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Dialog > Presse > www.itftennis.com, 16.9.2015

Beach tennis in Germany (www.itftennis.com, 16.9.2015)

Germany is not the first country that springs to mind when one considers the merits of nations that might excel at beach sport. With just a few beaches to the north of the country where the weather is likely to deter any would-be sandboy or girl it has about as much chance of producing beach sport champions as Greenland, you would have thought.

And yet a German woman, along with a Venezuelan, was responsible for loosening the stranglehold that Italy has had on beach tennis since its inception and certainly since the advent of the ITF Beach Tennis World Championships seven years ago when they became the first non-Italians to reach a final, men's or women's.

Maraike Biglmaier and Patricia Diaz may not have achieved their ultimate goal in Cervia, Italy of winning the title – they lost to Flamina Daina and Giulia Gasparri in the final - but they did manage to dispose of the No 2 seeds, Eva D'Elia and Veronica Visani, in straight sets in the semifinals as well as a few other good teams en route. It was enough to suggest that Italy may not have things all its own way for very much longer.

No-one, of course, is suggesting that Germany will dominate beach tennis as it did tennis for a while back in the Nineties with the likes of Becker, Stich and Graf, but it did prove that with the right attitude and desire it's possible to disrupt the status quo.

The success, of course, may be fleeting since it was more about the dedication of one player – the Berliner Biglmaier – and one enthusiastic beach tennis supporter called Max Hamm than the concerted effort of a nation, but it only takes one player to start the ball rolling. After all, Germany didn't have much of a tennis tradition prior to Boris Becker.

As it happens, Biglmaier, 28, is an ex-tennis player herself; indeed one of some repute in her junior years. She was a very worthwhile adversary to such eminent Germans as Angelique Kerber, Andrea Petkovic and Sabine Lisicki before injury brought her career to a premature close in her early twenties.

Hamm, who has been an advisor on beach tennis to the German Tennis Federation since 2009, reckons Biglmaier won nine of 10 meetings against Kerber, but the player herself cannot recall exactly her record against Kerber other than she often beat her.

"I won a lot of times against her but it's so long ago," said Biglmaier. "In the juniors I had been very successful and then just when I was starting out on the Tour I lost one and a half of the most important years of my career with a complicated groin injury which also affected my back. By the time I returned the sponsors were gone, so I had to change my life.

"I've no regrets though. If you are forced by your body to stop...If ever I play tennis I still get the problem with the groin. The sand is much softer so I have fewer problems with it. "I'm really happy to play beach tennis. I think the atmosphere and the people who are involved in the sport – I actually prefer it to tennis."

Biglmaier has won seven G1 tournaments with six different partners this year. Diaz, her partner in Cervia, lives in Miami while she lives in Germany. It's not ideal and in order to try to break Italy's domination they spent a month training together in Italy prior to the championships.

"I think that was the key to winning against the best Italian teams," said Biglmaier, "because they are teams and we are individuals and the little things that matter in these matches are that you communicate perfectly with your partner. It's not perfect yet but it's getting better."

It's an ongoing struggle for Biglmaier and Hamm to get the sport the recognition they think it deserves back home, but recent signs are encouraging: Hamm regularly gets calls from tennis clubs who want to form beach tennis sections.

"The German tennis federation didn't care for beach tennis at all until 2009 when a new vice-president – Reiner Beushausen – was appointed," said Hamm. "In 2012 I wrote a concept on beach tennis which I sent to him. He liked some of my ideas and as a result set up a beach tennis department.

"In the days of Becker and Graf the German tennis federation had 2.6 million members. Now it has 1.6 million members. Something has to be done if it is to attract new members and beach tennis has a strong appeal.

"Many of the new members at tennis clubs, like one in Ladenburg, near Mannheim, are joining because of beach tennis not tennis. In the evenings you cannot get a court unless you book beforehand. Slowly people are being converted – although there are still few in Germany with their own agenda who insist on playing the sport with tennis rackets rather than paddle tennis rackets."

Encouragingly for a country that lacks players Germany finished fifth in the recent World Team Championship in Moscow and Biglmaier has ascended to become the first German to top the ITF World Rankings.

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