Kiefer looks up to hero Becker

GERMAN Nicolas Kiefer's ambition when he was a child was to emulate his hero, Boris Becker, and win Wimbledon at the age of 17.

It is now close to three years past his 17th birthday but that has not stopped Kiefer from yearning for the big time.

The Holzminden-born Kiefer is regarded as one of the rising stars of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour after winning the Australian Open and US Open junior events in 1995.

In that year, his rookie season, he climbed more than 1,000 places up the senior rankings and won his first Challenger event in Garmisch.

Kiefer also reached the final of the Wimbledon junior event and was a semi-finalist at the French Open.

On the senior circuit, he reached the quarter-finals of the ATP tournament in St Petersburg.

At the end of 1996, he finished as the fourth-youngest player ranked in the world's top 150 and won more than US$128,000 in prize-money.

Kiefer, who often trains with Becker in Hanover, says he hopes he can fulfil his potential but refuses to allow people's expectations to get in the way.

'I'm under no pressure,' said Kiefer, who will be 20 in July. 'I just play tennis and do my best on court.

'If I win, it's good for me and, if I lose, I know there is always next time.' Although his game is different to that of Becker's, Kiefer, who likes fast courts and feels his return of serve is a strong trait, admires the three-time Wimbledon champion's fighting qualities.

'He is one of the best,' said Kiefer. 'He's a great fighter and that's one of the reasons he won Wimbledon when he was 17.

'I wanted to do that but it's too late now. But I still hope to do my best.

'When I first started, my aim was to get into the top 100. Now I am nearly there.' When the field for the 1997 Salem Hong Kong Open was announced in February, Kiefer was ranked 142 in the world. He enters the Hong Kong tournament on the fringe of a top 100 place at 101 - just three ranking points below Javier Frana, who is ranked 100.

His rise has been due to some good performances on the tour this year, including a first-round win over Dutchman Jan Siemerink at the European Community Championship in Antwerp in February.

He also reached the semi-finals of the Milan event earlier this year.

Kiefer will be able to devote more time to tennis and hopefully take his ranking even higher after July when he finishes his schooling.

'I want to make tennis my career but you never know what can happen. If I get injured, I can have something to fall back on.'