Though the WTA sang its official swan song in Sofia, Tournament of Champions winner Andrea Petkovic reminded us all that the Germans and Czechs are going into overtime. The Fed Cup finals in Prague are just a week away and both countries have announced their teams. Petr Pala nominated Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, semifinalist Lucie Safarova, in-form Karolina Pliskova, and doubles expert Lucie Hradecka. Klara Koukalova and Andrea Hlavackova, who played doubles in the semifinals against Italy, were not considered for the finals.
German captain Barbara Rittner waited until the last day to announce her team as she swayed back and forth between doubles specialist – and long-time team member – Anna-Lena Groenefeld, and Sabine Lisicki, who has competed intermittently over the years. Rittner eventually nominated the 2013 Wimbledon finalist, along with Angelique Kerber, Petkovic and Julia Goerges, leaving Groenefeld on stand-by.
A few weeks ahead of the decision, former ATP player Nicolas Kiefer was not particularly enamored with the idea of Rittner nominating Lisicki. In his ran.de column from October 14th, the German said:
“[Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Julia Goerges] are an integral part of the team, which made it to the finals this year. The four of them (NB: Groenefeld, Goerges, Petkovic and Kerber) are a committed team, have settled ways and know each other really well. Sabine Lisicki might be the most well known face of German tennis, not just because of her on court activities, but she simply doesn’t fit in there.”
Kiefer went on to say that he presumes it will be difficult to bring a fifth member to the group and did not particularly mince his words regarding his own opinion on Lisicki:
“Also, Lisicki has played a very average season without any extraordinary achievements. In addition to that, Lisicki is very polarizing, wants to do her own thing and enjoys being the center of attention. This could lead to trouble within the group”
To close off his column, the former World No. 4 was optimistic that Rittner would choose the same squad that defeated Australia in the semifinals. Instead, she went with Lisicki.
A day after the announcement of the team, German media picked up on some of the statements Kiefer made in previous weeks and he was happy to reiterate his thoughts in a piece entitled “Row over Lisicki,” subtitled ‘Former pro Kiefer: “She struggles bowing to discipline”‘ published in the online edition of Focus magazine a few days ago:
“I don’t believe she (NB: Lisicki) is doing everything for the sport at the moment. A player of her calibre should be permanently ranked inside the Top 10. However, after her success at Wimbledon, she’s taken everything along that’s been offered to her away from the tennis courts.”
The article also mentions an alleged spat between Lisicki and the team, referencing a Sport Bild article that claimed Kerber previously refused to practice with Lisicki. However, no specifics were given as to when and how often that was supposed to occur. The German Tennis Association tweeted a couple of pictures from today’s photo shoot for the Fed Cup finals – one of them titled “Fun at the Photoshoot” with Kerber and Lisicki. Their handshake after Kerber’s win in the 2012 Wimbledon quarterfinals wasn’t exactly the warmest, but they still played doubles at the Olympics.
As for Kiefer, this isn’t the first time he has had some harsh words for the German No. 3. He also complained about her absence for the team’s opener in Bratislava earlier this year while she nursed a shoulder injury. However, this is the most vocal he has been in his criticism over both a Fed Cup/Davis Cup nomination and Lisicki herself, both on and off court.
The 2006 Australian Open semifinalist certainly has a point (albeit one that even Phoebe Buffay realizes) when he says Lisicki’s season – nay, her career – has been inconsistent. Unlike in previous years, she managed to steady her ranking with solid post-Wimbledon results, rather than with one or two strong showings during the English summer. Nonetheless, her victory over Eugenie Bouchard in Beijing and subsequent loss to Denisa Allertova in Luxembourg shows how the 25-year-old can still win or lose against anyone on the WTA – on any given day.
While her on-court results remain puzzling, Kiefer’s criticism of Lisicki’s work ethic, off-court activities and behavior is an entirely different matter. Lisicki might enjoy walking a red carpet here and shooting a commercial there, but it’s questionable whether or not Kiefer actually knows how much work she puts into her tennis. He might have played Hopman Cup alongside her, but that was five years ago. In tennis, that’s an eternity, and her coaching setup has changed many times since then.
There’s a very real possibility that he’s right about Lisicki “not doing everything for the sport at the moment,” but there is just as much of a possibility that he’s wrong.
Maybe he’s right about the Wimbledon runner-up being polarizing and out for herself. Maybe he’s dead wrong.
Even more importantly: Kiefer’s timing – and the way he seems to paint Lisicki as Germany’s Yoko Ono – seems a little off all around.
It is true that Lisicki’s career has been riddled with question marks, whether that be because of her many niggling injuries or her struggle to maintain consistency. However, if everything is running well in the German Fed Cup team, it won’t help anyone if the German broadcaster’s main analyst is airing his (negative) opinions at any given opportunity – least of all the players traveling to Prague. It’ll be interesting to see if Kiefer will lay his opinions on the table again when in the Czech Republic next weekend, but it would be preferable if the attention remained focused on court rather than a “he said, she said” exhibition outside the tramlines.