There was a time when Sabine Lisicki could not stand the sight of grass. She was "strongly allergic" to the green and would start sneezing every time she tried to play on it.
"I used to hate it," Lisicki said earlier this month. "I think I lost five straight matches on grass in the beginning, plus one doubles, and then I turned it around in 2009 when I reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals. Everything was against me liking grass, but at some point I just turned it around and I love it now."
Arriving at the All England Championships in 2009 after losing in the first round of the French Open and Eastbourne, the German, who was ranked 41 in the world, had knocked out the 32nd seed Anna Chakvetadze in the opening round. Then she defeated Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, Svetlana Kuznetsova (No 5 seed) and Caroline Wozniacki (No 9 seed) before falling to Dinara Safina, the world No 1 at that time, in the quarter-finals.
Earlier that year, Lisicki had defeated Venus Williams, Marion Bartoli and Wozniacki on her way to her first WTA Tour title, in Charleston. Starting 2009 as world No 54, she climbed to No 23 by the end of the year.
At the end of 2007, she had been No 237, and following her impressive rise up the charts she was being hailed in Germany as the next Steffi Graf.
Lisicki's surge, however, was interrupted by an ankle injury in March 2010, and she was out of action for five months. A shoulder problem and appendicitis also disrupted her momentum and she slipped to No 179 by the end of 2010.
As she fought back in 2011, the grass courts of Birmingham and Wimbledon were her ally. She won the title in the first and, receiving a wildcard for the year's third grand slam, she blazed her way to the semis before losing to Maria Sharapova. She was only the second wildcard in Wimbledon history to make it to the last four.
"I sneeze when I'm playing on the grass, but that's just the way it is," Lisicki said. "I've learnt to handle that; I have to take medicine for my allergies. The most important thing is to be out there playing on it, and I love the tradition of the grass-court tournaments.
"Getting the wildcard for Wimbledon was a huge thing for me. The biggest memory is beating Li Na in the second round, after being down two match points. Having 15,000 people cheering for you on Centre Court at Wimbledon, it doesn't get any better than that. After the tournament, I watched the match back on a video as it was quite blurry to me what had happened. I did enjoy watching that."
She will probably have as many fans in the stands when she meets Sharapova yet again tomorrow, two rounds earlier than last year. She has not beaten the Russian in their three previous meetings, but as her career shows, Lisicki can never be written off.
Earlier this year in Dubai, she took extra pleasure in defeating the Czech Iveta Benesova after losing to her in the Fed Cup. "It's great to get revenge after the way I lost to her at Fed Cup," Lisicki said. "So I really wanted to get the win, and very pleased the way I did it."
Revenge, then, will be her motivation against Sharapova, as well. But most of the fans will be more interested in seeing how Lisicki reacts to the Russian's grunting.
In her second-round match against Bojana Jovanovski, the German had invoked the "hindrance rule", complaining to the umpire Mariana Alves about the noise coming from the other side of the net. The official did not take any action, but Lisicki has not ruled out a similar recourse against Sharapova should the noise get unbearable.
"I'm going to focus on myself in that match," she said. "We will see what happens out there. It did bother me in my last match and that's why I complained. It was better afterwards.
"It was distracting. You usually hear the sound of the ball, but I couldn't really hear it because of [Jovanovski's] grunting."
Talking about her strategy against the world No 1, Lisicki said: "I just have to go for my shots and don't make too many mistakes.
"It's always hard to play her. She's a great player. We had a very close match in Australia, played a great match, and I'm looking forward to playing here in Wimbledon again."
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