Sabine Lisicki may not yet be a Wimbledon champion, but she has certainly won over the hearts of the Wimbledon faithful.
The cheery German, seeded and aged 23, eventually bowed out in the final to French 15th seed Marion Bartoli, 6-1 6-4, having fought past five-time winner Serena Williams and former finalist Agnieszka Radwanska on her way.
Although she found it difficult to answer both of Bartoli’s fierce two-handed groundstrokes, it was more the overwhelming nature of playing her first Grand Slam final on the biggest tennis stage that threw Lisicki off her game. Two breaks of serve down in the second set, Lisicki was on the verge of tears. “There’s simply no place to hide”, commentators and fans alike sympathised with the first German finalist since Steffi Graf in 1999. Against an opponent who had been there before, the pomp of the circumstance stunned the never-say-die spirit Lisicki had demonstrated throughout the tournament and in her career.
Born in Troisdorf to Polish émigrés, who drove her to tournaments across Europe and worked long hours to finance her tennis, she was coached by her father and trains at the Bollettieri Academy in Florida, famous for developing players including the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova, her idol Andre Agassi and compatriot Boris ‘Boom-Boom’ Becker. Her hard-hitting playing style has also earned her this sobriquet, thanks to her energy on the court, taking control of rallies with flat swings, aggressive attacks of the net and one of the fastest serves on the women’s tour.
Lisicki broke into the top 100 as a teenager in 2008, before an ankle injury in 2010 forced her to learn how to walk again after five months. In 2011, she came back stronger to become only the second wildcard to reach a women’s Wimbledon semifinal. Ironically, she plays her best tennis on grass even though she is allergic to the green stuff.
Lisicki radiates a genuine euphoria about her privileges that is more in touch with people less fortunate.
Many would not have paid specific attention to the name before this summer, but watching Lisicki’s fantastic run has set her apart from other players in two ways. First, such raw emotion has endeared her to the SW19 audience and viewers at home. Off the court, in post-match interviews often clichéd about focusing on one game at a time and thanking the crowds for their support, Lisicki rather radiates a genuine euphoria about her privileges that is more in touch with people less fortunate. (She even named her dog Happy.)
On the court, she sports an infectious smile, as much following a backhand winner as a net cord bouncing twice on her side. This epitomises her second trait, one which all professional sportspeople need: a perspective that acknowledges they are being paid to play a game and there are more important things in life to care about. “To have your hobby as a job is something that not a lot of people say they can have,” she said after winning her quarterfinal. “That opportunity that my parents gave me, you know. I’m very thankful for that.” These qualities, as well as her grace in defeat, make Sabine Lisicki a joy to watch and the perfect role model to emulate.