A little over a year ago, Sabine Lisicki couldn’t make it past 45 seconds jogging on a treadmill, or hit forehands and backhands from the service line for more than 10 minutes.
“My muscles and left calf were completely gone; there was nothing,” Lisicki said of the severe ankle sprain that left her on crutches for seven weeks in Berlin last spring. “I mean, I had to learn how to walk again.”
And yet, entering her first-round match yesterday at the U.S. Open — where she had been taken off the court in 2009 on a wheelchair after an injury on match point of a second-round loss (she aggravated it six months later) — the 21-year-old German is tipped as a dark-horse contender for her first Grand Slam title.
“After the injury, I started to enjoy myself much more out there, because I know how quickly everything can be gone,” Lisicki told amNewYork.
In April, her world ranking was No. 218. Then Lisicki went on a tear, including a victory at Birmingham, a semifinal berth at Wimbledon and, last week, her third WTA title, on hardcourts in Dallas — a win that vaulted Lisicki’s ranking to a career-high No. 18.
The surge comes thanks to the strenuous rehabilitation of her left leg, but also, perhaps, to two other factors. Earlier this summer, doctors discovered that Lisicki — who “really didn’t feel well the last couple of years” — was allergic to gluten, prompting a sudden dietary change that came “better late than never” and energized her, she said.
There’s also the solid-gold horseshoe pendant (a birthday gift three years ago from her Polish-born parents). She’s never misplaced it because it’s always around her neck.
“It’s too heavy to go on a — how do you call it? — a chain,” Lisicki said of her signature lucky charm. “And I like it with the black band.”
Her biggest weapon, greater than her booming serve or her powerful ground strokes, “is my fighting spirit,” Lisicki added.
“My goal is to be top-50 at the end of the year. I’ve reached that goal already — and I went far beyond that,” she said. “Why should I change anything now?”
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