By Karolos Grohmann
BERLIN (Reuters) – When Wimbledon got underway 25 years ago the reigning men’s and women’s champions were German but since then the country, once a tennis powerhouse, has yet to find another champion to succeed Michael Stich and Steffi Graf in London.
While German women have had two more finalists with Sabine Lisicki and Angelique Kerber at the All England club since Graf’s last win there in 1996, the men have had none.
Of the seven editions of Wimbledon between 1985 to 1991 Germans Boris Becker and Michael Stich won four between them.
Apart from his three Wimbledon crowns Becker also won two Australian Open titles and one U.S. Open in his career, with no German able to emulate him or Stich since then.
“With an output of altogether four Wimbledon men’s singles titles between 1985 and 1991, Michael Stich and Boris Becker certainly defined an era in German tennis history,” German Tennis Federation President Sepp Klaus told Reuters.
“Both were exceptional athletes and their names are still closely associated with our sport.”
Klaus was quick to point out players like Rainer Schuettler and Tommy Haas had since reached the last four in London while Philipp Petzschner won the doubles competition in 2010.
Despite Philipp Kohlschreiber and Nicolas Kiefer reaching the last eight, Germany have clearly missed the chance to build on their successful tennis run as other nations did before them.
Sweden churned out a string of top professionals following Bjorn Borg’s successful era, with Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander and Thomas Johansson winning men’s singles slams.
Becker-mania and the German public’s enthusiasm gradually ebbed as success became rarer in the 2000s with Becker’s biggest headlines late in his career concerning off-court issues.
Sponsors also moved away from the sport in Germany leaving the country without a Tier 1 event after the German Open in 2008 was downgraded from its Masters series status.
Even worse, the Berlin women’s tournament, one of the oldest women’s competitions in the world, was abolished nine years ago despite being a top tier event.
Klaus said the DTB’s new concept for promoting young talent launched in April would deliver the country’s next top players more efficiently.
The idea is to identify talented youngsters earlier and draw them into the federation aged 12-14 while also linking top talent with national team coaches to facilitate the move from youth player to professional.
With hugely impressive 20-year-old Alexander Zverev, the world number 12 who has stormed to three titles already this year, turning the spotlight more on tennis in Germany, the timing could not have been better.
“The new concept of the DTB will provide a structure in which young players will hopefully thrive,” Klaus said.
“It is our aim to find and support these talents at an earlier stage and to help them even more with the transition to professional tennis.”
“I am convinced that our efforts will pay off and strengthen German tennis, and especially German men’s tennis, in the long run.”
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Frris)