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FORMER TENNIS CHAMPION LAMENTS LACK OF COVERAGE

By NBF NEWS
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Two decades after TV stations rushed to cover the victories of Steffi Graf or Boris Becker, German tennis tournaments are struggling to attract broadcasters and sponsors, former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich said.

'Back then (in the 1980s and 90s) with Steffi and Boris and me, broadcasters were rushing to cover the tournaments. Nowadays you have to beg for a TV (station) to broadcast it,' Stich, director of the Hamburg claycourt tournament, told Reuters in an interview.

Germany once boasted several top competitions a year. But after the Hamburg men's tournament was stripped of its Masters Series status in 2008 and the Berlin women's event was scrapped last year, Germany has found itself without a major crowd and sponsor-pulling tennis week.

Hamburg, in its 104th edition this year, suffered a massive blow two years ago when the ATP downgraded it and switched its date in the calendar from May to mid July.

Whereas once Hamburg would attract the top players eager to fine tune their games ahead of the French Open, which begins at the end of May, now the tournament is languishing in no man's land as it is stuck in the middle of the grass and hardcourt season.

'The status was we had better players (in May) and supposedly a better date,' Stich admitted. 'The situation is that we can just not afford to a have a 1000 tournament. That is just not possible.'

Stich, however, said Hamburg could carve out a niche in the busy schedule as the biggest ATP tournament in Europe in July.

'The May date was sometimes very crowded with everyone preparing for the French Open,' Stich said. 'Players are complaining now that they play too much tennis anyway.'

'In July we are the only 500 tournament in Europe, so for players coming out of Davis Cup (10 days before) or those who do not want to travel to the United States, it is perfect,' Stich, winner in Hamburg in 1993, said.

'It may take two to three years for people to get used to it.'

The former Wimbledon champion, who took over the July 19-25 tournament last year, was optimistic a main sponsor would soon be on board and early signs were pointing towards Hamburg even turning in a profit.

'After the tournament lost 500,000 to a million euros every year for the past 10 years, last year we were in the black,' said the 41-year-old who reached a career-high of world number two in 1993 and won 18 singles tournaments.

'This year we hope we can make some money.'
'Last year we started much later with preparations. Today we are in talks with a possible main sponsors. In 4-6 weeks we can hopefully announce a signature.'