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Lisicki is Nolan Ryan plus Tabasco

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The next big tennis star isn’t too big to forget first names. Sabine Lisicki upon arrival on Daniel Island this week went out of her way to greet Family Circle Cup staffers she hasn’t seen in a year.

“Charleston will always have a ?special place ?in my heart,” said Lisicki, a 5-10 native of ?Troisdorf, Germany, who makes her 2012 Family Circle Cup debut today. “It’s an amazing feeling to come back. ?Playing on the center court here is ?so much fun. You know?”

Yes, of course we do. We’ll always have Daniel Island, tennis enthusiasts of the Lowcountry and Sabine Lisicki. Her 2009 romp to the Family Circle Cup singles championship was a German fairy tale with All-American flair.

But the teen of three Aprils ago has matured into a 22-year-old woman knocking on the door of superstardom. Now, you expect good things from a genuine, versatile player ranked No. 13 in the world.

Her fastball dazzles; Lisicki has hit 125 mph on the radar gun, speed consistently rivaled only by the ?Williams sisters.

Think Randy Johnson or Nolan Ryan and add Tabasco Sauce.

“I mean, every serve was around ?117 miles (per hour),” Li Na said after losing to Lisicki at Wimbledon last June. “This is impossible for women.”

Lisicki’s fire and finesse toolbox made its grand stage debut here in 2009. As an unseeded underdog ranked No. 63 entering the Family Circle Cup, she rolled to her first career title with serves timed in the 120s. Victims included Venus ?Williams, Elena Vesnina and ?Marion Bartoli. In the final, Lisicki fooled Caroline Wozniacki with drop shots and then whizzed ?winners by the charging favorite.

Match by match, conquest by ?upset, Lisicki won Charleston ?support. She appreciated every cheer.

“The crowd just makes me feel so good here,” Lisicki said. “I’m just looking forward to playing my first match.”

Lisicki wasn’t quite as poised for a long Family Circle Cup run last year after a 2010 she would rather forget. An ankle injury required crutches for several weeks.

She fell from a No. 23 ranking after her breakthrough 2009 season to No. 218.

The climb to No. 13 included a steady rise throughout 2011. Lisicki won at Birmingham (England) and Dallas. At Wimbledon, she became the first German to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since Steffi Graf at the All England Club in 1999.

“It was an amazing year,” Lisicki said. “It shows that hard work pays off.”

Most people still need help pronouncing the name: sa-bean LEE-zi-kee. Not for long.

The timetable over/under on household word status might be August. Lisicki looks forward to the 2012 Olympics in London, where she probably will be joined by three other highly ranked Germans: No. 11 Andrea Petkovic, No. 15 Julia Goerges and No. 16 Angelique Kerber (four players from each country can qualify in singles).

“It’s one thing that I want to play in,” Lisicki said. “It’s going to be on grass at Wimbledon, and I love playing on grass.

“I’ve talked to a lot of other athletes who went to the Olympics and they told me how great it is, that it’s unlike anything else. So I think it would be a lot of fun to go with a lot of friends.”

Don’t count her out for a medal, or another Family Circle Cup title.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at 953-5593 or via Twitter: @sapakoff.

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