Magical Sabine in Indian Wells

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Julian Finney/Getty Images

TOURNAMENT RECAP

Going into Indian Wells it had been a brutal start for Sabine Lisicki.  She was 1-6 in 2015, just coming off a loss at Kuala Lumpur to Alexandra Dulgheru, the worst ranked opponent (94th) she’d lost to in 2015.  After the match Dulgheru commented on Sabine’s lack of confidence and the trouble she was having this year and with her serve.  It seemed like rock bottom.  Now she’s heading to a place where she hasn’t won a main draw match ever in her career (0-6).  There seemed to be no hope at all.  Sabine was 165th on the road to Singapore.  She’d have one more hard court tournament left before the clay court season began (her worst surface) and she wouldn’t even accumulate more than 100 ranking points before the start of it.  What a sad time to be a member of Team Lisicki.

Even though all the odds were going against Sabine, I have to say it almost felt like so many things weren’t going her way that something good HAD to happen.  Kind of in an ironic way.  The draw came out and there seemed to be a little hope.  Sabine was due to face the winner of Roberta Vinci vs Jarmila Gajdosova in her first match, following a bye, and the first seeded player she was due to face was Sara Errani.  It felt like Cincy last year when she played, and beat, Vinci and Errani.  (I must mention too I was there to see the matches live in Cincy :)!)  It was still hard to get hopes up with all the odds going against her, but the style matchups were favorable for Sabine.  Sabine’s one win of the year came against Monica Niculescu.  She’s a player who can’t really hurt Sabine with her game, just make Sabine’s game go off.  All the players Sabine had lost to in 2015 had some kind of a weapon that could hurt her.  A powerful shot.  Whether it be with a big serve, forehand, or backhand.  The one exception would be BZS, but she is mentally strong enough and can produce enough quality shots to trouble Sabine and she did.  Vinci and Errani don’t have that big weapon though that can consistently give Sabine trouble when she’s playing well.  Vinci and Errani fall more in the Niculescu category.  The match would be on Sabine’s racquet should those players advance to meet her.

Vinci did end up beating Gajdosova, so the two met (on a non-streamed court).  It’s hard to say what happened since it wasn’t streamed, but the bottom line was Sabine beat Vinci 6-4 in the third set to win her first match in Indian Wells and second match of 2015.  And you know what, Errani won also, so it’d set up a third round encounter with a beatable player.  Errani played awful.  Probably the worst match I’ve ever seen her play, but Sabine had to do with much of what Errani was facing.  Errani just doesn’t have a big shot like Sabine.  Sabine can hit her off the court easily and she did.

Sabine during her match vs Vinci. (photo by Christopher Levy)

Sabine during her match vs Vinci. (photo by Christopher Levy)

Something extraordinary happened next though.  Sabine got help.  Her fourth round opponent was due to be Ana Ivanovic, who had beaten Sabine four times in the past year, but for the second straight tournament, Caroline Garcia beat Ivanovic.  Now Sabine got a much more manageable match.  Garcia had been playing great tennis, reaching two straight finals, but it felt winnable.  Much more so than playing Ivanovic.  This also gave me excitement for a Sabine match at a level I hadn’t experienced probably since Hong Kong.  It was a chance for Sabine to reach a quarterfinal at a tournament level she’d never achieved that kind of result at.  Many know I’ve been targeting a quarterfinal appearance at a Mandatory or Premier 5 for Sabine for a while.  This was her opportunity to do it!  The match was the fifth one on Stadium 3 and there were some long matches ahead of it.  Sabine didn’t end up playing until after midnight where I live.  I had to stay up though.  I couldn’t miss a big match of hers.  Garcia seemed off from the beginning.  She did play well in small stretches occasionally, but she never seemed to be in the match.  Sabine was able to play at a higher level and it looked like a sure victory.  She served for the match at 5-4 when two let cords happened in a row, followed by an error from Sabine.  Down two break points, Sabine didn’t give in.  She fought hard, saved the break points, and held serve to win the match.  Sabine’s reaction after the match said it all.  She knew how unbelievable it was to be in the quarterfinals and how much a result like this was needed ;’)

But then Sabine got MORE help.  Pennetta beat Sharapova!  All of a sudden, the semifinals didn’t seem out of the question.  Sure Pennetta was the defending champion of Indian Wells, but I’d much rather play her than the number two player in the world.  Going into the match I was even more excited than I was the previous round vs Garcia.  I usually overprepare myself for the disappointment of a loss.  I was the furthest thing from it though this time.  It was like I just knew she was going to win it.  Sabine wasn’t going to lose this match.  She couldn’t.  She wouldn’t. She didn’t 😉

Sabine played at a quality I’d never seen her play at before.  It was a level I’d dreamed of and knew she was capable of.  It was a level where all these years of supporting her, waiting for that kind of performance, finally paid off. It was the single best match I’ve ever seen her play from the first to the last point.  She was in it the majority of the match.  I say majority because I think she got flat at the beginning of the second set.  We’ve seen those stretches last much longer though.  In arguably the two biggest wins of her career, she was out of the match for a set and a half.  I’m talking about Sabine’s wins against Serena Williams and Aga Radwanska at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships.  Those matches she won the first set, completely went away in the second set, got down 0-3, then fought back.  She never got behind like that against Pennetta.  That’s what made it so much more rewarding for Team Lisicki.  We saw her play a complete match.

Many people point to the fact she had 70+ unforced errors and say that she didn’t play great, but that’s superficial.  You have to actually have watched the match to understand the unforced errors and the quality of match.  They played some long sets. The errors didn’t come in strings like we usually see.  They were occasional.  They didn’t cost her a bunch of games straight.  The match was always close.  The last set especially proved the validity of the quality of match.  Not a single break of serve.  That’s a rarity in the WTA where serving doesn’t matter as much as the ATP.  Simona Halep expressed the same sentiments in her press conference after the final.  The return is more important in the WTA and in the set with the most on line, no one broke serve.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Julian Finney/Getty Images

But to the match.  Sabine won the first set and fought in the second set when Pennetta improved her game.  Sabine was able to break then hold to make Pennetta serve to stay in the match at 4-5.  It went to deuce. Match point.  Sabine played a great point.  Pennetta hit many great shots, which Sabine defended well.  The match point was erased.  After that point it felt like momentum shifted to Pennetta.  When they went to the tiebreak, it felt like it’d be Pennetta’s because she picked up her level.  She’s a fighter.  It’s what she credited to her winning Indian Wells the prior year and now she was ready to fight again.  Penntta took an early lead in the tiebreak and never relinquished it.  They were going to a third.  Sabine had a match point and now were playing another set.  Normally you feel awful about this.  I thought she couldn’t have done any more on that point.  Looking back on it now it appears she might’ve leaned too much to the center of the court on the last shot, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

I’ve seen many players lose out on a match point or multiple ones, never recover from it, and completely go away.  Much better ones than Sabine, who’ve achieved more.  Sabine didn’t though.  I think it had to do with her thinking that she couldn’t have done any more that point.  She put it behind her because she knew she did all she could. At 4-5, in third set, she got down two match points.  In that moment I still didn’t think she was going to lose.  She was still close.  I didn’t lose belief.  I wanted to hang onto all she’d achieved a little longer.  Down match point she hit an ace, then a winner on the third shot.  Boom boom tennis 😉  Down another match point, after an error, and she followed it with another big serve that got unreturned.  She held after that and it went to a tiebreak.  In the second set I felt momentum on Pennetta’s side.  The whole third set I just had the feeling it was on Sabine’s side, but I tried to ignore it to not become expecting of her to win it.  I never believed she’d lose, but didn’t want to expect a win lol.  Sabine got an early lead in the tiebreak, and it got bumpy at times, but she never got behind in the score, or even tied.  The chair umpire called “Lisicki leads” after every point of the tiebreak.  Sabine took the line at 5-4 to serve for the match.  Pennetta hit a weak forehand error into the net.  On Sabine’s second match point, after losing out on the one in the second set, she hit an ace out wide! SHE’D DONE IT!!!! And in typical Lisicki fashion, with an ace 🙂

 Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Sabine played such a great match, and on top of everything, she saved three match points before winning it.  It’s hard to fathom.  It makes it even more special and memorable to do something like that.  I still can’t wrap my head around it to be honest.  Absolute bliss!

Unfortunately most good things have to come to end and in the semifinals, Sabine’s run ended to Jankovic. Sabine was in control of the match for the first set and a half.  Up a break in the second set twice, but just couldn’t consolidate.  It looked like it weighed on her mind and the mental resilience she’d shown in the tournament was gone.  She focused on it too much and let it get to her.  Jankovic then picked up her game and was air tight.  No errors at all coming off her racquet.  She ran everything down.  Shots that’d have won Sabine points in the first and second sets, now were coming back three or four times.  Some of that had to do with tiredness.  You could tell Sabine was tired in that third set.  Breathing heavy.  How could she not be?  She played practically a three hour match the previous day, while her opponent played 12 games before a retirement.  Jankovic was fresher and it showed. But Sabine fought with everything she had in the third set.  It’s a shame at the scoreline because Sabine played better than it indicates, but Jankovic just wouldn’t give her anything.

Losing to Jankovic didn’t matter though.  We’d had our fun.  Sabine said, after beating Pennetta, she had nothing to lose heading into the match.  Not the same tone she shared after beating Garcia, where she sounded like she was up for it and ready for the challenge.  I didn’t have the same believe heading into the match either.  I was flat after that great match the previous day.  It’s a shame she had to play back to back days after such a result.  Didn’t allow her or her fans to soak it up.  But at the end of the tournament there’s nothing to complain about.  Only positives to take from the tournament she came into with a single victory in 2015.  Many things happened to be grateful for.

Billie Weiss

Billie Weiss

PERSONAL MEANING AND ANALYSIS

It’s the kind of tournament that makes you reanalyze everything you’ve thought throughout the year.  I kept saying at the beginning of the year I thought she was close to great things.  She was in the matches, but somehow they just weren’t going her way.  She showed great signs at times.  After the Australian Open though I lost faith completely.  I couldn’t believe what was happening in 2015.  I sat still, numb, for probably at least half an hour trying to process what was happening.  A rant afterwords helped, but it couldn’t make me regain faith.  I distanced myself for Sabine and didn’t watch any of her matches live.  Mostly due to them being in the middle of night, but I wasn’t going to go out of my way to watch.

Those tough times earlier this year made me rethink who I was supporting.  Many people have said Sabine changed after that Wimbledon 2013 final, and I’ve seen the signs too.  She wasn’t the person I’d enjoyed and wanted to support three years ago.  Maybe I missed that for a while and should’ve been looking for a new fave for a while.  But when I thought of other players, no one really struck me like Sabine has.  None of the other players I like, or could like, in the same way.  Not even my second favorite player, Simona Halep.  Simona just can’t be my favorite player.  I can’t like her more than Sabine.  As much as I like Simona, she’s no Sabine.

So I stuck by Sabine’s side.  It was well worth it too.  Everything I questioned leading into Indian Wells, has been completely erased from my mind.  She still IS the person from three years ago.  I knew it the moment I saw her after match interview against Garcia.  She broke down and expressed how much it meant to her.  The things she said and the way she said it made me believe she is still mostly the Sabine from three years ago.

Another thing I realized is just how amazing the highs of the rollercoaster can be with a player not ranked in the top ten.  I’ve seen other people mention this before who support lower ranked players.  Not for the reason that they’re ranked low, but because they like the players’ game, personality, etc.  You go in with such little expectations to tournaments with those players that when a big result happens, it’s better than supporting the top ten player who wins the tournament.  You can experience joy and happiness DURING the tournament, not just after your player lifts the trophy at the end.  The feeling is so unbelievable.  Witnessing this run, I know that’s another reason I can’t support anyone else.  Sabine may not win the big titles or even compete for most of them really, but when a big result occurs at a big tournament, it’s like she wins ten titles.  I love the feeling!  As bad as the lows get, the highs are ALWAYS worth it.  When you have no belief then something you never expect to happen occurs, it alters your world.  You’re on cloud 9.  Will never get tired of it.  Should Sabine use this result to work her way up the rankings, into the top ten, somehow, it wouldn’t change anything.  I’ll support Sabine always.  Whether she’s the favorite or underdog.  If I couldn’t leave her during her lows, I surely wouldn’t leave for her highs.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Going into Indian Wells, I had been thinking about Wimbledon 2013 and how unbelievable that run was and hoping we might experience something unexpected like that again.  I certainly didn’t think it’d happen at Indian Wells, or even at any point before the grass season.  Maybe the whole time I knew something big was about to happen before the tournament began. Boy did it ever.  The level of excitement I have to watch Sabine is at a high again.  Can’t get enough of her.

There’s a few things about Sabine’s game in Indian Wells too that has me excited to see what’ll happen next.  I rewatched Sabine’s match vs Errani and noticed her after points closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.  She did that all tournament.  Everyone has mentioned mental coaching for Sabine and when I saw her do that I knew we had something on our hands.  She’s using it!!! I think it helped her relax more and not get so antsy.  She’d slow her pace at times, not rush like it seemed she would sometimes.  That’s what a lot of top players do.  Slow the game down.  It’s paying off.

Sabine also mentioned she’s learning that the things that work for her well on grass also translate to other surfaces.  I’m not that technical in terms of point construction.  I don’t really understand what a player is trying to do, except for picking on a certain side, like forehand or backhand, but I think point construction is what she meant by it.  Whatever works is fine with me :)!

It also must be said we gave Christopher Kas too much slack.  Sabine said something I never thought of.  The second I heard it, I knew I didn’t give him much of a chance.  She said it takes time for a partnership to work.  It made me think to Nole and how he had a rough time at the beginning of his partnership with Boris Becker.  While I don’t understand it, it must matter if Nole has cited that reasoning for tough times too.

I’m not quite sure what to expect from Miami.  Part of me knows how difficult it is to back up a great week.  I just am hoping she can win a match and show us a great match against a top ten player, Ana Ivanovic.  I’d be completely content with that.  But if something big happens again by chance, won’t that be fun 😉

 Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

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