My first go with racket and ball

Somehow, everything started with a wooden plank. My parents tell me that when I was 2 and a half, I played in my room with such a wooden plank and a tennis ball. There were heaps of balls all over our place since my dad was a coach in a tennis club near Hamburg. When he entered my room, he took the ball and threw it to me. I played it back straight into his hands. He repeated this a few times and could not believe what I was doing.

No chances against Sabine

Due to my dad’s job as a coach, the whole family spent a lot of time at the tennis club. Fairly soon, I was given a small racket and played against the wall for hours. From time to time, my dad allowed me to take part in one of his training sessions. At that stage, my sister Sabine, who is 3 years older than me, was a much better player than I was. To be honest: I didn’t have a chance when playing her until I was 12 years old. But this made me practice even harder. I absolutely wanted to beat my older sister!

Flying for the first time

When I was 5 years old, I unexpectedly won a small youth tournament in the Hamburg area. Three years later, my parents put me on an airplane to fly to a big youth tournament in Munich. The first flight of my life. I won the event and held the cup in my hands on the entire flight back to Hamburg. Gradually, bigger tournaments were coming up and luckily the success was growing, too.

At the age of 11 I won the German Championships for the first time. Later, I won the Austrian Championships twice and became European Champion when I was 13 years old. Players like Sebastian Grosjean were taking part in this tournament as well. He was born in the same year as I was. It shows how long I have known some of the guys on Tour.

My title at the German Championships caught Nick Bollettieri’s attention. My sister Sabine won the female title in the same year and Bollettieri invited both of us to his Academy in Florida. A horrible week. I did not understand a single English word at that stage and was not allowed to share a room with Sabine. We both wanted to go home desperately. Bollettieri had different plans: he immediately discovered our talent and offered us to come and live in his camp – for free. Sabine and I refused to go. Living in the Academy was nothing we could imagine.

Some months later a German TV channel asked my dad whether I wanted to fly to Bollettieri’s Academy with him. They were planning a documentary on the famous tennis coach and wanted some reference to a German talent.

Together with my dad I left for Florida. Bollettieri was enthusiastic to see me again. And I got used to the surrounding and finally stayed there – at the age of 13.

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