Sabine’s Australian Open ended in the 2nd round to Denisa Allertova. It was a close match that you felt could’ve easily gone either way.
Sabine broke in the third set to draw even at 4-4. That’s when the match really started. It was a long 10 minute, 5 deuce game. Sabine had three game points. She held a 40-30 lead when Allertova came to the net and Sabine barely missed a backhand passing shot. Allertova then did it again a few points later with the same result. That was a key factor in the outcome of that game that Allertova started trying to change it up and give Sabine a different look. There were a few times in the game when Allertova made an error and it felt like Sabine needed to close the game right then and there. One of those times came on Allertova’s first break point. It was a 25 shot rally, which Sabine was doing a lot of running and playing defense. Another time was on the fourth deuce. Allertova hit a backhand error into the net to give Sabine her third game point. This one to me feels like the game point that got away. The one she should’ve won. At that point it felt like that was her opportunity to win the game and possibly the match. Sabine came out on her game point and hit a working first serve in the middle of the box. A few shots later Allertova had the winner and she never looked back in the match. Sabine looked to have gotten tired in the game and hit many slow first serves to get points started in the game, but the serve needed to be better on that point. The thing that gets me about it is that it felt like she didn’t take her time. I would’ve liked to see her realize how important that particular point was and close the door with a good first serve. To give herself some time to regain some energy. Unfortunately she didn’t do that and the poor first serve cost her the point and the match.
Allertova deserves a lot of credit from that point forward though I must say. She hit two winners and forced Sabine into an error the last three points of the game to get the pivotal break. Also, remember earlier how I mentioned she started changing it up coming to the net a few times. Allertova won the match because she played well at the end of the match, whereas when Sabine had chances she didn’t capitalize, giving Allertova too many opportunities to get herself back into the match.
Allertova didn’t seem to have good movement to the net. Perhaps it had to do with the strapping on her upper thigh. Sabine usually hits so many awful drop shots. In bad positions and at bad times. But this time Sabine didn’t hit many, which left you scratching your hit. She hit a couple and they were good, but I thought she should’ve hit more. You can’t hit them every point obviously, but she could’ve definitely won more points had she hit more of them.
Sabine lost to Allertova in Luxembourg in her last match of 2014. It was their only prior meeting. From that match I remember thinking Allertova was a defensive player, but upon watching this match I realize how far from the truth that is. I’m not sure if I misread her in that match or she has made changes to her game since then, but I know now what Allertova does well. The thing that struck me about her game is how she seemed to take the ball early. She did play some defense, but when she did she didn’t give up much ground from the baseline. It seemed like she was always a step or two behind the baseline. Always in good position on the court. That’s why I believe she was able to hit many aggressive shots. She has been successful against Sabine in their two matches due to her not giving up much ground. She has good movement side to side and hits quality shots when she’s in a defensive position. The motion or her serve is abbreviated, so you’d think Sabine would have success returning, but Allertova’s able to get some pop on it. Much like Caroline Garcia.
I go into depth about Allertova’s game simply because it’s concerning how Sabine has had trouble with her. A player whose not spent a week inside the top 50. Sabine has trouble with her type though.
A look at the stats shows Sabine had a 64% first serve percentage. That is very deceiving because, as I mentioned earlier, she spun in many first serves. She only won 6% more points on her 1st serve compared to her 2nd, which makes a lot of sense since she was using two 2nd serves really, with an occasional big serve winning her points to make up the difference. Sabine only had 6 aces. I say only because I remember the commentator saying in Sabine’s third service game that she was already at 5. So that means she hit 1 ace her last 10 service games. Very telling of her not going for her serve. Her break point conversion was great (4/7). 22 winners to 42 unforced errors is not great, but Allertova wasn’t much better (19-32).
I got deeply emotionally invested in this match. I wanted it so badly. I wanted Sabine to make the third round and get revenge on Allertova for their previous meeting. What really got me about the match was I had similar feelings about the match that I had to a few matches last year in which Sabine won. I saw in Sabine’s game after she got down a break in the third what I saw in her comeback against Strycova at the US Open. It seemed like she was putting everything she had into her performance at that point. At that point I tweeted “epic comeback starts right here.” (It’s a reference to a commercial my favorite American football player is in, which you can see here). I truly believed Sabine was going to come back. I just got the feeling she would not lose this match, much like I felt when Sabine beat Flavia Pennetta in Indian Wells last year. I haven’t been on the losing side with Sabine for many deep classic matches in which she lost. The only one that comes to mind is Kerber at Wimbledon in 2012. But now another one has been added.
I got the feeling late in that match that I would be heartbroken and in tears if Sabine lost. Only one of those happened though and it was the first one mentioned. I probably would’ve been in tears, but I was just so tired and had nothing left after little sleep all week watching the Australian Open. It’s a difficult loss because you just think of what it would’ve been like to win. It crossed my mind towards the end of the match. It’d have been such a happy feeling to win. Perhaps similar to like when she beat Strycova last September or even in 2013 when she was making her way to the Wimbledon final.
After Sabine beat Cetkovska I wrote about how well I believed she was playing and all the positives that took place. It looks a bit silly to have lost in the following round, but many positives took place in the loss as well. Sabine did well facing break points. She won 11 of 15 break points against her serve. In those saved break points include many saved in the third set that kept her in contact with Allertova. She easily could’ve gone down 0-3 or 1-4, but was able to save them and hold each time to give herself a chance to win the match. Overall, I’m quite happy how well Sabine is playing. Even in this loss, she showed quality with where her game is at. A lot higher than I was expecting coming off the injury. It’s almost as if she’s just a level below where she left off after injury ended her season last year. I’d say her offense isn’t quite there yet. She doesn’t seem to be pulling the trigger as much, but defensively she’s done well. She’s getting many balls back and hanging in rallies. Perhaps one thing she may need to work on is her match fitness since it looked like she got more and more tired late in the match, but that also could’ve just been that it was a long game.
As I watched the match, the commentator was saying many things about Sabine that, as I listened to, I agreed with. I believe the commentator was Christen Bartelt. On one of the break points Sabine didn’t convert, Bartelt said how Allertova smartly served towards Sabine’s body because Sabine often likes to hit big cross court forehands that open the court and leave the opponent in a compromised position. If you think about it, it does come to mind her pulling of the exact scenario. Another thing she mentioned was how Sabine’s serving at a lower speed is a tactic. When she goes after her first serve its usually around 50%, but by taking off some speed it allows her to have a higher percentage. There were many other things Bartelt said I was nodding along to, but none of them are coming to mind at the moment. Her comments though made me believe that Sabine is smarter than we think she is in some of her decisions and that there’s usually a reason for most of the things she does.
The loss to Allertova brought up an issue in Team Lisicki we’ve harped on for a while. It’s her mental game. How when things get tough Sabine doesn’t seem to have the mental toughness to deal with it and crumbles. We all were drawn to her big game with the belief she had the potential to be a top 10 player and win titles. What’s held her back is those tough moments and decision making process in them. I and many others believe that’s what cost her in this match more than anything else.
It’s so weird because you see her win these huge matches sometimes and think she’s found that part of her game, but it hasn’t happened. I remember thinking prior to her Wimbledon final in 2013 how I thought she had to improve aspects of her game to win a major. I thought she needed to be more consistent off the ground and play higher percentage tennis at times. Improve her service toss. Then she rattled off six wins in a row to reach the final, showing that mental toughness against the best players in the game. She proved me wrong at that point, but much of why we see her struggle today has to do with what we’ve seen even before she reached that final. I believe Kas has improved her game in some facets, but that service toss is as bad as ever. She really needs to work on that and take her time while she’s playing. You look at all the top players and they all have consistent ball tosses. It’s one thing a player has control of, so it’s easier to work on than pressure moments, for example.
I look at my favorite men’s player, Novak Djokovic, and his game style. How he plays with so much margin and can win matches many different ways. Now I know Sabine doesn’t have many of the qualities that make Djokovic the best player in the world, but what he is able to do should be the goal of every tennis player. We recently heard how Victoria Azarenka has a goal to get her footwork to be as good as his. It’s not just his footwork. It’s his shot selection, mental fortitude, consistency, etc, etc. He is the measuring bar for every tennis player.
It was mentioned that if Sabine did become a better player how she may become different and that we might not like her as we do now. There’s definitely some truth to it. We’ve already seen her change a bit after making the Wimbledon final. You can still see who she was before that final though. She’s just not as public anymore I think. She doesn’t use social media in the same ways, but in person she’s just as sweet as ever. You can see it in her post match interviews after wins. Bottom line for me though is I want to see her do better because I know what she’s capable of… and how much I like her. I’ve realized in watching her matches so far this year how much I’ve missed her. I’m not going anywhere. I’ve been with her through all these tough times. Why would I leave when it finally starts to get fun? I did leave Bouchard when she achieved success, but that was superficial liking. I’m on my fourth year of being a fan of Sabine. My mind is made up and that won’t change. Perhaps Sabine could change a bit with consistent success, but sometimes change can make you better in all facets of life. Just look at Novak Djokovic.
Next for Sabine could be Fed Cup. We’ll see if she’s named to the team and whether she gets a playing role in the tie. It seems to me the only lock is Angelique Kerber. Petkovic has had troubles recently, losing in the first round of the Australian Open, so it would appear that second singles spot is open. Sabine has had success against Belinda Bencic, winning their first matchup then nearly doing the same in their next meeting, so I would think Sabine is the best option to play her, especially on an indoor hard court. We’ll see what happens. Wherever her next match is Team Lisicki will be cheering her on as always 🙂