© Ella Ling

Andrea Petkovic

Steffi's girls: Germany's gang of five


Tennis is a better place with Andrea Petkovic in it. Unfortunately, it seems as though the bright, engaging German is going to have another long absence, perhaps missing the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics, after she rolled her ankle on the clay in Stuttgart. This was horrible luck: it was her first tournament since January, having been out with a back injury.

Even with that unfortunate news, there is still a great deal of optimism about German women’s tennis. Spool back three years, to when Steffi Graf played in an exhibition to celebrate Wimbledon’s new Centre Court roof, to when she showed that she was still striking the ball beautifully: the feeling then was that, if Germany was to have a female player challenging the world’s best, it would take Fraulein Forehand coming out of retirement. No longer is that the case, no longer do German fans have to hanker back to Graf’s domination of the 1990s. There are now five German women in the top 40, five capable of going deep into slams (though obviously that number will be reduced to four for much, or all, of this summer because of Petkovic’s damaged ankle tendons).

At this summer’s Wimbledon Championships, Graf will be in the Royal Box, as one of the chairman’s special guests (her husband Andre Agassi is another), and from there she will be able to watch the revival of the German women’s game.

There are four German players in the top 25, with Petkovic at 12, Sabine Lisicki at 13, Angelique Kerber at 14, and Julia Goerges at 21. Not far behind is Mona Barthel, the world No 35, who has had a couple of fine victories in Stuttgart this week: she beat Ana Ivanovic, a former world number one and French Open champion, and also had her first victory over a top-10 opponent when she defeated France’s Marion Bartoli. Also in Stuttgart, Kerber showed what she can do when she annihilated Caroline Wozniacki, a former world number one.

Though no one imagines for one moment that any of this group are going to match Graf’s success at the slams – she won 22 majors – we could see one or two of these players going deep into the draw this summer in Paris, London (for Wimbledon and the Olympics) and New York. They could all be dangerous at Roland Garros, and last summer we saw that Lisicki, a Wimbledon semi-finalist, knows her way around a grass court. Last season, Petkovic reached the quarter-final of three of the four slams – Wimbledon was the only major where she failed to make the last eight – and when she regains her fitness, she will have the ability to again stick around until it gets interesting.

There is every chance that Barthel could soon break into the top 25; very soon, one in five of the elite could be German. Many of these players have been inspired by Graf, with Petkovic saying that it was a thrill just to practise with the former number one. Call them Steffi’s children. If one of these girls could win something big this season, German tennis fans could put those old tapes of Stefanie to the back of the cupboard.