The anticipation is great. The hall, the fans, the former teammates – Simon Ernst is in a good mood when he thinks about seeing Berlin again. “The game is something special. On the one hand because it’s against the old guys and on the other hand because of the atmosphere in the hall. I hope there will be a lot of spectators,” says the SC DHfK Leipzig backcourt player, who was under contract with the Foxes for three years before moving to the league competitor in 2021.

However, the friendly visit should not stop on Saturday when the two teams meet in the evening (8.30 p.m. / Sky). After three defeats in a row and most recently a bitter 20:31 bankruptcy against THW Kiel, Ernst and Co. want to end the negative run of the past few weeks. “Not only did we not score any points, we also played bad games. We want to present ourselves well again,” says Ernst.

During the unusually long, eight-day break, the focus was therefore mainly on their own strengths and weaknesses. There was also “a certain intensity” in training, as the 28-year-old puts it. Coverage and attacking play, mental strength and resilience – all the parameters were tweaked to get back on the road to success. Because – and Ernst knows this better than most – in order to win in Berlin, the people of Leipzig have to act almost at their best.

Ernst himself will mainly be in demand in his role as a defense specialist. However, he doubts that his insider knowledge will help him much. After all, just because you know that Jacob Holm has a fast one-one and likes to spin on man doesn’t mean he’s a better defender. “It’s no fun,” says Ernst with a wry laugh. “He does it brilliantly. But there is also a lot of quality in the backcourt and we have to make sure that we beat the system and not just win a duel.”

In the meantime, Marian Michalczik is one for whom he certainly no longer needs to prepare in the ranks of the foxes. After injuring his ankle at the end of last year, the middle man, who was brought in to replace Ernst, had to undergo another operation and will not be able to play again for the Berliners before he leaves for TSV Hannover-Burgdorf in the summer.

“Of course that’s extremely bitter,” says Ernst, who, after surviving three cruciate ligament tears, can well understand the story of his former teammate’s suffering with an eye injury, corona infection and multiple foot problems. “But that’s our sport. It’s not healthy,” says the 28-year-old, who has never let himself be deterred from returning to the field. He has always fought back in an incomparable way and has now been injury-free for almost two years after a very, very long period of suffering.

Good for him and good for Leipzig, who have worked their way up to seventh place this season and are well on the way to making the leap into international business for the first time in the club’s history. “We showed that we can play in the chasing squad and that the European Cup is the segment where we belong,” says the native of Düren, who has not only settled in well at the club but also in the city of Leipzig.

The feel-good factor is reflected not least on the parquet floor. In Leipzig, the 2016 European champion played his way back into the national team and thus achieved a feat that was hard to imagine given his injury history. “That’s the icing on the cake,” says Ernst. It was already a success for him to come back to the floor at all.

He celebrated two of his comebacks in Berlin – these are also memories that he associates with his former place of work. But Simon Ernst would not be himself if he thought back to that time too negatively. He looks at the positive aspects. After all, there were always the teammates, the fans and the city.