Sabine Lisicki laughs, it seems excited. Positively excited. She says: “I’m doing very well, I’m incredibly happy to play in Berlin. In my home country, in my home club.” This weekend, the big tennis tournament in Berlin starts at the LTTC Rot-Weiss facility, trading under the name “Bett1 Open”. The WTA 500 tournament is worth $757,000. Sabine Lisicki is at the start – and that was unthinkable for a long time.
It’s a comeback, or rather an attempt at a comeback. Sabine Lisicki had to take a break for 18 months after a cruciate ligament tear. She went more than 500 days without a single tournament game. Now she has been able to play three small tournaments, won five of eight matches and Lisicki is back in 994th place in the world rankings. She received a wild card for Berlin, or more precisely, a starting permit for the qualification at the weekend, the small tournament before the tournament. She knows that, as a qualifier she once fought her way forward at Wimbledon. But those were different times, younger times. Sabine Lisicki is now 32 years old. Berlin is something like their very last chance to play their way back onto the big stage.
Sabine Lisicki and the big stage? Yes, there was something. Or there was almost something – really big. That was in early July 2013. Lisicki was the first German player since Steffi Graf to reach the Wimbledon final in 1999. The game was not a street sweeper at home, especially since it was broadcast on pay TV, but there were already a number of restaurants in Berlin that invited to public viewing. There, before the match, the rather mature audience talked in many places about the great times of Graf and Boris Becker, the expectations were high, especially in Berlin – and they were disappointed. Lisicki lost without a word to Marion Bartoli 1:6 and 4:6. The French ended her career a few weeks later.
For Lisicki it was a defeat of tragic dimensions, because she would never get that far again. The German tennis player, who seemed on the verge of jumping, was soon sidelined – especially since Angelique Kerber’s heyday with her Grand Slam titles soon began. It was such a small story that had happened to Claudia Kohde-Kilsch decades before: she announced in a big cover story in “Stern” that she would soon rise to number one. The article ended with her just being overtaken by Graf in the world rankings.
After her big performance, Sabine Lisicki’s career was marked by many setbacks and injuries. Mononucleosis, cruciate ligament rupture. Sure, there were highlights, even after Wimbledon – including a few funny ones, around 2015. In one match, she beat a whopping 27 aces, a world record. But things have been going downhill since 2017. “Of course it would have been different if I had had one or two fewer injuries,” she says. But she doesn’t look back. So then the modest look ahead, to Berlin, not her original home, but her second home after moving from Troisdorf near Bonn at a young age. Sabine Lisicki says: “First of all, I’m happy to be back on the pitch after 18 months.” The first tournaments went well.
“Of course it takes time to get in. I worked hard to get here. I’ll reach the first goal on Saturday when I play the match.” She doesn’t want to think much further, at least not out loud. Logically, she had high goals, but her body needs time after lengthy operations. One should not underestimate that. “I have to go forward step by step. I’m a patient person. Now I can be found in the ranking list again. Starting from scratch is not easy.”
But Berlin is a good place to start from scratch. “Here is my home club.” A few things have changed, such as the surface at the tournament: The favorites are preparing for Wimbledon on the grass, just like they did in Birmingham, Lisicki won the tournament eleven years ago. “Of course I noticed the change in Berlin,” she says and laughs: “Grass is my favorite surface, it fits like a glove.”
Then she talks about how nice it can be to be able to play at home again in front of family and friends in her “second career”. Finally she makes a little declaration of war. She is not too old not to be able to stand on the pitch for a few more years. “I didn’t come to Berlin just to play.”