Former Winners of the International Berlin Junior Championships

More than 50 Years of International Junior Tennis at the „Rot-Weiss“

For generations of tennis players world-wide, during the complete post-war period since1950, the name LTTC „Rot-Weiss“ has always had a special ring to it. For many, it was the place where they took their first tentative steps in international tennis. Some of them celebrated their first success on these grounds, others gained initial experience for their later triumphs. The International Junior Championships of Berlin always were and still are an integral part of the „Junior World Ranking Calendar“ of the International Tennis Federation and are one of the most popular events world-wide on the Junior Tour. In 2009 the tournament was able to celebrate its 50th anniversary, a singular achievement in European Junior Tennis.

Belonging to the (later) most prominent winners among the girls were Almut Sturm (1959), Katrin Pohmann (1973), Eva Pfaff (1976), Barbara Paulus (1988) and Anke Huber (1989).   The list of the junior boy winners is even more impressive: With Wolfgang Stuck, Hajo Ploetz, Wilhelm Bungert, Harald Elschenbroich, Hans-Juergen Pohmann, Karl Meiler, Uli Pinner, Peter Elter, Klaus Eberhard, Wolfgang Popp, Patrick Kuehnen and Boris Becker (1983, two years before his Wimbledon triumph), many of the best German juniors of their time added their names to the winners’ list. Among the international stars were winners Yannik Noah (1976), Bjoern Borg (1969 to 1971) und Pat Cash (1980). But there were many participants who did not appear in the winners’ list but made their international breakthrough at a later date, for example Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Steffi Graf und Claudia Kohde. With so many prominent names it is worth to take a closer look at the history of the junior tournaments at the „Rot-Weiss“.

 

When W. A. Bruckmann, at that time a member of the Board of Directors at Rot-Weiss and responsible for junior tennis, launched the „International Junior Championships of Berlin“ in 1950, he definitely could not have foreseen that this event would become one of the most significant cornerstones for the promotion of Berlin’s and Germany’s tennis talents. According to the legend, 50 Deutschmarks out of his own pocket was enough to cover the event’s budget. But of course this was a very modest start. It was only during the 1950’s (with the first international guests from Switzerland and Sweden) and the 1960’s that the tournament progressed and became a junior event of European dimension.

„Rot-Weiss“ had become the most prestigious venue for junior tournaments in Europe and it stood to reason that they would hold the first European Junior Championships in 1976, two years after the incorporation of the European Tennis Association. It was an excellent premiere. As a consequence of the development at that time the German Tennis Federation, launched the International German Junior Championships a year later. It seemed to be a brilliant idea to hold the tournament in annual rotation in Berlin and Moenchengladbach, because the „Gladbachers“ had in the meantime also built up a successful junior tournament. The idea was good, but the execution proved to be a more difficult matter. During the division between East and West Germany, Berlin was not necessarily loved - even by German tennis officials - and resistance had also to be overcome from this corner in the Tennis Federation. The greatest difficulties however were faced on the international political platform. Because the Eastern Bloc Countries – as well as the GDR – did not accept West Berlin as an integral part of West Germany which consequently could not perform any sovereign functions in their eyes. From this point of view the “International Junior Championships of Germany” held in the divided city were seen as a political affront by the “FRG” and were promptly boycotted. As far as players from the GDR were concerned, this was not a great problem, because although tennis was tolerated as a sport there, it was not sponsored by the state. A more serious problem was the absence of junior players from other Eastern Bloc Countries, in particular from the then Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Both countries were renowned for their youth development programs despite all adversities.  Certainly Berliners and the politically interested still remember such terms as the „Three State Theory“ or the „Autonomous Political Entity West-Berlin”. In any case the boycott led to the fact that the line-up for the tournament continually diminished in quality, it received a lower classification in the international tournament calendar, and at the beginning of the 1980’s the German Tennis Federation finally awarded the tournament to Moenchengladbach only.   

In the meantime „Rot-Weiss“ had other, greater tasks to accomplish: Since 1979, the club had played host to the world’s best women’s tennis players at the „German Open“ and the development of the women’s championships required the utmost concentration. For a number of years the junior championships were held parallel with the women’s tournament, but 1990 was the end for the time being. In the following two years two brilliant junior events were held on the „Rot-Weiss“ grounds (in both cases the club stood in on short notice): the European Championships for the up to 14 year-olds (1991) and the European Championships for all age groups (1992). However a fundamental interest was no longer present within the club.

It was due to Eberhard Wensky, member of the Board of Directors and Manager of the club, that the idea of an international junior tournament lived on despite all obstacles. Still the first attempt in 1996 failed. Moenchengladbach had given up the International Junior Championships for financial reasons, and “Rot-Weiss” had almost been confirmed by the German Tennis Federation as the successor. But at that time the executives of the club estimated an existing financial gap as far too risky. Although the gap was breached 14 days later, the cancellation could no longer be reversed: In the meantime the German Tennis Federation had decided in favour of ETUF Essen. A loss for Berlin, but as it turned out an excellent choice, because the Esseners managed to set new benchmarks for European youth tournaments with their beautiful grounds on the Baldeneysee Lake as well as with excellent support and organization.

The second opportunity arrived at the beginning of 2001, when a favourable constellation appeared in the ITF junior calendar for a junior tournament in Berlin. They could however only seize the chance after acquiring the Dorint AG as a sponsor, which met a considerable part of the budget totalling 250,000 DM. Alfred Weiss, member of the Board of Directors of Dorint and closely associated with the club over many years, could quickly be won-over for a positive decision. The fact that Dorint had supported the German International Junior Championships until 1995 in Moenchengladbach (the headquarters of Dorint) surely played a small roll. Also, the Dresdner Bank, AIR-BERLIN, Mercedes-Benz, EUROCARD and Dunlop Sport offered their support for the event, and help also came from the Tennis Association of Berlin-Brandenburg. The re-start began with the „Dorint Berlin Junior Open“ - a Grade 3 in the international tournament calendar. The line-up was superb and produced a fantastic girls’ final between Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Maria Kirilenko (RUS), which Groenefeld managed to decide in her favour in three tight sets. In the meantime their roads have often crossed on the WTA Tour and both have reached positions among the top 20 in the world rankings.

In 2002, the Berlin Junior Open became „only“ a Grade 4 tournament in the international junior calendar. Because of the difficult tennis situation in Germany it was not possible to arouse the enthusiasm of enough sponsors to cover the funds for the hotel costs for the players, one of the prerequisites for the classification of a Grade 3 and higher.  But this has had no influence on the professional organization of the tournament whatsoever.

After 3 years of support, with the tournament in 2003, the Dorint Group withdrew from their sponsorship for corporate reasons. One cannot thank the responsible parties at the Dorint Group enough, especially Alfred Weiss, for their support. Without their help the renaissance of international junior tennis in Berlin would not have been possible.

We were very grateful and pleased about the fact that the airline “airberlin” and their tennis-enthusiastic Chief Executive Officer and friend of „Rot-Weiss“, Achim Hunold, stepped into the breach and took the role as the new title sponsor. Also, the Hotel InterContinental Berlin expanded its support for the event and presented the Junior Tournament as co-sponsor.  Since 2004, the new title was: airberlin junior open presented by the Hotel InterContinental Berlin.

Since 2009 the situation of the Berlin Junior Tournament has changed fundamentally. The German Tennis Federation has awarded its “International Junior Championships” to Berlin, a “Grade 1” tournament in the international tournament calendar of the ITF. The LTTC „Rot-Weiss“ has therefore regained its position in the front row of the hosts of international junior tennis events with a tournament which follows in significance right after the four Grand Slam events (Australian Open, French Open, US Open and Wimbledon). In effect the “airberlin german juniors” replaced the former “airberlin junior open”.

After eight years of generous support the title sponsor “airberlin” has withdrawn their sponsorship for internal company reasons in 2012. With their loyal support “airberlin” has played an important role in shaping the tournament into what it is today: a highlight in Berlin tennis and a figurehead for German tennis in general. For that we have to thank “airberlin”. Certainly this was one of the reasons why the German Tennis Federation decided to award the “International Junior Championships” to Berlin permanently.

Since 2012 the new title sponsor of the “International Junior Championships” has been the Allianz Bank and General Agency David Patrick Kundler. We are very pleased that the Allianz has promised to support our junior tournament for the coming years. The club is equally grateful to the software company “OPTIMAL SYSTEMS” for their patronage as “supporting sponsor” until 2014.

It all began with W.A. Bruckmann, whom we mentioned in the beginning, and with his idea in 1950 to hold first a national and then an international junior tournament on the beautiful grounds on the Hundekehle Lake. This idea still endures. Let us hope that „Rot-Weiss“ and Berlin will continue to fulfil their role as host as successfully as they have done over the last decades.