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Germany's women primed for Fed Cup battle

Germany's Fed Cup squad will take on Russia in the world's premier women's team tennis competition on Saturday. Germany team boss Barbara Rittner spoke to DW ahead of the encounter.

DW: Barbara Rittner, are you pleased that Maria Sharapova won't be playing for Russia this weekend in the Fed Cup against Germany?

Barbara Rittner: On the one hand our chances have improved. After all, Russia will be weaker without the world's number two player. Still, Russia has some strong players like Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in their team. Of course, in front of their home fans, they will want to make it count too. But still: if we prepare well and play our best tennis, then we are the favorites. If we win the semifinal, I won't care who we have played. We just want to reach that final.

How important was the tournament win for Angelique Kerber just before the Fed Cup?

Normally a tournament win helps a lot. It will boost Angelique's confidence - she has been going through a tough phase - and that often helps the whole team too. But this time the win on Sunday in Charleston, USA, meant she had to travel half way around the world to get here. She arrived in the middle of the night in Sochi on Wednesday tired and sore. And, her bags were missing too.

So, we've been up against a few things. That's why I am pleased that Sabine Lisicki and Julia Görges have been in the country a little longer and have had time to prepare and get used to the time difference.

Tennis really is an individual sport, where things like ambition and fight - and maybe even a little bit of ego - are important if you want to have success. But, in the Fed Cup, you have to bring these players together as a team. How do the players seem to you: are they just a bunch of individuals who come together to achieve a goal, or are they all friends?

Barbara Rittner celebrates her team's quarterfinal win over Australia

Barbara Rittner celebrates her team's quarterfinal win over Australia in February in Stuttgart

Four friends? That's perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. They are friendly with each other and they get on well enough. But, in the end, we are all here together to achieve a goal. We all want the same thing: we want to show the quality that we have in our team. We have four great players and we have grown as a team. I have been looking after these players since their late teens.

I became the national team coach, when they were 15 or 16 years old and have been working with them since then. We have gone through tough times, were relegated, then promoted and then last year we were in the final. It was painful that we lost there, because we didn't play well. Now we have another chance to achieve our goal. Everyone has to put their egos aside and think for the team. It's really important that the two players who don't play in the first few games really support those that are out on the court. So far, that has been our great strength.

After losing the final to the Czech Republic last year, your team is now once again in the semis this year. Yet still, the tie against Russia is only being shown on a relatively minor German TV channel, which not everyone here can watch. Would you like a bit more coverage for your team?

Of course I would, and it's sometimes sad to watch it all unfold. It's a catch-22 really. It's a shame that Germany's public broadcasters have decided to barely cover tennis at all, especially after the golden era with players like Boris Becker, Steffi Graf, Michael Stich and Anke Huber. Back then, tennis seemed to be on TV almost around the clock.

These days, the public broadcasters in Germany have basically stopped covering the Grand Slams. There is only a very small amount of tennis on TV now, and that means it has disappeared out of the public eye. That's not fair considering the recent success of - especially - the female tennis players in Germany. I think it's a real shame, because I think they have earned the right to perform on a bigger stage.

Rittner speaks to Angelique Kerber

Rittner admits herself: she's part coach, part mentor and part fan

Is that different elsewhere? Are Germany's female tennis players bigger stars overseas than they are here at home?

Yes, I think so. Representatives of other national tennis federations often come up to me saying "Wow, you have great players. How do you do it?" There is a lot of respect for our performances, but that obviously doesn't help us in Germany. Here, we have to fight for the headlines and we can only do that by having success. The bar has been set very high after the success of Becker and Graf. Winning is the most important thing. If the women have success, then we get a little bit of attention.

But, you can't always have Boris Becker or Steffi Graf in your team. You can only do your best, and I know that is what my team is doing.

Born in 1973, Barbara Rittner has been captain of Germany's Fed Cup team since 2005. As a professional player she won two WTA events and also the junior title at Wimbledon. In 1992 she won the Fed Cup with Steffi Graf, Anke Huber and Sabine Hack.

On Saturday, Svetlana Kuznetsova will play Julia Görges and Anatasia Pavlyuchenkova faces Sabine Lisiki in singles. On Sunday, the ties swap over before Elena Visnina and Vera Zvonareva face Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic in doubles.

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