Tennis: Kiefer closes in on seeding

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The Independent Online
NICOLAS KIEFER knocked loudly on the door of the Wimbledon seeding committee yesterday with an impressive passage into today's semi-finals of the Gerry Weber Open. The German overcame Jan Siemerink, 6-4, 6-2, to guarantee himself a place in the world's top 20 next week. With the All England Club not adhering to world rankings for its seeding lists, two good performances today and tomorrow could see the 21-year-old's prowess on grass recognised in the Wimbledon draw.

Despite a fear of hay fever, Kiefer's pedigree on grass is impressive. A finalist in the Wimbledon boy's singles in 1995, he reached the main draw quarter-finals at 19 in 1997 and won two rounds last year. Also in his favour is his good form this year: he has won one tournament and reached four quarter-finals on hard courts. "If I'm seeded for Wimbledon, then good," Kiefer said casually, "but I'm not reckoning on it. And if I'm not, well I'll be able to cause an upset more quickly."

In beating Siemerink he oozed confidence, scoring with countless returns against the left-handed Dutchman's dangerous sliced serve, which he broke three times. Though Siemerink was suffering something of a let-down after his heroics against Patrick Rafter on Wednesday, Kiefer seldom allowed him to play.

Kiefer, who has a French mother and is looking increasingly French having abandoned his trademark crew cut for a more hirsute look, seemed the natural successor to Boris Becker when he became German No 1 last year. But a bad second half of the season saw him slip back in the rankings, and Tommy Haas took over the German No 1 slot in February.

Yet in a parallel of the constructive Henman-Rusedski rivalry, they are driving each other to greater things. And a good week for Germany at the country's sole grasscourt tournament has calmed the turbulent waters of the German tennis camp.

A big part of that calm could lie in Boris Becker's presence far from Halle in London. Becker and Kiefer fell out at the World Team Cup in Dusseldorf three weeks ago, when Becker said of Kiefer: "His mental horizons go no further than his tennis shoes" after Kiefer had suggested Becker was feigning an injury.

Local dreams of an all-German final evaporated when Haas, the No 6 seed, was beaten in the second quarter-final by the 1996 Halle champion, Nicklas Kulti, 7-6, 5-7, 6-3.