The world's most famous grass court tennis tournament opens at Wimbledon on Monday with one German already winning big this year. Former champion Boris Becker is back in his commentating job with the BBC.
Becker can draw on his own experience when assessing Germany's new crop of talent
The Wimbledon tennis championships open at the All England Club in London SW19 on Monday and experts believe that it is one of the most wide-open fields for many years, with any number of hopefuls capable of holding the trophies aloft come the final day.
While the memory remains crowded with images of the all-conquering Pete Sampras' seven victories, Andre Agassi's showmanship, a teenage Boris Becker making history and epics featuring Goran Ivanisevic and Pat Rafter, there is a breed of young guns waiting to add their names to legend in the men's championship. At the start of proceedings, Stella Artois champ, Andy Roddick and the ever-hopeful home crowd's sweetheart Tim Henman will be looking to emulate the greats who have lobbed, smashed and tumbled their way to greatness on the hallowed turf of the center court.
In the Ladies contest, the powerful Williams sisters' strangle hold on the coveted singles shield will face some serious prizing attempts from current in-form Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne. If that wasn't competition enough, there's a whole queue of possible champions waiting to snatch the glory away from Serena and Venus. Two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist Jennifer Capriati is hoping to go one further this year as her comeback continues while fellow American Lindsay Davenport returns from injury.
Any German contenders?
Australians, Americans, Brits, Russians...it's an international affair at Wimbledon. But if there is one conspicuous absence from the list of nations pushing a potential winner, it's the former tennis superpower – Germany.
The good old days.
Germany. The home of seven times Ladies champ Steffi Graf and three time winner of the men's singles Boris Becker. There was a time when no Grand Slam tournament was safe from the big serve of Boris and the nifty footwork of the super-agile Steffi. Wimbledon was almost a second home for these two. But it has been over 12 years since a German faced the final hurdle in the men's singles tournament at the All England Club and that was the double-header between Michael Stich and Becker. The last German appearance in a final at Wimbledon was Graf's defeat to Lindsay Davenport in 1999.
However, one German has already won big at Wimbledon 2003. Boris Becker is back at Wimbledon this year to cast his expert eye over the championships for the BBC. Germany's most successful male competitor has landed a second contract with the broadcaster to pass his experienced judgement over the two-week period of play after his words of wisdom proved popular last year. He's joined on the team of analytical ex-pros by John McEnroe, Pat Cash and Virginia Wade amongst others.
Experience speaks volumes
Record breaking Becker's opinion should be taken as gospel when it comes to Wimbledon. Not only was he the youngest player ever to win the tournament, "Boom Boom" Boris was also the first unseeded player to become champion and the first German.
Defending champion Lleyton Hewitt.
So surely, seven-time finalist Becker, the man with experience of both the championship and the up and coming breed of German stars, has high hopes for his countrymen and women: "Roger Federer of Switzerland is one of the top four favorites I would consider to win Wimbledon, along with Lleyton Hewitt (right), the young Croatian Mario Ancic and Andy Roddick."
Unfortunately, Becker's top four was cut down to three when reigning champion Lleyton Hewitt crashed out in the first round to unfancied Croat Ivo Karlovic in an unprecedented exit for the holder of the men's title.
With big guns falling, any chance of seeing the singles title going to Nic Kiefer, Australian Open runner-up Rainer Schuettler or Lars Burgsmuller, Boris? "Tim Henman's chance this year is as good as any. You only have three or four really good grass court players and he is one of them. He has a great record at Wimbledon and his draw isn't so bad." We'll take that as an answer in the negative then.
Little or no chance?
This year, there are 23 German players starting at Wimbledon. Four of them – Alex Waske, Rainer Schuettler, Anca Barna and Tomas Behrend – begin their challenges on the opening day. The same experts who say that anyone can win this year's title fail to mention any of the German players in their first few breaths. Hardly encouraging is the fact that even Boris Becker cannot muster an enthusiastic comment about a German's chance at lifting a trophy this summer in SW19.