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New German heroine Angelique strives to be like Steffi

By Paul Newman

For Andy Murray and generations of British men it was the ghost of Fred Perry; for Angelique Kerber and her German contemporaries it has been the shadow cast by Steffi Graf and Boris Becker.

Living up to the feats of past legends can be a heavy burden. In the days of Graf and Becker, Germany was a hotbed of European tennis, the nation's appetite for the sport fuelled by a calendar scattered with major German tournaments.

In recent times the schedule has shrunk, while the country's players have fallen short of the achievements of their famous forebears.

Germany usually has plenty of high-ranked women - there are currently 10 Germans in the world's top 100 - but until Saturday no German had won a Grand Slam singles title since Graf triumphed in the 1999 French Open.

Kerber, who ended that barren run with a stunning 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Serena Williams in the Australian Open final, believes her maiden Grand Slam title can help to spark a German revival.

"Of course it was not so easy because we had Steffi there, we had Boris there," said Kerber.

"They won Wimbledon when they were 17 or 18 and they won everything. It was not so easy to make tennis so big again, but I think right now the Germans are on the good way to make tennis more popular again.

"I've won this Grand Slam title and we have so many good players. I think we're heading in the right direction to make tennis bigger and famous again in Germany."

Graf, who was one of the first to send her congratulations to the 28-year-old, invited Kerber to hit with her in Las Vegas last year.

"That was a special moment for me," the new world No.2 said.

"Steffi just told me two or three things which mean a lot to me - because it was Steffi who was telling me."

Kerber's victory ensured Graf's Open era record of 22 Grand Slam titles stayed intact, with Williams still stuck on 21. The 34-year-old American was generous in her congratulations for Kerber, who believes her victory can be an example to others.

"I think the message from me is that you can work very hard and some day the work will pay off," Kerber said.

"Just do what you love. This is what I am doing. Now my dream has come true."

Meanwhile Gordon Reid revealed that had never even heard of wheelchair tennis until he was 13.

Eleven years since turning to the sport after being diagnosed with a neurological disease which left him paralysed from the waist down, the 24-year-old Scot became Britain's first wheelchair Grand Slam singles champion when he won the Australian Open on Saturday, beating Belgium's Joachim Gérard 7-6, 6-4 in the final.

"Before I started playing wheelchair tennis, I didn't realise it existed and then when I just started playing I didn't realise it existed in the Grand Slams," said Reid.

"Then as my career moved on and I started improving and playing more on the tour, I thought: 'Wait a minute. I've got an opportunity to play at Grand Slams with all my idols from tennis.

"Maybe I could win one of them one day if I work hard enough'."

Belfast Telegraph


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