James Lawton at Wimbledon 2013: Sabine Lisicki stays clear of all the fear and loathing to progress
Conqueror of Williams progresses serenely in what could become enduring love affair
Fear and loathing is supposed to be what women's tennis is mostly about, and the more intensely so the higher you go. Think of the great queens of Wimbledon, from Billie Jean King through Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf to this week's fallen Serena Williams. You see so much superb talent and competitive character. And there is also an awful lot of pain.
Maybe it was this that made the reappearance of Sabine Lisicki, the nerveless conqueror of Serena less than 24 hours earlier, such an uncomplicated pleasure as she mixed power and finesse quite beautifully in her 6-3, 6-3 quarter-final defeat of young Laura Robson's Estonian persecutor Kaia Kanepi. What happened in just one hour and five minutes of near seamless mastery was, you had to suspect, something that might grow into an enduring love affair.
The Court One fans warmed to the rhythm of Lisicki's powerful ground strokes and the regular grace notes of subtle drop shots and cunning lobs. When the semi-final place with Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska was secured, Lisicki showed off a T-shirt emblazoned with the union flag in Wimbledon green and asked: "Do you like it?"
There was not a lot to dislike in either the performance or the demeanour of the 23-year-old German of Polish origins who had stunned the Centre Court with her composure against a player in Williams who had apparently risen up to all the power and touch expected of a winner of 16 Grand Slams.
Lisicki lost 12 games but still retained enough nerve to see through the most formidable job in women's tennis. Today she had one fleeting mishap in a lost service game but for the rest of the time she was utterly in charge of her battle to reach a second Wimbledon semi-final in three years.
She lost the first one against a relentless Maria Sharapova – "she played an unbelievable game," Lisicki recalled – and she knows well enough that the fourth seed Radwanska also shapes up as an opponent of both tremendous will and rounded game.
Lisicki insists, however, that she is armed with one certainty. It is that she will never mistake a tennis match for an aspect of war. "Tennis is for me joy, nothing less than that," she said.
"You know," she reported, "after beating Serena I felt no pressure at all. I went out there today to enjoy my game – and win the match. That's all I was focused on, just that single match, each and every point that was there." The idea that victory over Serena had liberated her from all her fears, had made her believe that anything was possible, was politely but firmly volleyed away. "I thought anything was possible before the tournament started. I know how it is to be in the semis here. I know the different atmosphere.
"You know, everything is starting to get empty in the locker room. It is a completely different feeling and I'm glad I have had the experience of playing in a semi. I feel I'm going into something I understand, something I can deal with."
Her biggest ally, she believes, is the one that deserts so many young, brilliant girls who had too many questions that could not be contained within the tennis court: perspective. "There are a lot of things which give me joy when I play the game. To do something you love for a living is a great gift that my parents gave to me. And then if you have certain difficulties, as I did a couple of years ago when I suddenly couldn't walk, that makes you look at things very differently."
She sustained an ankle injury in 2010 that kept her out for five months. "My passion is the game and part of it is having the injuries in my past," she added. "Three years ago when I couldn't walk I understood that if I played again I would value every single moment. My injuries meant I had to learn to walk again before I thought about playing tennis.
"It's a simple thing, appreciating you have two healthy legs and are able to walk. When you're on crutches, you cannot carry anything. You need help. So just walking again, carrying my own stuff, was a great feeling even before I went back on the court."
After beating Williams, Lisicki knew very clearly what she had to do. "I couldn't run a single second ahead of myself, I knew very clearly what I had to do. I had to keep to a level.
"I knew Kaia was a tough opponent. You can never underestimate anyone in a quarter-final. She'd gotten here for a reason. She has a good serve. She can hit the ball hard. So I knew I had to be as I was against Serena – completely clear about the challenge in front of me. I did a lot of recovery because I knew we didn't have too much time. I went back home and ate well and went to sleep quite early. Today I did everything as normal."
Somebody wanted to know if the example of her great compatriot Graf was a help or a burden? Lisicki looked bemused. "It is neither," she said quite sternly. "I focus on myself. I want to do the best that I can do and that's all I'm worrying about."
That, plainly, but also maybe a little passing flirtation with the arena whose heart she has already half-stolen. "I've done my best here at the Centre Court, and I have a lot of support here. I just love stepping on that court."
She would say that, of course. At least she would in these days so free from fear and loathing.
BBC has got it right – but don't tell Warsaw
Just when British sports fans thought they were getting the hang of Polish names thanks to repeated exposure to the challenging consonant clusters of Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny, along comes tennis to confuse things.
Sabine Lisicki is German, but of Polish descent, and no doubt Poles and Anglo-Poles watching Wimbledon have been loudly correcting BBC commentators every time they pronounce her name as it appears to be spelt. To Poles, you see, the name Lisicki is pronounced 'Lis – IT – ski' rather than 'Lis – ICKy'. And, in fact, it should really be Lisicka ('Lis – IT – ska'), Sabine being female.
Unfortunately for Polish pedants, the BBC is correct. Lisicki has abandoned her ancestral pronunciation in favour of one that bears more relation to the spelling. Similarly, the former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki, born in Denmark of Polish parents, says her surname as it is spelt.
So when Lisicki faces Agnieszka Radwanska (Rad – VAN – ska) in Thursday's women's semi-final, only one of the competitors will be proudly pronounced the Polish way. The purists will prefer the first all-Pole Grand Slam men's meeting between Lukasz Kubot (WU-cash KU – bot) and Jerzy Jarowicz (YE – zhy Ya – RO – vich) in tomorrow's quarter-final.
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