Stebe Wins Challenger Finals

Source: Douglas Daniel/www.challengerfinals.com.br

Cedrik-Marcel Stebe capped a remarkable turnaround this season by winning the first ever ATP Challenger Tour Finals after beating Dudi Sela 6-2, 6-4 in Sao Paulo.

The 21-year-old German came into the year as world number 375 and had been ranked as low as #405 in February but claimed two Challenger Tour titles in Bangkok and Shanghai during September to qualify for the finals.

In Brazil, the left-hander lost to Sela in his opening round robin match but defeated fellow countryman Matthias Bachinger and Portuguese second seed Rui Machado to face another compatriot Andreas Beck in the last four.

The semi-final couldn’t have been more tight. After losing the first set 7-5, Stebe found himself a break down at 6-5 but levelled and won the tiebreak to take the match into a third set.

Despite having 16 break point opportunities in the match, Stebe could only convert three but 12 aces helped force a deciding tiebreak which he won 7-4 to earn a place in the final after two hours and 49 minutes.

The final didn’t last nearly as long. Sela won just one of his six break points while his opponent took four of eight to comfortably take his third career title.

Earlier in the year, following wins over Nikolay Davydenko and Fabio Fognini in the ATP 250 event in Stuttgart, he received a wildcard to another home tournament and beat the Russian again along with Juan Carlos Ferrero.

He eventually fell at the third round stage of the International German Open but his impressive results meant he reached the top 100 for the first time at the end of October.

Entering the Challenger Tour Finals, Stebe had been ranked just outside the top 100 but the young German is now set to rise and end the year in his highest ever ranking position.

Life after the Sicki

Sabine Lisicki Sabine Lisicki, Germany’s former number one tennis player, looks to be heading back to the heights where she belongs.

Her success at the Aegon Classic is only her second WTA tour title but she should have won so many more by now had it not been for an ankle injury suffered in April 2010.

In 2008, she burst on to the scene as a qualifier reaching the third round of the Australian Open before making the quarter-finals at Wimbledon a year later.

A dramatic drop followed as her ranking points gained at SW19 were not defended and she even fell out of the top 200 this year.

Battling through qualifying events, her form gradually picked up and despite a second round loss to Vera Zvonareva at the French Open last month, where she had a match point at 5-2 in the third and lost it 7-5, a return to the top 100 followed.

Last week she overcame Peng Shuai and former champion at Birmingham Magdalena Rybarikova to set up her first final since the injury.

In fact, her match against Shuai was the first semi-final since the injury and after beating Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 6-2 in the final today her ranking has increased 38 places to #62.

At 21, she still has every chance of matching her highest position of number 22 in the world and with the amount of older players proving their worth she could easily surpass it.

A top 50 place could be beckoning should she do well at Wimbledon and as an unseeded wildcard many players will fear facing Lisicki on grass.

Her serve, in particular, is back in shape having smashed a total of 43 aces over the whole tournament and eight in the final.

A sigh of relief can now be heard from across Germany as it looks like there are three high-calibre German players on the tour with Julia Goerges and Andrea Petkovic in the top 20 already. Surely one of them can banish the Steffi Graf era.

Petko Dance

It’s come to my attention that I haven’t mentioned the Petkovic dance on this blog yet.

As she’s getting better, it will become more frequent; a future Grand Slam victory dance perhaps?

Andrea, please don’t ever stop.

Absolutely Goerges

Julia Goerges’ victory in Stuttgart’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix could open the door for German tennis to return its former heights – or at least close the gap a little.

Steffi Graf is pretty much impossible to emulate. Having won 107 singles titles in her career, including every major on multiple occasions, the current crop of Germans shouldn’t be compared to her.

But unfortunately for the success-deprived nation it’s inevitable. As Goerges saw off current world number one Caroline Wozniacki 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 to become the first German to win at Stuttgart since Anke Huber in 1994, the commentators already brought up the G word.

Andrea Petkovic’s good year along with this latest boost means there will be two German women in the top 30 for the first time since 1999 when, you guessed it, Graf and Huber retired.

As exciting as the win is for Germany, and Goerges’ father in particular as he provided some wonderful animated faces and camera shots, they can’t get too carried away.

She did just win her first WTA Premier event but it was on home soil and the next task is to produce the same performances that took her past Sam Stosur in the semis and brought 38 winners in the final, all over the world. Her very calm onlooking coach will be an important factor going forward.

It’s also not as if she’s a prodigy coming through either as she’s 22 and will enter the world’s top 30 for the first time when the new rankings are published. Wozniacki is actually two years younger and has already claimed 15 WTA titles.

Comparing Goerges to Wozniacki is harsh though as it can take a while for players to establish themselves these days (take Stosur, Vera Zvonareva and Li Na for example). What Goerges has done, along with Petkovic and the other two German quarter-finalists in Stuttgart, is propel their nation’s tennis back into the limelight.

They must now make sure this isn’t a brief moment of glory. So far at least they look capable of making tennis popular again amongst the German public as 4,800 people pushed her to the title.

Whilst Goerges drove home in the Porsche she mustn’t let it go to her head. The most important thing for herself and her fellow compatriots is to find the keys to more tournament successes and start the German tennis engine for a new generation.

Julia Goerges

Highlights of the final and some of Mr. Goerges’ facial expressions can be seen on the WTA website.

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