After battling ankle injuries the past two years, missing five months in 2010, including Wimbledon, and dropping out of the top 200 in the WTA rankings, Sabine Lisicki allowed herself relatively modest hopes for 2011.
"My goal this year was to be around 50 by the end of the year," Lisicki said in a telephone interview Sunday.
Looks like she's going to have to adjust her expectations.
Lisicki, 21, won the AEGON Classic in Birmingham, England, in June, earning a wild-card entry to Wimbledon. She made the most of it, reaching the semifinals before falling to Maria Sharapova. That has brought Lisicki back up to No. 26 in the rankings going into this week's Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Calif., and perhaps even into the conversation when it comes to contenders for the U.S. Open.
Lisicki, who is from Germany but lives in Bradenton, Fla., still has much to prove with the hard-court season just beginning and the Open a month away. But she has one decided edge going in: a dominant serve that was unofficially clocked at more than 130 miles per hour in 2009 and overwhelmed French Open champion Li Na at Wimbledon. Lisicki was clocked at 124 mph at Wimbledon, the fastest serve this season. The official fastest ever was Venus Williams, 129 mph at the 2007 U.S. Open.
Lisicki, at 5-foot-10, uses her height with strong legs coming up out of the knee bend to generate those powerful serves.
After losing to Lisicki in the second round, Li was asked whether Lisicki served like a man.
"Every serve was like around 117 miles," she said in the postmatch interview. "I mean, this is impossible for the women. I don't think the player can stay same level like today. If like this, I mean, she's No. 1 in the world."
Lisicki, who can be seen in a WTA-produced video on YouTube seeking questions from fans, laughed when asked about the comparison to men.
"I take it as a compliment," she said. "The men are serving amazingly. It's a good thing, I think."
It's easy to laugh now that Lisicki is back to playing the way she was in 2009, when she reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals and topped out at No. 22 in the rankings. That was before rolling her left ankle on match point against Anastasia Rodionova in the second round of the '09 U.S. Open. After the injury healed, Lisicki hurt the same ankle again at Indian Wells, Calif., in March 2010. She was out five months.
"Oh, it was very tough," Lisicki said. "Being ranked that high and playing some amazing tennis was great and the injury was very tough, especially to be out for five months. It's never easy, but unfortunately injuries are part of the sport. The important thing is I came back and I came back stronger.
"I just enjoy it even more now because I know how quick everything can be taken away from you."
Clijsters, Kvitova withdraw
Two of the top draws for the Mercury Insurance Open in Carlsbad, Calif., have pulled out because of injuries. Kim Clijsters, the two-time defending U.S. Open champion, and 2011 Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova both withdrew from the tournament that begins Aug. 1.
Clijsters remains out with an ankle injury that forced her to miss Wimbledon. Kvitova announced she has a pulled abdominal muscle. Both are scheduled to play in the Rogers Cup in Toronto beginning Aug. 8.
Clijsters, interviewed last week by Minneapolis TV station Fox9, said she is making progress toward a return.
"I'm back on the court," she said. "I started hitting about a week ago. I've been working hard physically to get back into shape and I'm excited to be on the court and hitting tennis balls again. It feels really good."
• Serena Williams, currently ranked No. 169 after missing most of the past year with injuries and a pulmonary embolism, is also playing this week in the Bank of the West Classic, her first tournament since being ousted in the fourth round at Wimbledon in June. She is scheduled to face No. 105 Rodionova on Tuesday night. If Williams advances to the quarterfinals at Stanford, she could face No. 2 seed Sharapova. Venus Williams, who hasn't played a tournament since Wimbledon as well, is skipping Stanford but scheduled to play at Toronto.
• Looking for a new sports power couple now that Chris Evert and Greg Norman have split? How about No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki and U.S. Open golf champion Rory McIlroy, who have been linked romantically in recent weeks?
• Third-ranked Vera Zvonareva began her hard-court prep by winning the Baku Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan. She beat Russian Ksenia Pervak in the final for Zvonareva's second title of the year. She also won at Qatar in February. Arina Rodionova, younger sister of Anastasia, was named World TeamTennis finals MVP after helping the Washington Kastles beat the St. Louis Aces in Sunday's final.