There are only a handful of players in tennis history who are known by just their first names, and Germany has given us two of them- Boris and Steffi. Germany was the first country to break the tennis dominance of France, the UK, the USA and Australia and it did it in spectacular style.
The German tennis federation is one of the world’s oldest sporting organisations, starting up in 1902. It is also Germany’s third largest sporting organisation after swimming and gymnastics.
Before lawn tennis, real tennis had a big following among the Germanic monarchy and aristocrats.
Did you know?
The first non USA, UK, French or Australian player to win a Grand slam was a German, Gottfried Van Cramm, who won the French Open in 1934.
Like other developed, relatively wealthy Western European countries, Germany may not have had the weather for outdoor tennis, but it had the infrastructure for all year round training and could afford to invest in promising players.
Few were more promising than teen sensations Becker and Graf. In the 1980s, Becker and Graf made the game hugely popular and helped the sport grow- Germany hosted numerous professional tournaments which were televised; there was a boom in the number of recreational players and Boris and Steffi were often in the media spotlight.
After Graf and Becker’s retirement, the game is still a popular sport with players such as Angelique Kerber and Sascha Zverev attracting players to the game.
In 1985, Boris ‘Boom Boom’ Becker won Wimbledon at 17. Becker was like a rock star in Germany and is still a well known figure in tennis circles having coached Novak Djokovic and commentating for major TV channels.
At the same time as Boris, Steffi Graf came to prominence and made tennis history when she won the Calendar year Grand Slam in 1988, also known as the Golden Slam because Graf won the Olympic Gold in Seoul that same season.
Graf won 21 Slams from 1987 to 1999 and was No.1 for a record 377 weeks.
In 1991, Michael Stich won Wimbledon and reached No.2 in the world. He also made the French Open and US Open finals and provided stern competition for Pete Sampras.
Following in Becker, Stich and Graf’s footsteps has been a tough challenge. Angelique Kerber has done a good job of it, reaching No.1 and winning three slams.
Other German players of note are:
Germany won the Davis Cup in 1988, 1989 and 1992. The country also won the Fed Cup in 1993 and 1995.
In the Olympics, Steffi Graf won Gold (Seoul, ‘88) and Silver (Barcelona ‘92) medals in singles. Kerber won silver (Rio ‘16) and Tommy Haas also won Silver (Sydney ‘00).
In Germany’s heyday, the country held two WTA clay tournaments leading up to the French Open, Hamburg and Berlin. Now the country holds one Premier clay court event for women, the indoors Stuttgart Open held in Spring.
The men also have two Wimbledon warm up events played on Grass- the ATP 250 Stuttgart Open and the ATP 500 Halle Open.
Did you know?
Roger Federer has won ten Halle titles. Along with Rafa Nadal, he is the only male player to have won ten singles’ trophies at one tournament.
Munich currently holds an ATP event on Clay played in Spring. Hamburg also hosts an ATP 500 Clay event in late July. This tournament used to be held in the weeks leading into the French Open and was one of the most important clay court events.
In 2001, the WTA championships were held in Munich. Serena Williams won the title.
When tennis had a more established indoor season, Germany was the place to be, holding some of the world’s biggest men’s indoor events such as Stuttgart and Essen. The men’s final at Stuttgart ‘96 between Boris Becker and Pete Sampras is considered to be one of the greatest indoor matches of all time.
Frankfurt held the ATP finals from 1990-1995. From 1996-1999, the tournament was held in Hannover. Both events were played indoors on carpet, except in 1997 when the surface was changed to hard courts.
The Grand Slam Cup, played from 1990-1999, was held at the Olympiahalle, Munich. This men’s tournament featured the 16 best players at the slams competing for the game’s then largest prize money pay out of $ 2 million. In 1998 and 1999, women were also invited to play their own event.
Like many Western and Northern European countries, Germany’s tennis training system is built around clubs rather than academies.
At clubs, promising juniors can receive coaching subsidised by the German Tennis Federation. If a club player has potential, they will go to one of the German Tennis Federations’s tennis centers. The Club play culture gives players a lot of match play through interleague matches, a real sense of belonging to a team and a lot of local support.
The interleague matches, which pay prize money, allow players from other countries to join a team as players from neighboring countries like Poland or the Czech Republic frequently compete. The interleague has a reputation for being very competitive and ATP players such as Dustin Brown can be seen competing in ties.
Boris Becker is not just one of Germany’s most famous players; he is also one of their most well known coaches. In 2014, Becker joined the Novak Djokovic team and helped Novak to get back the No.1 ranking from Rafa Nadal.
One of Germany’s best tennis academies is the Schüttler Waske Tennis-University, located a short drive south West of Frankfurt. The academy was founded by Rainer Schüttler, the 2003 Australian Open runner up and Alexander Waske, a former German Davis Cup player. The academy has indoor rebound ace courts, the same surface which Schüttler reached his slam final on.
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