Germans struggle to fill voids left by Becker, Graf

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PHILADELPHIA (Sports Network) - It appears as though Germany will not place a male or female star in the respective Top-10s for the second time in four years, this after boasting all-time greats on both sides of the ledger for the better part of two decades.

The Germans failed to produce a Top-10 player, male of female, in 1997, and they'll likely repeat that unwelcomed feat in 2000.

After being spoiled by superstars Boris Becker, Steffi Graf and even Michael Stich for a decade-and-a-half, Germany has been struggling to fill those voids with the likes of Nicolas Kiefer, Tommy Haas and Anke Huber.

After finishing as the men's world No. 6 in 1999, Kiefer dropped off this year. The currently-injured star rests at No. 17 in the ATP Champions Race.

And Haas, considered a German can't-miss prospect two years ago, is only slotted at No. 23 amid his disappointing/titleless 2000 campaign.

As for the also-ailing Huber, she's currently 14th in the women's rankings and has been plagued by injuries two years running. And at the age of 25, Huber's no spring chicken on the kid-dominated WTA Tour (see also Hingis, Venus, Serena).

After Huber, the highest-ranked German woman is 24-year-old Jana Kandarr -- a distant No. 61 on the world list. As a matter of fact, there are only three German women all told in the Top-100, with Barbara Rittner sneaking in at No. 99.

For the German men, Kiefer and Haas are followed by world No. 43 David Prinosil, who's basically a non-factor on the ATP circuit.

The German men aren't doing much better than their female counterparts, placing only six gents in the Top-100 (No. 56 Rainer Schuttler, No. 69 Markus Hantschk, No. 87 Alexander Popp).

Becker and Graf hung up their rackets last year after wowing tennis fans since the mid 1980s. The German legends are headed for the hallowed tennis halls after combining to capture 156 titles, including 107 by Graf, and 28 Grand Slams, including 22 by Graf, who also captured Olympic gold in 1988.

"Boom Boom" and Graf brought home 10 Wimbledon singles crowns between them, including their German sweep at the All-England Club in 1989. The stalwarts also produced a sweep at the U.S. Open later that summer.

Becker's career prize money topped $24 million, while Graf eclipsed the $21 million mark.

Stich added to the German invasion with his 1991 Wimbledon championship. And the tall star, along with Becker, also helped Germany capture the coveted Davis Cup three times -- 1988, 1989 and 1993.

Graf helped Germany secure the Fed Cup, the ladies' equivalent to the Davis Cup, in 1987 and '92.

Kiefer, who has been called "the next Boris Becker," is not the only former Top-10er among his German contemporaries, as Huber has finished in the women's year-end Top-10 on three occasions, with the last time coming in 1996.

Haas, who was 11th in the world by the end of 1999, has struggled for a majority of this 2000 season, which, to this point, has been highlighted by a silver-medal performance at the somewhat-watered-down Olympic Games in Sydney. The 22-year-old's a pedestrian 33-21 this year, including 0-3 in finals, in 21 tournaments. Six of Haas' 21 losses this season have come in the first round, and five others have come in the second. Simply put, Haas has failed to reach at least the quarterfinals in more than half of his tournaments.

At least Kiefer, a disappointing 30-16 this season, has hoisted two trophies in as many finals in the new millennium.

Huber, whose season was cut short by injury, went 29-16 in 2000. But, like Kiefer, she did go 2-0 in her finals.

Prior to 1997, the Germans featured at least one male of female Top-10 star every year since 1981. Aside from the Leimen-native Becker and Bruhl-native Graf, some of the other Top-10ers in the '80s -- all women -- were Bettina Bunge, Sylvia Hanika and Claudia Kohde- Kilsch.

The Germans, particularly the women with their weak representation of only three Top-100 players, need their next tennis superstar to please step forward.

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