The 21-year-old was limited to 10 tournaments in 2010 after sustaining a left ankle injury in Indian Wells last March. It made the prospect of merely watching a match on television too painful for the 2009 Wimbledon quarterfinalist, who reflexively reached for the remote whenever she stumbled across tennis on TV.
“It was a very tough time for me. Even walking, in the beginning, was tough,” Lisicki recalls. “I had zero muscles in my calf so I had to rebuild them and basically had to learn how to walk and run again. Before the injury, I had no trouble running for 30, 40 or 60 minutes. When I first started to run after the injury, after 45 or 50 seconds I was dead sometimes. Those kinds of things make you wonder ‘How am I supposed to get back?’”
Bolstered by one of the biggest serves in women’s tennis, Lisicki burst onto the scene two years ago in Charleston, where she blasted her way past Venus Williams, Elena Vesnina, Marion Bartoli and Caroline Wozniacki to collect her first career title. It was an impressive run that vaulted her inside the Top 50.
A tall and powerful player, Lisicki cracks the ball off both her forehand and backhand sides. Her willingness to take risk and change direction on her shots—as well as her formidable first serve (the 124 mph missile she hit during the 2010 U.S. Open was the third-fastest serve on the WTA last season)—have formed the foundation of her aggressive baseline game.
"Lisicki is a big, strong, hard-hitting player who reminds me of a boxer throwing punches from every single direction," said coach Nick Bollettieri, who has worked with her at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy. "The problem is some of the punches land in the right spot and some don’t. But she's got great power, a strong serve, she works very hard and has a big-match mentality you can't always teach."
Injury-induced inactivity has caused the former world No. 23’s ranking to plummet to No. 186, but she started taking comeback steps in qualifying for Auckland last month. We caught up with Lisicki as she came off the practice court at the Dow Corning Tennis Classic in Midland, Mich. for this Gear Talk interview. Playing this USTA Pro Circuit event has also enabled Lisicki to reconnect with the same family that hosted her when she first visited Midland as an alternate for qualifying four years ago.
TENNIS.com: Sabine, what was the first racquet you ever owned?
Sabine Lisicki: My first real racquet was a Wilson racquet. Before that, I had some kind of metal racquet. I have no clue the brand name; I don’t think it was any brand. Wilson was my first real racquet.
TENNIS.com: Who gave you the racquet?
Sabine Lisicki: One of my parents gave it to me. My dad was teaching tennis and I was begging him to give me some lessons. I think my mom first took me on [court] so it might have been my mom who gave me my first racquet.
TENNIS.com: Have you always played with Wilson?
Sabine Lisicki: No, I played with Wilson for a long time and then I switched to Prince and now I’m back to Wilson. I play with the BLX Blade 98.
TENNIS.com: What string do you use and what tension do you string?
Sabine Lisicki: It really depends on the weather and if we’re playing outdoors or indoors, and so the string tension can really change a lot. I would say on average, I string between 24 and 27 kilograms (about 53-59 pounds). I string half gut and half Luxilon.
TENNIS.com: I know you wore adidas for years and saw you recently wearing Under Armour. What is your apparel brand?
Sabine Lisicki: I used to wear adidas for seven years and my contract went up. So right now I wear whatever.
TENNIS.com: Who was the most stylish player you liked growing up? Which players influenced your style?
Sabine Lisicki: Mary Pierce influenced my hair style. I’m braiding my hair because that's how she did it. I used to have shorter hair and I told my mom I’d let it grow because I liked Mary Pierce and her playing style. Growing up, I really liked to watch Jennifer Capriati, Pierce and Martina Hingis. I really liked all three of them because of their power and aggressive games, but I like to play drop shots and try to use variety like Martina. On the men’s side, I always liked Andre Agassi’s style.
TENNIS.com: You’re coming off a left ankle injury that limited you to 10 tournaments last year. Are you healthy now? Are you taping your ankles, wearing braces, doing anything with equipment to protect them?
Sabine Lisicki: I’m over the injury now. It was a very, very, very hard time during the injury. I’m an active person so being on crutches for six weeks and having the foot on the cast was not fun. The doctors helped me and made a special cast that allowed me to do some things. I became a pretty good swimmer since I could not run for a while. I’m absolutely over it and I don’t want to risk any injury anymore so I decided to wear braces on both ankles. It doesn’t look as pretty, but it’s not about that. It’s about being secure and having confidence on the court. I missed so much time and because of that there is the mental strain. But I think I’m a fitter player, because I worked so hard on my fitness to come back, and a better overall player now because I’m more patient.
TENNIS.com: What did you learn from your time away from tennis and how did you deal with your time away from the game?
Sabine Lisicki: I really, really missed the game. It's been my passion since I am little and that is also probably visible in that I happy to be on court. But I feel I’m a hard worker, I have put a lot of time and effort into coming back. At first, you’d feel sore and feel like this hurts or that hurts so you know getting back to where you were before is not easy. It’s a process and I’m trying to take the right steps in the process. It takes a lot of time to get back but I really enjoy playing and appreciate it and I think my game is better now.
TENNIS.com: Last question, you seem to have a positive attitude on court. Have you ever smashed or thrown a racquet?
Sabine Lisicki: I’ve not thrown or broken a racquet in my life.
Sabine Lisicki: Never.