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On The Rise... Cedrik-Marcel Stebe

DEUCE Extra 2012

Stebe© Cedrik-Marcel StebeCedrik-Marcel Stebe has shaved more than 300 places off his ranking since the start of 2011.

German tennis yearns for a champion that might yet bring more Grand Slam glory to a nation starved of major silverware since Boris Becker’s Australian Open triumph in 1996. Having shaved more than 300 places off his ranking since the start of 2011, Cedrik-Marcel Stebe is a young German on the rise and dreaming big.

Tennis is lucky to have Cedrik-Marcel Stebe. A linguist, pianist, golfer, drummer and footballer, it wasn’t until he was 13 that he settled on tennis, a sport he was introduced to by his family when he was just three years old. But the multi-talented German continues to keep life fresh away from the court with a multitude of diverse activities, and looks forward to the day he can resume his education, sacrificed as a teenager so he could focus on his tennis.

A good decision it proved to be as Stebe has been one of the fastest risers on the ATP World Tour in the past 15 months. A year ago February, the German was floundering outside the Top 400, having been sidelined from action due to a lower back injury. He now finds himself inside the Top 100 after a breakthrough 2011, which saw his tutelage under the Schuettler-Waske Tennis University come to fruition.

After training blocks in Italy and Spain, Stebe began to work with Rainer Schuettler, Alexander Waske and the coaches at the Frankfurt-based Tennis University in October 2010. He instantly stood out as a player with potential. In his own words, he is "a good all-rounder. I can play on any surface. I have solid shots, no weaknesses. I’m a tough player, I always fight until the end, and I don’t give up at any time."

"It was how clean he hits the ball; it’s not normal."

"Alex Waske and me, when we saw Cedrik for the first time, we said, 'That’s a Top 100 player very soon,'" remembers Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh, Head Coach at the Academy. “He was injured, he couldn’t move, and it took us two and a half months to get his body ready. But we could see straight away that there was a lot of potential.

"It was how clean he hits the ball; it’s not normal. He can hit the ball so fast and he’s a skinny guy and every single shot is clean. For me, that’s one of the best things he has."

Stebe FamilyWaske continues, "We saw huge potential in him, and were aware that it could go very fast with him. In practice sessions he played unbelievably well at times, and we needed to get that form on the match courts."

Once fit, Stebe was trained in an intensive seven-week block at the start of the 2011 season. When unleashed on Tour, he reeled off a 17-0 match record with two Futures titles and a runner-up showing at a Challenger event in Kyoto.

"He was 17-0, head to head with Djokovic back then," jokes Waske. "After that he trusted us a lot and we were basically able to change things quickly because he never asked why, he just did it."

According to Stebe, the turning point for the year came during his qualifying campaign for The Championships at Wimbledon. He secured his place in the main draw of a major tournament for the first time after edging upcoming American Ryan Harrison over five sets in a rain-delayed three-day battle. He would go on to lose to Grigor Dimitrov in three tight sets in the first round, but he says, "It gave me such a good feeling and confidence boost. I said 'OK, I can play with those guys'".

"Whenever he goes on court he takes something out and that’s something special."

The left-hander dominated on the ATP Challenger Tour for the remainder of the season, taking titles in Bangkok and Shanghai as his ranking continued to surge upwards. He finished by winning the inaugural ATP Challenger Tour Finals in Sao Paulo.

"With him everything went so fast, but that’s one of his strengths: he learns very fast," explains Ebrahimzadeh. "He played at the French Open and we had a tough talk after the match; he lost in the second round of qualifying (4-6, 0-6 to Simon Greul). He learned from this. Whenever he goes on court he takes something out and that’s something special."

"I was surprised that it happened that fast," confesses Stebe. "Everything came together. I worked a lot on my fitness. Also I started to practise even harder than before. Maturity also came, and was an aspect there. But just, overall, practising and always giving 100 per cent made me become what I am now."

Stebe

Going into his second year on Tour was set to be a challenge for the 21-year-old Stebe, with Waske identifying that his opponents are now more familiar with his attributes. But on his first visit to Australia, Stebe announced himself as a serious contender on the world stage in an enthralling match with Lleyton Hewitt in the first round in Melbourne.

Close to 15,000 fans watched as he had the former World No. 1 and two-time major champion on the ropes at 5-1 in the fourth set, with an aggressive performance that saw him strike 29 winners and nine aces. He could not convert the lead into a fifth set, and ultimately victory, but it was enough to catch Hewitt’s attention.

"He's a quality player. He's a lot better than what his ranking is at the moment," said the Australian. "I spoke to quite a few guys in the locker room after the draw came out. A lot of people spoke very highly of him. I knew he was going to be dangerous. He just sort of has big cuts from both sides."

"[The Barclays ATP World Tour Finals] is a great atmosphere and only the best get to play there, so I want to be there."

Remembering the match and the occasion, Stebe recalls, "It definitely was a great feeling to play on centre court against a former World No. 1, especially in front of his home crowd. Every time you make a good shot or you have a great rally you get goose bumps afterwards because the crowd is so loud.

"I think it was a big occasion for me. But I think that is what I have been working for all my life, to play these kinds of matches on the big courts in front of thousands of people. So it was a bit of a small childhood dream come true for me. I learned from the match that I don’t have to be afraid of these world class players anymore, even when they are playing in front of their home crowd."

Stebe’s character, and that of those around him, is such that no-one is getting carried away just yet, with the focus very much on learning and improving day-by-day. Just now, he is recovering from a minor operation to straighten his nasal cartilage – a procedure that will help the German combat breathing difficulties that have been worsening over the past two years due to allergies. He is scheduled to return to action at the BRD Nastase Tiriac Trophy in Bucharest.

But, having tasted the big time Down Under, Stebe is hungry for more. The ultimate goal? A Top 10 ranking and a place at the year-end Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London.

"It’s a great atmosphere and only the best get to play there, so I want to be there," he declares.

It’s a possibility that his coaches won’t discount for the ambitious German. Says Waske: "We are working on his serve, as well as his attacking game right now. The goal is to get him into the Top 50 this year, but where his true potential is, it’s tough to say. We are not at the end yet!"

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