Tennis: German circuit flaunts its affluence

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The Independent Online
TENNIS resumed here in Germany yesterday pretty much as it left off at the end of last year, with male players duelling for megabucks. For wild cards, read gold cards.

Anders Jarryd, who deflated this nation, you may recall, by eliminating Boris Becker in the opening round of the Australian Open last month, was the first man to lose in the dollars 2.25m ( pounds 1.6m) Eurocard Open.

To ease Jarryd's disappointment, the Swedish qualifier received dollars 18,000, almost three times what he earned for losing in the second round in Melbourne. 'Yes, here it is much, much more,' Jarryd said after losing to Cedric Piolene, of France, 6-4,

5-7, 6-3, 'but in Australia 128 guys were going to share the prize- money. Here you have only 32.'

Lucky them to be competing in the richest tournament on the ATP Tour, with the exception of the eight-man ATP Tour Championship in Frankfurt in November, which is worth dollars 50,000 more. Even that event pales beside the dollars 6m Grand Slam Cup contested by 16 players in Munich in December.

Germany continues to be the financial centre of the sport. The nation boasts nine tournaments for men, worth a total of dollars 16.65m, and five events for women, worth dollars 2.25m.

This week's dollarfest is promoted by Becker's manager, the Romanian, Ion Tiriac, who was so miffed when the ATP Tour declined to upgrade his tournament to one of the nine with Super Series status that he granted it himself, almost tripling last year's prize- money of dollars 865,000. Affluence is flaunted. The ball boys are wearing shirts bearing the legend Tiriac Bank (one of his Romanian enterprises), the carpet court is no longer blue but a rich Bordeaux, and the hospitality is corpulent.

Asked if German industry was spending too much on sport with the world in recession, Tiriac thought not. 'The Americans invest dollars 1bn in basketball alone,' he said. 'You invest dollars 10m and you get dollars 30m back. Sponsorship now is the complete concept for the image and the product of a company. The two people on the court are secondary.'

And what of the DM25m ( pounds 15m) the German Tennis Federation has received for television rights to the nation's Davis Cup matches? 'For TV, sport is positive. They cannot just present sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. The masses want something other than the pistol on one channel and sex on another, and sport offers the best alternative. Families, from the grandmother to the little nephew, can all watch sport together.'

For all his efforts, Tiriac has not been blessed with the quality of his cast here this week. Last year's finalists, Goran Ivanisevic and Stefan Edberg, are absent, recovering from injuries, and the Americans evidently have been influenced by WC Fields on the subject of Philadelphia. Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and Ivan Lendl have decided that playing the City of Brotherly Love is better, or at least more convenient, even allowing for prize-money of dollars 700,000.

But Tiriac does have Becker, fresh from Sunday's triumph in Milan and due to open here against Henri Leconte tomorrow (the Frenchman has won only two of their nine previous matches, both times on clay).

Tiriac also has Michael Stich, another German former Wimbledon champion, who opens against Russia's Andrei Cherkasov today. It is even possible that Becker, the ATP Tour champion, and Stich, the Grand Slam Cup winner, will meet in the final, though Stich's confidence is in need of repair after his 6-2, 6-2 defeat by Becker in their quarter-final in Milan.

Aces and haircuts have tended to feature prominently at the Stuttgart event. Ivanisevic, another Tiriac client, had his hair trimmed to aerodynamic proportions a year ago and hit a staggering 105 aces in five matches. This time Becker has arrived with a cropped thatch, which, combined with a reddish beard, has prompted Bild to print the player's photograph alongside a self-portrait of Van Gogh.

Who has the more erratic strokes? There have been times when Becker, the player who created the boom in the German game, has agonised almost as much as the Dutch master, though he appears to have become more at ease with the commercial aspects of his art.

Or has he? 'He still is not happy with that,' Tiriac said. 'But he's 25 years old, not 18 any more. A lot of people would like to see Boris as a white dove, flying high above everything, but he's a professional, and professionals in sport make their money during a 10 or 15-year career. By this time you have to secure your future. I think Boris thinks long term more than he did before.'

He also carries the emotions of the spectators. 'The people live his tennis with him,' Tiriac said. 'When he threw his racket because he was down, they were down. When he was at the top, they were at the top with him. Becker is not like Borg or Vilas. Becker can win the Paris Open when he has to. He can win the ATP Tour final when he wants to. But he can also, like in Australia, lose in the first round to a semi-pensioner like Jarryd. Maybe that's what makes him so interesting.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- CASH FLOW ON GERMAN COURTS ----------------------------------------------------------------- MEN'S EVENTS Date Event and Venue Size of field Prize Feb Eurocard Open, Stuttgart 32 dollars 2.25m April BMW Open, Munich 32 dollars 300,000 May German Open, Hamburg 56 dollars 1.7m May ATP World Team Cup, Dusseldorf - dollars 1.75m June Grass Court Championships, Halle 32 dollars 375,000 July Mercedes Cup, Stuttgart 48 dollars 1m Sept Cologne Open 32 dollars 525,000 Nov ATP Tour Championship, Frankfurt 8 dollars 2.75m Dec Grand Slam Cup, Munich 16 dollars 6m Total: dollars 16.65m ----------------------------------------------------------------- WOMEN'S EVENTS ----------------------------------------------------------------- April Citizen Cup, Hamburg 32 dollars 375,000 May German Open, Berlin 56 dollars 750,000 Sept Volkswagen Grand Prix, Leipzig 32 dollars 375,000 Oct Porsche Grand Prix, Filderstadt 32 dollars 375,000 Oct Nokia Grand Prix, Essen 32 dollars 375,000 Total: dollars 2.25m ----------------------------------------------------------------- THE 1992 GRAND SLAMS ----------------------------------------------------------------- Men Women (both 128 draw) Australian Open dollars 2m dollars 2m French Open dollars 4m dollars 3.27m Wimbledon dollars 3.5m dollars 3m US Open dollars 3.73m dollars 3.73m Totals: dollars 13.35m dollars 12m -----------------------------------------------------------------