Monday, March 19, 2012
By Anna Nartova
In the semifinals of Dubai Duty Free Tennis Open, Julia Goerges defeated Caroline Wozniacki for the third consecutive time, so I thought it was high time to document the whirlwind revival of German women’s tennis. Although these girls haven’t reached the heights of Steffi Graf yet, having 5 players rising to the WTA Top 40 is more than ‘fantastisch.’
Read the rest of "The German 5" after the jump. Click the headline, y'all.
When Graf, one of the greatest players in women’s tennis history, left the game to become a mother, German tennis was virtually on the brink of extinction. Yes, there was Anke Huber, Barbara Rittner, and the talented, yet injury-prone, Anna-Lena Groenefeld; but, Germany was desperately looking for bright young talents. It looks like their prayers were heard. Today, with 5 ladies in the Top 40 of the WTA rankings, Germany holds the second place by the number of representatives only behind Russia. As they continue their road to the top of the game, let’s check their so different, yet so similar, success stories.
24 years old; 2 WTA titles; career-high ranking in singles: 9; best Grand Slam result: Quarterfinals - Australian Open 2011, Quarterfinals - French Open 2011, Quarterfinals - US Open 2011.
The best dancer and entertainer in the WTA tour was the first and only player from the new generation of German ballers to reach the Top 10, which Andrea Petkovic did after Beijing in 2011. She was also the only player on the WTA tour to reach the quarterfinals of three Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, US Open) that year.
Okay, maybe it is not an outstanding performance for a 24-year old player, if comparing her achievements with the ones of the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova or Justine Henin; but, in the case of Petkovic we should take into account her biography. And her biography says it all – at the age of 20, Andrea reached Top 100 for the first time, and severely injured her knee, putting her career in jeopardy. But after being sidelined for almost 9 months, she returned to the tour to prove she could beat the best players.
If Petkovic was less prone to injuries (she had to withdraw from this year’s Australian Open due to a back injury), she could become a major threat to the top players with her powerful serve and giant-killing forehand. But, while she is able to defeat the leading ladies who may be having bad day in the office, like she did last year in Miami vs. Wozniacki or at the Australian Open vs. Sharapova, Petkovic still has to work hard to prove she is a force to consider.
22 years old; 3 WTA titles; career-high ranking in singles: 14; best Grand Slam result: Semifinals - Wimbledon 2011
In 2011, Sabine Lisicki became the first German player to reach a Grand Slam semifinal in 12 years. But, it was in Charleston in 2009 when she won the prestigious Family Circle Cup without dropping a set that the talented Bradenton resident woke up famous. She beat Venus Williams, Marion Bartoli and Wozniacki on her way to the title.
While Lisicki’s powerful hardcore game, tough serve and great personality both on and off the court has won her a lot of fans across the world, a series of injuries almost made her consider retirement. Yet, she kept going, training, and never stopped believing in order to get back to the top of the game at the All England Club last year.
Sabine is still dealing with injuries and lack of consistency, but she is a real workaholic and--who knows?--maybe one day she will be able to win 7 consecutive matches at her favorite Wimbledon. She has all the weapons to secure a major victory and, in my humble opinion, has the best chance of all the German players to lift a Grand Slam trophy in the near future.
23 years old; 2 WTA titles, career-high ranking in singles:16; best Grand Slam result: 4th round - Australian Open 2012
In contrast to Lisicki and Petkovic, Julia Goerges avoided injuries during her first years on the WTA tour, so her delayed rise can be explained by other factors. Tall and good-looking (often named ‘Gorgeous’ by the fans and even chair umpires), with a playing style similar to Mary Pierce and Ana Ivanovic in their best years, Goerges is highly prone to inconsistency. One day she can show some brilliant tennis, and next day she looks dull and clumsy. But during those days when the super-talented German lady finds her rhythm, she can leave people breathless like last year in Stuttgart and Madrid when Julia became the only player to hand then-reigning number one Wozniacki two consecutive defeats.
Yet, her opponents often use her weak backhand and inability to survive in longer points, but as Goerges says, she continues to get better and better step by step. I am pretty sure this girl has Top 5 potential, if she is able to cope with her nerves.
24 years old; 1 WTA title; career-high ranking in singles: 19; best Grand Slam result: Semifinals - US Open 2011
“Dreams come true” was what Angelique Kerber wrote in her personal blog after her sensational run at Flushing Meadows last year. The little-known leftie from Bremen had only two career victories over Top 20 players and reached only 1 WTA final. But, in New York she defeated Flavia Pennetta and Agnieszka Radwanska in great style, and was one step from the US Open final after taking the first set against eventual winner Samantha Stosur.
Though she looks a little heavyset at first sight, Kerber likes and knows how to run and put her opponents out of temper, has impressive tactical skills, and a sizzling forehand. She has some weak sides too, but who’s perfect?!
The more important thing is that after her US Open success, Angelique kept improving and her efforts were repaid in Paris at the GDF SUEZ where she demonstrated dominant play to win her first title defeating Sharapova and Marion Bartoli.
In addition, she has some great ranking perspectives since she's only defending 250 ranking points up to the US Open. Her rise to the Top 20 is just a question of time (her semifinal run at Indian Wells this past week should help) if she continues to show the game we saw in Paris.
21 years old; 1 WTA Title; career-high ranking: 37, best Grand Slam Result: 3rd round -Australian Open 2012.
Five. That’s the number of matches Mona Bathel had won in the main draws of WTA tournaments before this season. During the first two months of 2012 this number tripled, and she became one of the few players to win a WTA title as a qualifier when she won her maiden trophy in Hobart. Barthel is not a hard hitter, but she is a great mover and plays some very intelligent tennis combining huge top spins with slices, drop shots and ground strokes. If she manages to improve in her attacking shots and psychological stability, she could easily become a Top 20 player very soon as evidenced by her near defeat of Victoria Azarenka in the opening round of Indian Wells last week.
There is no doubt German players are establishing a real force in women’s tennis, and they have no intention of stopping.
Anna Nartova is full-time copywriter from Moldova, and an avid tennis fan, who enjoys watching and writing about tennis on her blog, TennisZoom. You can follow her on Twitter @tenniszoom.
[Photo(s) credit: Petkovic: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images AsiaPac, Goerges: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images, Lisicki: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images, Kerber: AFP PHOTO / Robyn BECK, Barthel: Karim Jaafar/AFP/Getty Images]