Tennis: Becker row spoils party

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The Independent Online
ON THE day German tennis should be celebrating a new era, the golden era of German tennis seems to be unravelling badly.

Today's ranking list will feature two Germans in the world's top 20, Tommy Haas and Nicolas Kiefer, for the first time since the age of Boris Becker and Michael Stich. This follows Kiefer's first tournament on German soil after he beat Nicklas Kulti 6-3, 6-2 in the final of the Gerry Weber Open yesterday.

But the headlines were stolen by the tournament's instigator, Gerhard Weber, who launched a blistering attack on Becker, Germany's tennis supremo, challenging the three-times Wimbledon champion to pay back DM1.8m (about pounds 650,000) to the German Tennis Federation for a failed business deal at last year's Davis Cup quarter-final against Sweden.

The row is at two levels. Superficially Weber is still bitter at the tie being promised to his 12,300-seater Gerry Weber Stadium in Halle and then being switched to Hamburg at short notice (and with Weber claiming only to have learned of the switch through the press).

Becker had negotiated a sponsorship deal for Germany's players to wear a company's logo on their shirts, but the deal was conditional on the tie being in Hamburg. The tie was switched, but Becker had apparently overlooked the policy of the clothing manufacturer Nike, with whom both Haas and Kiefer are under contract, preventing any extraneous logos on their shirts.

The deal, therefore, collapsed, landing the DTB with a pounds 110,000 deficit on the tie - and that after Weber had promised pounds 550,000 for the right to stage it.

Weber yesterday asked Becker to pay back the total pounds 650,000 loss to the DTB out of the pounds 900,000-a-year the DTB pays him. "If we had a loss in our business, we'd have to cover it. We cannot now rely on Boris," said a forthright Weber.

Weber made his comments after talking to Haas and Kiefer during the past week, which has seen a return to harmony in the German tennis camp in the absence of Becker but with the presence of the German Davis Cup captain, Becker's friend Carl-Uwe Steeb. The fact that Germany's top two players were willing to give Weber fuel to fight Becker suggests the cards are now in their hands.

Only three weeks ago Haas and Kiefer broke new ground by standing up publicly to Becker at the World Team Cup in Dusseldorf. Becker, whose reputation as Germany's golden boy has survived several refusals to play Davis Cup ties, said of Kiefer: "His mental horizons go no further than his tennis shoes", after Kiefer suggested Becker was feigning an injury.

With Stich now retired, Becker two tournaments away from retirement, and Steffi Graf celebrating her 30th birthday, today should have been a celebration for the new generation in German tennis - but some of the gloss has been taken off Kiefer's victory in Halle.

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