Ein sentence can be heard again and again during the quarterfinals of the HTV International Junior Open at Offenbacher Rosenhöhe, it becomes a motto this afternoon: “Show what you can!” The phrase comes from the mouth of Barbara Rittner, head national coach of German tennis ladies. And Joëlle Steur, with whom she spoke, shows what she can do, plays energetic and powerful tennis, keeps getting her favorite opponent in trouble, who comments loudly on her. But that was not enough to surprise: In the end, it was 4: 6 and 2: 6 seen from the 18-year-old right-handed player against Lucie Havlíčková from the Czech Republic, who is just over a year younger, is number two on the tournament seed list and eventually also to the final.
Steur stands out not only because of his tennis game, but also because of his international biography. The daughter of a Dutch father and a German mother has lived with her family near the Spanish city of Alicante since she was eleven. She first went to school there and later took online lessons at a Dutch school. Today she trains mostly on Spanish soil, but also sometimes at the bottom of the German Tennis Federation (DTB) in Stuttgart. At the tournament in Offenbach, she was the only seeded German in 14th place.
In light of the significance of the event, this is remarkable. For since this year’s event, Offenbach has belonged to the highest tournament category for juniors and can call himself a “Grade A tournament”. “The winners receive as many world rankings from us as from the Grand Slams, that’s all it takes,” said tournament director Jörg Barthel of the Hessian Tennis Association (HTV). Therefore, Steur moves up a few places on the world rankings by reaching the round of 16.
The competitions on the sand courses in HTV and the neighboring country TC Rosenhöhe have eventful years behind them. The last edition was held in 2019, then still as a tournament in the second highest category, after which the corona virus brought it to a standstill. However, only on the pitches, for last year HTV and DTB jointly decided to apply for A-status. “Six European tournaments applied for the upgrade. It was clear from the start that only one of them would get it.”
Close the hole
The decision in favor of Offenbach should be seen as a confirmation of the good work of the entire organizational team, which Barthel is leading for the second time since 2019. “The feedback from players and coaches has been consistently positive again this year,” he reports. “We are now among the ultimate in the junior field, there are only nine tournaments in our category.” Due to the new date at the end of April – previously Offenbach was played in June – the HTV International Junior Open is also something that the starting shot represents the tennis summer for juniors. The increased value is also noticeable in the field of participants under 18 years.
In Offenbach, several representatives from the top 20 competed in the world rankings in both juniors and juniors. The 17-year-old Belgian Sofia Costoulas, number two in the world and finalist in the junior competition at the Australian Open in Melbourne at the beginning of the year, is particularly eye-catching. In the Offenbach final, she beat Havlíčková 6: 4 and 6: 2 on Sunday afternoon.
Rittner also appreciates the strong competition at the Offenbach tournament: “It goes without saying that the tournament is now in category A. Here, the world elite competes in junior tennis.” These are exactly the struggles that the German youth generation needs now. Especially with the women, it is important to close the gap behind the exceptional players who are still active, like Angelique Kerber or Andrea Petkovic. “The generation between these players and the juniors has broken away a bit recently. Therefore, we expect the young players to motivate themselves and learn to think big,” Rittner said.
She sees a “premium example” of such a promising attitude among the male juniors in DTB. 18-year-old Liam Gavrielides is the best-placed German junior in the world. During the week of the Offenbach tennis tournament, he holds his Abitur exams in sports and biology. For his eighth game, he travels almost directly from the exam room, then – like Steur as the last DTB representative for the women – to be knocked out after a hard fight against the Spaniard Martin Landaluce. Czech Jakub Nicod won the tournament.
Joëlle Steur is surprisingly cheerful after her defeat and full of anticipation for the coming weeks: “The Grand Slam tournaments for juniors in Paris and Wimbledon are coming to me soon. It will be great, especially to be so close to the world’s best tennis professionals.” Also at these tournaments she gets the opportunity to show the public what she can do.