranking points lost.  In Luxembourg a loss in the second round ended her season.  Sabine tweeted afterward that playing so much caused the poor results at the end of the season.  She played six straight week following the US Open.  She had two weeks off between Stanford and Luxembourg.  The early losses at Linz and Luxembourg runied her chances at making the Tournament of Champions in Sofia.

Sabine following a doubles win in the Fed Cup final (photo by Adam Pretty)

Sabine following a doubles win in the Fed Cup final (photo by Adam Pretty)

Sabine’s season did not end there however.  She was named to the Fed Cup roster for the final versus the Czech Republic.  It looked like Sabine would be the second singles player, with Andrea Petkovic having some personal problems, but Andrea recovered from them and won Sofia to reclaim the spot on Germany.  Down 0-2 in the tie, it looked like Sabine may get one last singles match of the season with Angelique Kerber up 4-1 in the third set against Petra Kvitova.  Kvitova fought back and Sabine didn’t get that chance.  Sabine did get to play in the dead fifth rubber however and she ended the season with a great match with partner Julia Goerges.  Sabine hit many aces in the match and didn’t even double fault!  She ended the match by serving three straight aces, two on the second serve.  The serve that had looked troublesome at times in 2014 didn’t have any wobbles at all.  With the win Sabine stayed undefeated in doubles Fed Cup rubbers.

ANALYSIS

Sabine's record by season for WTA main draw matches ONLY

Sabine’s record by season for WTA main draw matches ONLY

To really look at Sabine’s season however it helps to look at statistics.  Sabine had a record of 27-18 in 2014, as seen below.  This is slightly above her average for main draw WTA matches.  It was her fourth best season behind 2011, 2013, and 2009.  This was the fourth season where Sabine did not have to play a single WTA qualifying match or ITF event during the season.  That is an achievement in itself.  Not having to qualify to get into the biggest tournaments helps a lot over the course of a long season not having to play extra matches and shows she’s one of the best to not need to play in them.

Sabine's average opponent ranking win in WTA main draw matches only. Note: 2008 doesn't include a win over Saidkhodjaeva. Her ranking is not known, but it was higher than 1,100 in the world

Sabine’s average opponent ranking win in WTA main draw matches only.
Note: 2008 doesn’t include a win over Saidkhodjaeva. Her ranking is not known, but it was lower than 1,100 in the world

Let’s look at how she played though.  As we can see in the photo above, Sabine’s average ranking of win in 2014 was 100, which is skewed due to two wins against players ranked above 400.  Without those two the average works out to around 71, which is right in line with 2013.  In fact her average loss ranking is in line with 2013 as well (43 in 2014 and 42 in 2013).  Those numbers would say there wasn’t much difference between the two years.  The real difference was playing against top ten opponents.  Below is a list of all the matches Sabine played vs the top ten the last two seasons.  In 2013 Sabine won two matches against top ten players, including one against number one Serena Williams.  Sabine only won one match versus the top ten in 2014, where she was able to take advantage of a player coming off a great week.  We often see a player not able to back up a great week and go out early the following tournament.  The wins versus the top ten aren’t what is telling about 2014 compared to 2013 though.  It’s the losses.  Sabine had six top ten losses in 2014, compared to seven in 2013.  In those losses she only forced two of the matches to three sets in both seasons.  What is really telling is the way she lost those sets though.  In 2014 she only won four games in three of the twelve sets she lost to top ten players.  In 2013 she won over four games in eight of the fourteen sets she lost to top ten players.  Simply put, she wasn’t as competitive against the top players in the game in 2014.

Sabine’s matches vs top 10 opponents the last two seasons. Orange highlights are wins. Yellow highlights mean the set was 6-4 or better. A very competitive lost set

Sabine’s matches vs top 10 opponents the last two seasons. Orange highlights are wins. Yellow highlights mean the set was 6-4 or better. A very competitive lost set

It wasn’t just her quality of opponent that was troubling in 2014.  A big issue was her serve.  She seemed to lose all faith in at at times during the year and looked scared to hit second serves.  She had more double faults than aces (276-245).  Sabine ranked sixth on the WTA in aces, whereas she ranked second the previous season with 297.  (Aces look to be a new trend in the WTA with them being hit at a higher rate than in 2013.)  I would tell you how many double faults Sabine hit in 2013, but I cannot find it.  Tennis is bad about making these stats readily and easily available.  However, I recorded all of Sabine’s stats last year from Stuttgart through Osaka and I have 170 aces to 105 double faults.  This shows she was hitting aces at a much higher rate than double faults.  Winning more free points.  The double faults contributed to her serve troubles this year.  Sabine’s serve regressed in 2014.  She found herself at the top of the game in 2013 in service games won %, holding serve 73.7% of the time in 2013, compared to 65.3% in 2014, a significant drop.  She also doesn’t find herself at the top of the game anymore in first serve % points won.  2013 she won 70.7% of first serve points.  That decreased to 67.2% in 2014.  Sabine still has one of the best serves in the game, but it’s actually not as effective as everyone thinks.  The numbers show Sabine’s serve has regressed significantly in 2014.  The second serve will have to be a focus for her during the offseason to improve upon.

The coaching situation was a mess.  I loved having Martina Hingis at the beginning of the year, but the relationship just wasn’t working out and Sabine was right to stop it when she did.  Martina wanted to play more doubles, whereas Sabine wanted to focus on singles.  The results seemed to come after they stopped working together and let’s leave it at that ;).  During the US summer series, Sabine had Guillaume Peyre as coach.  Sabine saw success with him, but split after the US Open.  And after the US Open it was a revolving door of coaches.  She had a new one each week.  Literally.  It was a good idea in the sense that she could get an idea of different possibilities on a trial run at a time of the season that isn’t very important.  That won’t fly over the course of a season however.  Hopefully she will name a coach for 2015 and stick with him or her throughout the course of the season.  Kind of like the way one of my other favorite players, Simona Halep, did in 2014.  Halep stuck with Wim Fissette throughout the year, even though they weren’t getting along perfectly.  Change during the middle of the season is tough because the message changes.  If results are there then there’s no reason to switch during the season.

I don’t want to make it sound like 2014 was a failure.  Finishing 26th in the rankings with what happened the first five months is superb.  She’ll have chances to gain ranking points at basically every tournament until Wimbledon.  We could easily see her get into the top 20 early in the season.  It just may seem like 2014 was a failure because we expect more from Sabine and want to see her doing better.  We all know when her game is on, it’s top 10 level.  At the end of the day it’s sport and you don’t always bring your best game to the court every day.  I think we forget that as fans sometimes.  Sabine needs to work on finding that top level more consistently so she can achieve her potential.

What can we expect in 2015?  I think Sabine will finish in the top 15 next season.  I liked how she played at the end of the year.  I think she’s matured a lot as a player as well.  I believe 2015 has good things ahead.  Wimbledon is always the focus of her year.  It would seem like she could win it any year.  2015 may just be her year to do it.  That’s what the pattern says at least (QF, SF, QF, F, QF, ?).  If it’s not meant to be this year, I do believe she wins a title in 2015 at least.  Birmingham would be a good place for her to win.  Possibly Pattaya or Luxembourg.  I’m confident it won’t be on clay though.  A couple of goals I have for her is to make the fourth round of a major other than Wimbledon and to reach a QF of a Premier 5/Mandatory.  She’s never made a Premier QF before and it’s hard to believe her game hasn’t come together one of those weeks to do so.  I’d also like to see her matches versus top 10 opponents be more competitive rather than going down easily each time.  Whether successful or not, it will be fun to see what 2015 has in store for Sabine Lisicki 🙂

 

Feel free to leave a comment or tweet me (@NoleLisickiFam) about what you thought of 2014 and things you hope to see in 2015.  And be sure to vote in the poll!!!

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