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A Visit To Boris Becker's Hometown; Interview with Steffi Graf; Tommy Haas Saves the Best for Last; Playing with Michael Stich

Aired September 20, 2012 - 00:05:30   ET


PAT CASH, HOST: Boris Becker, Steffi Graf and Michael Stich turned Germany into a tennis nation back in the late '80s. But now a new wave of tennis stars has given German fans hope.

We're in Hamburg for a special edition of OPEN COURT.

Coming up on the show, an OPEN COURT exclusive -- the player they call Boom Boom for his powerful serve returned home to Leimen. We travel with Boris Becker to the tennis club where it all began.

Plus, Steffi Graf likes what she sees in German tennis. Hear who she thinks is ready to break through.

Plus, Angelique Kerber and Sabine Lisicki -- two frauleins rekindle memories of when Germany ruled center court.

Boris Becker was the youngest ever men's Wimbledon singles champion at the age of 17. He went on to win six grand slam titles. In serve and volley, he's weighed at number one in the world.

Well, Boris invited OPEN COURT to meet him in his hometown of Leimen.

And as Frederik Pleitgen reports, it doesn't take long for Boris to draw a crowd.




PLEITGEN (voice-over): When Boris Becker took me on a tour of his hometown, it seemed there was a memory on every corner.

BORIS BECKER, SIX TIME GRAND SLAM CHAMPION: This is Vina (ph) in the back here. And that's my football (INAUDIBLE).

PLEITGEN (on camera): Were you good at soccer, because I remember then you were...

BECKER: I'd -- I'd like to think so.

PLEITGEN: -- always on the tennis court.


PLEITGEN: You were always doing those soccer tricks all the time.

BECKER: Yes, yes. I'd like to think so, yes.

PLEITGEN: It still is one of your favorite sports, right?

BECKER: Absolutely.



That's my -- my kindergarten, this one.

PLEITGEN: All right, so this as your classroom?

BECKER: This is my -- my first classroom, yes. I sat here, I guess. A little boring. A little bored.


PLEITGEN: Were you good at school?

BECKER: It was easy for me. I didn't have to study much to get by. My mother always said I could have, you know, become something if I would have (INAUDIBLE) study. But I always...

PLEITGEN: Your mother says you could have become somebody if you only studied.


BECKER: This is the home that I was born. That's the whole house. That's my grandmother here and my grandfather, who were upstairs. It was a nice childhood. I had a very good childhood.

That was my candy store...


BECKER: -- before and after school. Yes. No more.

PLEITGEN: All right.

BECKER: Yes, yes.

PLEITGEN: (INAUDIBLE) nothing changes.


PLEITGEN: But some things do.

BECKER: But they have another one in front.

PLEITGEN: Oh, yes.

BECKER: These are the original courts. When I picked up my first rackets, I play -- practiced on them.

PLEITGEN: You did?

BECKER: I want to show you my very first coach...


BECKER: -- that I started playing with.


BECKER: It's the tennis wall.

PLEITGEN: The tennis wall was the first coach?

BECKER: Yes. Yes. When I was little and my parents were busy, my parents were busy playing and I was too small and -- and not allowed to go on the court, that's where I played for hours.

This is memory lane, yes. This is -- I -- I -- I feel like I'm four years old now.

My opponent or my -- my hero was always Bjorn Borg.


BECKER: And I imagined myself at four as playing against Bjorn, who was...

PLEITGEN: You got to beat him most of the time then, I would bet?

BECKER: I'd like to think so, yes.


PLEITGEN: It's very natural.

BECKER: I always had a tough time with Agassi...


BECKER: -- because he had an unbelievable return. So I would always feed into his weapon against mine.


BECKER: I never played -- I never liked playing against Sampras later on because I felt that when he had a good day, he was just a (INAUDIBLE).

In the back, they had a big hole and...


BECKER: -- and I was playing tennis and I didn't see it and I fell into and I have a big scar in here because when the needle came in, you know...


BECKER: -- that stuff. I remember this court very well.


BECKER: I started playing tournaments when I was six years old, six, seven years old. I won my first tournament at six. Because...


BECKER: Yes, exactly.


BECKER: That's what you do.


BECKER: That's what you do.

PLEITGEN: Make a fist, yes.

BECKER: Yes. That's it exactly.

PLEITGEN: And that's what surprises me, is that, you know, so many years later, the Becker fist is still like...



PLEITGEN: -- the ba -- the main thing in German tennis, isn't it?


PLEITGEN: You won six grand slam tournaments.

Do you think that there's tournaments that you left on the table that you could have won that you didn't win?

Are you -- are you happy with -- with your overall?

BECKER: Yes. I mean I -- I -- trust me, I've tried everything to win on play. I mean I reached finals, semi-finals of, you know, big play for (ph) tournaments, semi-final to French three times.

But, you know, I wasn't good enough. I mean overall, I won every tournament that I decided to play, but I think winning at 17 hurt my chances a little bit, because I wasn't giving it the chance and not even giving myself to -- maybe to become a better tennis player, to give myself more time to improve. It was immediately what I have to win now next...


BECKER: -- because otherwise, there is a crisis.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): But what Becker did achieve is still fondly displayed at Leimen City Hall, in the center of town.

BECKER: Personal memorabilia, you know, my original Wimbledon record.


BECKER: We've got the tennis balls, we've got the shoes. Here I met the pope...

PLEITGEN: Oh, wow!

BECKER: -- way back. Yes.

PLEITGEN: When was that?

BECKER: That was -- I went in 1986...

PLEITGEN: To see the pope in Rome?

BECKER: To see the pope in Rome. And I gave him a racket, too, you know.



BECKER: This is the city square.

PLEITGEN: Oh, my. This is your homecoming after...

BECKER: This was -- this is my homecoming and this is the streets.


BECKER: This was my coach back then. And he was the mayor. And that back on here and looked on those people.

PLEITGEN: Here we are.

BECKER: Here we are.

PLEITGEN: Here we are, right on the...

BECKER: Standing on the same...

PLEITGEN: -- this is the balcony you stood on.

BECKER: -- terrace. Yes. And it looked so much bigger then than...


BECKER: -- than it seems now. Yes. You know, when you're -- when you're...

PLEITGEN: And so most of the people were down that way, right?

BECKER: Most of the people were here.


BECKER: But then we had the convoy, the car convoy, starting here. And they would go through town.

This is my parents' home. Oops, guten tag, Herr Freud, Liebchen, hello.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Let's start with the earlier times -- Boris, Elias and Noah.

BECKER: So this is the real trophy in this cabinet.

PLEITGEN: The real ones, yes.

BECKER: My biggest tournament win was probably 1986, when I defended my Wimbledon title. I was still only 18 then. I still would have been the youngest at 18 (INAUDIBLE)...

PLEITGEN: People didn't think it was possible.

BECKER: I didn't think it was possible.


BECKER: I thought at 17, well, maybe it was luck. I was on a -- on a mission in 1986. I really wanted to prove a point, first of all, to me, but then to all my critics.

PLEITGEN: Do you come here a lot still?

BECKER: I come here more often since my mother is getting older.

PLEITGEN: She's still hoping you move in, right?

BECKER: She -- her -- her ideal scenario is that I actually move back into -- into our old home. I don't think it's going to happen.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): But one thing Boris Becker can count on when he visits Leimen is the familiar flavors of home.

(on camera): The joys of German culture -- beer and sausage.


CASH: Now, you might not realize, but just down the road from Boris' home, a young lady by the name of Stefanie Maria Graf was making quite a name for herself in the world of tennis.

She grew up in Bruhl, just 11 kilometers from Leimen. We met up during the London Olympics to chat about the golden era of German tennis and the exciting prospects of the next generation of players.


CASH: It was '88 that you won all...


CASH: -- all four grand slams and the -- and the gold medal.

GRAF: That was (INAUDIBLE). It was 1988.

CASH: What an unbelievable year.

GRAF: A crazy year.

CASH: A crazy year.

GRAF: A crazy year.


GRAF: I think it was good that I was young, you know, and -- and, you know, took it one at a time and didn't quite realize exactly what was happening.

CASH: Do you think there will ever be an era of the '80s and '90s, where there was you and...


CASH: -- and Boris and Michael, Vick (ph), all...

GRAF: Yes.

CASH: -- all dominating. That was -- it was phenomenal to -- to watch. For me, it was terrifying, because I was -- I was (INAUDIBLE) against it.


CASH: But...

GRAF: It was a great time. It was -- I mean, the enthusiasm that -- that -- that was created in Germany. Suddenly we had, you know, we -- we got all these tournaments. It's -- you know, the -- the spectators got into it. It -- it was -- yes, it was -- it was just -- it was just fun being part of the time.

CASH: If I go back a bit further, who was your motivation when you were growing up?

Was there anybody in Germany in particular, or was it international players?

GRAF: It was more the international players. I mean it -- it was -- my dad was a very passionate tennis player, as well as my mom, actually. And so they introduced me at an early age to the sport.

But following it, you know, I re--- I remember there were some of the -- the young girls coming through, Andrea Jaeger, as well as Tracy Austin. Those were the young American girls that were coming through at that time. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova were the players to look up to.

And I actually enjoyed Johnny McEnroe, the -- the -- the most. So that was somebody that I loved to see, you know, show his talents.

But in Germany itself, probably less.

CASH: How has it changed, German tennis has changed now from -- from back...

GRAF: Well...

CASH: -- when you were playing, you -- you were growing up?

GRAF: I think that, you know, the club environment is still there. I mean the format has changed a little bit. There's less players in the teams and it -- it -- it doesn't have quite the importance anymore that it used to have.

But, again, also, the -- the German men players have started to play well at, you know, after maybe a few years where Tommy Haas was injured quite a bit. Now he -- he's back playing again, (INAUDIBLE).

So we -- we started to have more of the German players. And so hopefully, it's going to transition again to become a more important sport.

CASH: And you need to make, perhaps, with one more player to break through and to -- to reenergize German tennis...

GRAF: That's...

CASH: -- again?

GRAF: -- that's what we're hoping. I mean with, you know, with especially the depth of the girls and the -- and the, you know, seeing how, you know, they're -- they're -- they're still young. And so hopefully, the next year or two, you know, somebody is going to break through.

But it's -- it's starting. You start to feel that -- get the excitement back home, you know, and people asking how are they doing, you know, what's -- what's their chances and how can they come through?

So, you know, we'll -- we'll push our thumbs and -- and believe that they will make it.

CASH: After the break, we'll meet the next generation of German women.

And Tommy Haas shines the spotlight back on German tennis, one win at a time.


CASH: There's one German veteran who shows no signs of slowing down just yet. Tommy Haas was born and raised here in Hamburg.

And as Pedro Pinto reports, he's saving his best for last.


PEDRO PINTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tommy Haas is clearly ready for his close-up. The 34-year-old started the year outside the top 200. Now, he's poised to finish the year inside the top 25.

TOMMY HAAS, WORLD NUMBER 21: I guess 30 may be the new 20.

CASH: Haas made headlines this summer when he beat Roger Federer and raised the title trophy on the grass in Halla (ph). It was a special day for fans.

BECKER: I'm really happy that he's able to have one more chance of -- of playing great tennis and then finishing on his own terms.

CASH: Tommy Haas made no mention of the finish line or the dreaded R word during our interview. It's clear he still has a love of the game that began right here on the clay courts of Hamburg.

HAAS: In the end of the day, I think if you really love something and you want to do it the right way, why not do it until you really know I can't do it anymore, either because my body doesn't allow me to or because I'm just not good enough to do it anymore?

CASH (on camera): Hamburg is hosting the Davis Cup tie versus Australia here in the Rothenbaum Stadion. And organizers are expecting a decent turnout now that tennis is starting to regain its popularity here in Germany.

Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer have both cracked the top 20 this year, but most think it's the ladies who will end the grand slam drought.

(voice-over): They're some of the rising stars on the women's tennis circuit, making a name for themselves and their country. No fewer than four German women have reached the top 15 within the past year.

CHARLY STEEB, GERMAN TENNIS FEDERATION: You know, all of them could be in the top 10 at the same time.

CASH: Angelique Kerber is a young woman in a hurry. Racing through the rankings, she's jumped 100 points in just a year, to number six. Kerber's proved she can beat the biggest names on court, en route to semi- final appearances at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

ANGELIQUE KERBER, WORLD NUMBER 6: Now, I have a lot of confidence and, yes, I feel very good out -- out there on the tennis court.

CASH: Andrea Petkovic is only the sixth German player in history to crack the top 10. She's become a popular player on the circuit, known as much for her personality as her performance, like the Petko dance. The 25- year-old is now finding her form once again after recovering from a string of recent injuries.

Julia Goerges reached the top 15 earlier this year after winning two WTA titles. She packs one of the most powerful serves on the tour and has already racked up the top speed of the season.

JULIA GOERGES, WORLD NUMBER 20: It's nice to have a weapon like that, but, I mean, you need to still work on it and, um, I try to improve it every time.

CASH: Sabine Lisicki rounds out the fab four. She reached number 12 in the rankings this year before injury took its toll. Lisicki has some high profile admirers. She's been labeled the one to watch by no less than 22 time grand slam champion, Steffi Graf.

GRAF: I believe her serve and, you know, the way she powers from the baseline, you know, she -- she is right there at the top. I believe if she works a little more on (INAUDIBLE) part, maybe she's -- and her moving is a little more -- she's so close. I mean she'll -- she'll -- she'll break through.

CASH: With Steffi pointing the way, OPEN COURT traveled to the U.S. state of Florida, where Lisicki has established her training base.

Sabine Lisicki,

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And when other people see that you're a great player and you can achieve a lot, you want to work even harder to make it happen. And it motivates you even more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) what we said, both elbows up, right?

CASH: She's learning under the watchful eye of well-known coach, Nick Bollettieri, and is finding the drive to work harder than ever.

SABINE LISICKI, WORLD NUMBER 31: He sees so many little things that many other people don't see. And, um, in professional sport, it's -- or when you got to the top of the game, there are really just little things that matter.

CASH: Bollettieri founded a specialized tennis program three decades ago, helping players like Agassi, Courier and the Williams sisters get to world number one.

Nick Bollettieri,

NICK BOLLETTIERI, IMG ACADEMY: Just her size and the power game that she had, and the big serve that she had, just that alone, you know, put her away from the rest of the pack.

Can she win a big one?

Absolutely. And she's come very close to that. But what she's got to understand, everything cannot go right for an entire 14 days of a grand slam.

CASH: Lisicki has claimed five professional singles titles since turning pro six years ago. But in 2010, she suffered a huge setback, taking almost a year to recover from an ankle injury.

LISICKI: I had no muscles in my left cuff left. And to regain them took quite a lot of time. And my dropped ranking was from 23 to 220. I had to fight my way back. And I'm still very thankful for getting a wild card into Wimbledon and being the second wildcard in history to play a semi-final there and the first German since Steffi Graf.

CASH: Following in Graf's footsteps may be daunting, but Lisicki says she's inspired by her achievements.

LISICKI: She was such a hard-working woman and playing great tennis. And she still hits the ball amazingly.

CASH: Lisicki is also spurred on by the girls she grew up challenging in Germany. As well as being her Fed cup teammates, they're now amongst her greatest competitors.

LISICKI: We push each other by winning matches and seeing what you can achieve by hard work. And we have four completely different girls, different personalities and a lot of fans. We have fans outside, but once, you know, once you're on the court, both of us want to win.


CASH: You've seen me battle it out with Sampras, Courier, David Ferrer, Wawrinka, even the Bryan brothers.

But who is this German player brave enough to take me on?

Find out after the break.


CASH: Welcome back to Hamburg.

Now, I'm about to get on court with one of the best players the game has ever seen. He had every shot. And when he ran hard, there was no stopping him.

I never played him on the circuit, but I'm going to get him now.


CASH (voice-over): Well, one of the things about Michael Stich is he's able to attack on anything from the back of the court. Let's see if he's still got it, though.

Are you OK? do you need a break?

Do you need some water?

In many respects, Australia and Germany were -- have had similar recent histories, where you've had a lot of champions and then things have gone down.

But things are looking like they're coming back up a little bit in Germany.

MICHAEL STICH, 1991 WIMBLEDON CHAMPION: I think there is a potential because I mean with li -- have 80 million people living in this country. There's got to be that future Wimbledon or French Open champion somewhere out there. We have more kids coming to the tennis clubs again. That's a good sign -- because of the girls and especially because of the girls, I think that made a big impact. And all of a sudden people start to see, well, it's a good sport.

CASH: One of these shots that I think most players find impossible to get back is the cross court forehand. It is an amazing pace and angle.


CASH: This is not really that much fun.

If you look at him play, no chance.

You come into Wimbledon. You beat Stefan Edberg in a -- in a crazy semi-final. And then you came out and you beat Boris. I mean that was, you know, I just remember thinking, oh, this was a -- a little bit lucky, this guy Stichs coming through.

STICH: Did you really think it was luck?

CASH: Yes, I thought it was a little bit luck. I didn't think you were very good.

STICH: Well, can I stop this interview, please?




CASH: So much for the forehand. We wanted to go to the backhand (INAUDIBLE) what that is. Oh, well, wish me luck.

He could have made it.

STICH: He's old. He needs an oxygen tent.

CASH: So what was it like after you defeated the almighty Boris Becker?

How was the press?

How -- how did they react to you?

STICH: The English media obviously was stunned. They were like, well, what are you doing here, basically?

And they all came out after the match, when the chair umpire said game set and match, Becker.

CASH: Oh, my god, that's right.

STICH: He didn't say game, set and match Stich, he said Becker. And then he corrected himself. But that was his first reaction, probably, what just shows what the reaction of anyone was, you know, this is not supposed to be.

CASH: OK, I've given up on the ground strike stuff. He's running me all over the place. I'll get him at the net. I'm not so confident about this part either.

Come on, get it.

STICH: A little slow, pappy.

What's wrong with you?

CASH: I won one point!

STICH: Oh, come on.

CASH: Are you ready to give up?

STICH: Not yet.

CASH: I've got to -- look at this.

STICH: Well, you're sweating, I'm not.

CASH: My goal was to get you to take your track pants off, but, oh -- thanks, mate. Thanks. I'm glad I avoided you on the circuit and thanks for your time and this...

STICH: Well, I appreciate it.


STICH: I would have loved to have played you on the circuit...

CASH: Yes.

STICH: -- because it would have been a definite move on to the next round.

CASH: Yes, I know.


Thanks a lot.


CASH: Next month, join us in Tokyo, where we will meet the highest ranked Japanese player in history, Kei Nishikori, and also spend some time with the new U.S. Open champion, Andy Murray.

Until then, it's good-bye from Hamburg.

Log onto, where you can hear more about the rivalry between Boris Becker and Michael Stich.