"Rising Hopes: Tatjana Maria and Jule Niemeier's Wimbledon Journey"
Zverev, Struff, Maria: The Chances of the Germans
It has been five years since the last Wimbledon victory for the German Tennis Federation (DTB) when Angelique Kerber triumphed. After strong performances in the preparation phase, there might be something in store for the German men and women in 2023. Here's an overview.
When thinking of magical moments involving German players at Wimbledon, one doesn't have to go back to Steffi Graf's or Boris Becker's glory days. Just think of 2015 when Dustin Brown let his dreadlocks fly on the Centre Court, partly outplayed the great Rafael Nadal, and knocked him out of the tournament in the second round. Or Angelique Kerber's triumph in 2018 when she only dropped a single set on her way to the title. And of course, the underdog Tatjana Maria last year, who defeated higher-ranked players Maria Sakkari and Jelena Ostapenko and reached the semifinals.
Now, as the 136th edition of the tournament approaches at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, the German players are not the top favorites for the title in London. However, at least the men have shown in the preparation tournaments that with a favorable draw and a touch of luck, which plays a slightly bigger role in grass court tennis than on other surfaces, there might be something to achieve. What are the chances for Alexander Zverev, Tatjana Maria, and Co.? Here's an overview.
The Contender: Alexander Zverev
He's back, or at least the results have been positive for Alexander Zverev lately. At the French Open, he reached the semifinals after strong performances but was helpless against Casper Ruud due to a strain. Looking ahead to Wimbledon, an even more important factor is his semifinal appearance at the grass court tournament in Halle last week. After three comfortable wins, he was only stopped by the in-form Alexander Bublik, who eventually became the champion. "I have no idea what I could have done differently," Zverev praised his opponent's strong performance, according to Eurosport.
Despite the defeat, Zverev certainly believes in his chances at the third Grand Slam event of the year. "I'm not going there as a clown, treating it as a training week," he said. Nevertheless, grass, which is known for being unpredictable, is not his favorite surface. And according to Zverev, this is also due to his physical attributes. "I'm simply too tall for the court," he said before the grass court season began.
Indeed, his nearly two-meter height poses a challenge on grass, where the ball bounces much lower than on other surfaces. However, one can also view it differently: a tall player like Zverev, who can serve powerfully and has a great reach for net approaches, also has advantages over many opponents on grass.
In the end, Zverev's mindset is likely to play a much larger role than his height. One of his central problems, when things don't go well in a match, is his positioning on the court. If he lacks confidence, he tends to retreat further behind the baseline and adopts a more defensive style of play – a strategy that doesn't yield much success on grass, a surface made for fast offensive tennis. Therefore, if Zverev can have faith in his strengths and frequently approach the net in the early rounds of the tournament, he can certainly go far in Wimbledon.
The Grass Lover: Jan-Lennard Struff
Only one point was missing: In the final of the Wimbledon warm-up tournament in Stuttgart, Jan-Lennard Struff had a match point against Frances Tiafoe in the tiebreak of the third set. However, the American eventually prevailed, denying Struff his first ATP-level singles title.
He won't be able to claim that prestigious title at Wimbledon either: According to media reports, Struff had to withdraw from the tournament due to injury. This is a heavy blow for German tennis as he was in outstanding form and would have had good chances to go far.
The Doubles Specialists: Tim Pütz, Kevin Krawietz, Andreas Mies
The Grand Slams are also the biggest stage for doubles specialists who usually fly under the radar of most tournament viewers. Because of this, even among die-hard fans, many may not have noticed that a German recently won a title at a Grand Slam: Tim Pütz, together with Japan's Miyu Kato, won the mixed doubles competition at the French Open, marking his first victory at the Big Four.
Pütz will also be competing in London, both in doubles with his partner Kevin Krawietz and in mixed doubles, and will be considered among the top contenders. Likewise, Andreas Mies, Krawietz's former partner, will be in the mix. Mies has already reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open this year (with Australian John Peers) and even the semifinals of Roland Garros (with Dutchman Matwe Middelkoop). In the incredibly fast-paced, tactically driven, and therefore highly entertaining doubles competitions, where virtually any top pair can defeat another, the German men certainly have better chances of claiming the title than in singles.
By the way, the last men's triumph for the DTB at the Church Road was also in doubles: In 2010, Philipp Petzschner, alongside Austrian Jürgen Melzer, clinched the title.
The Situation for German Women before Wimbledon
"We have great talents, but we don't have exceptional talents. [...] Currently, in German tennis, there is no 14- or 15-year-old player where I immediately say, 'Wait another two years, she will be the superstar.'" These were the words of DTB national coach Barbara Rittner in an interview with t-online about two years ago, and she has been proven right. Rittner's explanation for the state of German women's tennis was and remains devastating: The younger players lack "the bite, passion, and consistent determination compared to the previous generation."
As the next rising star is still awaited, at least in the Wimbledon tournament of 2022, Tatjana Maria, in the autumn of her career, stepped up. She is currently the highest-ranked German in the world rankings, but only at 58th place. What can the DTB expect from the women's competition in London this year?
Die Wundertute: Tatjana Maria
Tatjana Maria has been a professional tennis player for an incredible 22 years, previously known as Tatjana Malek until 2013. To understand the significance of her sensational semifinal run in the previous Wimbledon tournament, one only needs to put things into perspective financially: On average, Maria has earned just over $213,000 per year throughout her career. In Wimbledon last year alone, her prize money amounted to around $650,000. In other words, Maria earned as much in Wimbledon 2022 as she would typically earn in three years.
Even more important to Maria than the money, according to "Porsche-Newsroom," was something else: "The most beautiful thing was that I was able to experience all of this together with my family, with my husband and my daughters Charlotte and Cecilia." Maria's husband, Charles, is also her coach, and their children are almost always with them on tennis trips. They have already celebrated twice with their mother this year: a victory at the small ITF tournament in Pune followed by a win at the WTA event in Bogota.
Maria has once again demonstrated that the fast grass surface suits her game very well, as she proved a few days ago at the Bad Homburg warm-up tournament. In the first round, she faced the world number one, Iga Swiatek from Poland. Although the match went to Swiatek, Maria won the first set and posed much greater challenges for Swiatek than expected.
In Wimbledon, Maria will once again frustrate her opponents with her tricky and low-bouncing slice, particularly effective on grass. What's unusual about the 35-year-old's game is that she plays these heavily sliced shots not only with her backhand but also frequently on the forehand side.
The Pace Setter: Jule Niemeier
The 2023 season has been forgettable for Jule Niemeier so far. She has suffered first-round defeats one after another, some of them quite lopsided. However, at the Berlin warm-up tournament, she managed to defeat Tunisian Ons Jabeur, the current world number six, in the first round after successfully qualifying for the main draw. Even though her journey ended in the next round, Niemeier proved that she can compete with the best, especially on grass, a surface that suits her powerful baseline game.
It was on grass that Niemeier achieved her greatest career success, reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon 2022, where she notably defeated Estonian Anett Kontaveit, who was seeded second at the time. She also reached the fourth round at the US Open.
Despite her recent slump in results, Niemeier is not overly worried, as she explained to Sportschau: "I'm not playing bad tennis. It would be much, much worse if my game wasn't there and I felt like I didn't have the level to beat people. But I have the level; I proved that last year." She added, "One success, and it will go up." Let's see if Niemeier will encounter such a success at Wimbledon.