Sabine Lisicki made a comeback for the ages Saturday night on Grandstand at the US Open against Barbora Strycova. Sabine was down 1-5 in the final set, before finding a level she’s probably never performed at in her life. The next six games featured 8 winners and 3 aces, as well as many errors Sabine forced Strycova into. Sabine won 24 of 31 points in those six games (77%).
Sabine started putting everything she had into her shots and focusing on what she needed to do to win points: having an aggressive mindset. Up to that point in the match, especially the second set and the first six games of the last set, Sabine seemed to be okay with being in rallies. She wasn’t attacking as much as she usually does and wasn’t putting Strycova away when she was ahead in the point. Credit Strycova’s defense, but it wasn’t how Sabine typically plays. That along with her serve not being as dominant for that stretch, caused her to lose grip of the match. The last six games though she started going for it again and that allowed her to hold relatively easy. Her return game, which has been suspect of late, became a strength. She missed one return in the last three Strycova service games and that was on a great serve from Strycova. Sabine actually broke more easily than held in the last six games. She lost two points on return in three games and had the only love game of the stretch in the last game.
This was a match I wanted Sabine to win badly. I mean BADLY. And for many reasons. She had beaten Strycova in Toronto a few weeks earlier. Having not being broken through two matches, I liked the form she was in and thought she should beat her again. There were a few ominous factors going into the match though. The first was that Petkovic and Kerber had lost their matches earlier in the day. Sabine, Petkovic, and Kerber have had the same results at each of the previous four majors. Coming into the day, I thought highly of the matchups for Sabine and Petkovic. Kerber had a tough match, but I thought she’d pull it out because Sabine and Petkovic had great opportunties. Unfortunately it didn’t pan out for them, so I was on edge going into the match because of that stat.
The other ominous sign was that the player Sabine could play in the next round is my second favorite WTA player, Simona Halep. There’s been many occasions since their last meeting at Wimbledon last year, where they could’ve faced each other. None of them came to fruition. Even when all the odds seemed to be in favor of them meeting, something would happen each time preventing it. I figured something would happen again.
Let me take you through my mindset during the match.
When Sabine won the first set, I was so pumped up. I basically did what Nole did after he won Wimbledon this year. A roar and pumping both my arms. It was a tough game to win the set. A long one. Sabine was up 5-4 with Strycova serving. The game went at least seven deuces and Sabine had about four set points I think. Had she lost it, I just knew she wouldn’t win the set, so when she won that last point it was a big deal and I reacted as such. We were just one set away from the fourth round after all and at the potential of meeting Halep. At that point Simona was up a set and maybe a break in the second.
Sabine got a quick break in the second set and Simona was two games away from winning. I could feel it was going to happen, but then Sabine lost serve right away. Simona won her match not too much long later. At 4-4 in Sabine’s match, Sabine lost her serve. Sabine had two game points then lost four straight points to lose serve. Having the lead in that game, you have to close it out so late in a set. She didn’t then a Strycova hold to love and we’re going three sets. I figured she’d lose because she lost momentum and I’ve seen many of her matches like this one go against her.
Third set got away from her fast, starting with getting broken to love in the opening game. Soon it was two breaks and an 1-4 deficit. At that score, I just couldn’t believe it was happening again. Here we are one match away from Sabine and Simona playing and it’s slipping away again. How many times can this possibly happen? I’m all about reverse psychology and I was doing that at this point of this match. Saying things like “they’re never going to play each other ever again.” I could tell it wasn’t working and she got down 1-5. At this point, it was over. No way she could win. I just hoped to avoid the breadstick and make Strycova serve it out. I was so mad and already preparing a tweet in my mind along the lines of “It’s best if I stay off Twitter. Bye.” after she lost and not coming back for at least a day. I was down. I wanted the match so much and got myself overly invested in it. As if putting so much into it would help Sabine.
Funny thing happened after that. Sabine peaked. I didn’t give it much of a thought though that she’d win the match. She just needed to lose one of four games to lose the match. She was bound to play one bad one or get outplayed. It was fun seeing her play well, but the outcome wouldn’t change. I’ve seen her make comebacks or look like she’s going to get back in a match, just to lose it easily. I know better than to anticipate comebacks with her. The score became 5-4. I had a little hope, but again I wasn’t getting ahead of myself. It always seems to happen where my player gets in the last game, but loses it anyway. I even saw it happen the previous day in the Svitolina-Makarova match. Svitolina had a break point, but couldn’t convert. Now Sabine has a break point and I got a little hope. She wins the point and I can’t believe it. She’s drawn even. The first point of her service game at 5-5 was a dominating point where she hit forehand after forehand into one spot until she forced an error. I got a little teary eyed. Here’s my fave absolutely in the zone after just coming back from the brink of elimination. What a sight. At that point, I knew she’d win.
Match point. I was already on the verge of tears, but trying to hold it in. Didn’t take long. GSM Sabine Lisicki. I lost it. Sabine’s emotions have basically become my own over the years. I usually react the same way she does after these type of matches. This one was different though. I’ve never felt that way before. I was so happy. I didn’t stop smiling for probably two hours after the match. I really tried to soak it in and stay away from everything else after she won as much as I could. It was such a weird match. I had no idea what I just saw. No explanation for what had happened. I was just shaking my head and shrugging my shoulders. Sabine is a rollercoaster and that was the wildest one I’ve been on. Going from as low as you could be to highest of highs. All in less than half an hour. Only Sabine can do that.
I’ve never seen anyone else, other than Serena, do what Sabine did. Sabine completely took over the match like Serena would in a situation where she’s down. It reminded me of Sabine’s match in Cincy against Errani last year. She lost serve to go down 5-6 in the third set. She came out afterwards and took over, winning 11 of 14 points. That’s the only other time I’ve ever seen Sabine take over a match by being relentless and fearless. That was only for two games though. This time she kept up the level for six games.
Looking at the points and games more closely, the first thirteen points Sabine was on a roll, hitting 6 winners and 3 aces. After that, the unforced errors from Strycova caught my attention. Strycova made two unforced errors in each of her service games at 5-4 and 5-6. Seems that Sabine put the pressure on Strycova with the roll she got on then Strycova started to feel it. The crowd also got really behind Sabine for every point, which may have also contributed to Strycova’s nerves to cause errors.
At 1-4, Sabine took a medical timeout for her knee. I saw some things about it after the match. People were mad. First of all, Sabine has had tape on that knee at other points during the US Open. If you watched her footwork, she wasn’t as quick during the match as she usually is. It’s a real injury. Even Strycova said she thought Sabine was injured. No medical timeout could magically make her play the tennis of her life the final six games. Strycova is just lucky Sabine didn’t play up to her capabilities earlier in the match or it’d have been straight sets. At the end of the day, Sabine is the better player and she won. If you saw the six games, you’d know that.
So I have my dream matchup of Sabine and Simona. What do I expect? I anticipate Simona will win the match in straight sets. She’s been playing at a high level and is consistent. She’ll run down Sabine’s shots and cause many errors from just getting back one extra ball. She has the game to take it to Sabine as well. The other factor is Sabine’s knee injury. Without good movement, it won’t be a match. Sabine found a level unseen before against Strycova though. If she continues that in this match, she will win, but I doubt it’ll happen. At the end of the day, I’m just hoping for a competitive match. The last time they played was the Wimbledon quarterfinals last year. After getting out to a 4-1 lead, Sabine proceeded to lose the last 11 games. It won’t take much for there to be an improvement over that match.
I’ve been asked a few times who I will be rooting for. That isn’t even a question. Sabine is my favorite player. I will not root for anyone else when she is on the court. I’m assuming people ask because Simona has a better chance of winning the tournament, but that’s irrelevant. It’s just about this one match. It’ll be a different dynamic this time though because I’ve grown to like Simona more since their last meeting. I’ve never rooted against her. I don’t know how it’ll be to have a competitive feeling against her. Either way, I’ll just enjoy seeing my two favorite WTA players on the same court, with one of them advancing to their first US Open quarterfinal 🙂