MSome statistics are encouraging, some are discouraging, and others show it one way or another. An example of double-edged swords can be seen when looking at the list of the oldest players at this year’s most important clay-court tournament in Paris.
On the one hand, it seems encouraging that some women can still play at the highest level this fall in their professional careers. On the other hand, from a German perspective, it is sober that three of the four oldest participants in Roland Garros come from Germany.
Behind the almost 37-year-old Estonian Kaia Kanepi are Tatjana Maria (turns 35 in August), Andrea Petkovic (turns 35 in September) and Angelique Kerber (celebrating her 34th birthday in January). As much as it is honorable that the three mid-thirties from Bad Saulgau, Darmstadt and Kiel can easily follow the main draw in a Grand Slam tournament: One could also be worried about the future of German women’s tennis. Especially since Sabine Lisicki (also soon 33) and Laura Siegemund (recently turned 34), who are fighting back after long injury breaks, have also become the last career curve.
There is no doubt that the best years in German women’s tennis are over. It’s been a while since Kerber collected three Grand Slam titles, Lisicki was in the final at Wimbledon, Petkovic reached the semi-final in Paris, Siegemund won the US Open in doubles and it all together with Julia Görges (33 years old, already retired) raised enthusiasm as a Fed Cup team. However, the best players of their generation are still good for success on the WTA Tour, as Petkovic proved last autumn in Cluj-Napoca and Maria and Kerber in Bogotá and Strasbourg in the last few weeks.
The middle balance for the first days in Paris looks similarly mixed: Siegemund failed in the qualification, Maria in the first round. Petkovic and Kerber, who moved into the second round in a row, gave hope for the cloudy Monday. Petovic won 6-4 and 6-2 over Frenchman Oceane Dodin. “I’m glad at my age I can still surprise or annoy the girls,” said the Darmstadt native. But her body is increasingly thwarting her plans. Because it keeps adjusting here and there, “it’s mentally difficult to adjust plans and not work as hard as usual,” said world number 65. Angelique Kerber defeated Magdalena Frech of Poland after two and a half hours of play and after defended itself against two battle points 2: 6, 6: 3, 7: 5.
Players in their late twenties are missing
The big question is who will do it when Petkovic at one point only writes books or moderators on television, Kerber takes over the management of the Bad Homburg lawn tournament, and Maria takes even more time for her two children. What is missing are players in their mid to late twenties who can provide a smooth transition to the next generation of teens and young people in their 20s. Annika Beck and Carina Witthöft, once promising talents, now have other things on their minds than chasing a yellow felt ball day after day. Anna-Lena Friedsam is repeatedly thrown back by injuries.
So the even younger ladies have to leave; those that the German Tennis Federation gathers in the Porsche Talent Team. Above all, 21-year-old Jule Niemeier, who at her Grand Slam debut in Paris indicated that bigger things could be expected of her. Although she lost to American Sloane Stephens in the beginning. But the three-set defeat against the winner of the 2017 US Open was due more to Niemeier’s thigh injury than the different performance. “The match showed me that I have the level to beat such players,” said Dortmund, who recently came in the top hundred in the world.
In addition to Niemeier, the hope rests on Eva Lys (20) and Nastasja Schunk (18), who will make their Grand Slam debut this Tuesday against Wimbledon and French Open winner Simona Halep. “We have three girls who can create sensation in the future,” says Petkovic. So Niemeier is not only blessed with a respectable percussion repertoire, but also with confidence. After her first Grand Slam match, she talked about reaching the second week of the tournament in the future. As successor to Kerber & Co. and frontwoman for the young savages, she feels “no nervousness,” Niemeier says: For me, it’s something positive to be associated with it. Maybe young Germans will appear on the tennis charts again in the future ladies.