German stars ruling the home court at Halle

Germany's tennis players are keeping the home flag flying at Halle's ATP tournament by reaching the quarter-finals and dumping out seeds Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych.

German stars ruling the home court at Halle
Photo: DPA

Former world number two Tommy Haas became the fourth German of the day to reach the last eight with a 6-3, 7-6 (7/3) win over fourth-seed Tsonga in just 79 minutes on Wednesday evening.

“The level was pretty high, but it is frustrating to play well and still lose,” said Tsonga. “But all credit to Tommy, he played very well and I think he will go through the draw now.”

Haas will play an all-German quarter-final against Mischa Zverev on Friday and was pleased to have so many compatriots through to the last eight.

“It shows how the German players like the faster surface,” he said. “We have four through, at least two more are expected to win through tomorrow, so it’s a good advert for the sport here.”

Earlier Germany’s top player Philipp Kohlschreiber dumped out sixth-seeded Russian Tursunov with a 6-4, 7-6 (8/6) win to keep the Halle crowd happy. And Benjamin Becker also won his second round tie with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory over eighth-seed compatriot Rainer Schüttler.

“It’s great that so many of us are doing well here,” said Kohlschreiber. “It’s good also for the tournament and the spectators, with Roger Federer not here it means the field is a lot more open.”

The biggest upset of the day went to Zverev, the fifth-highest ranked German on the ATP tour, who held his nerve having lost the first set to win the second round clash against Berdych 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (10/8).

“I had to change my game completely,” admitted the 21-year-old Zverev. “I had planned to play serve-and-volley, but after an hour I had not hit a single ball that way, so I made a lot of changes and it worked. He made a lot of unforced errors which helped me.”

Zverev brushed off losing the first set to take control of the second by breaking Berdych twice and then won the third set tie-breaker after more than two-and-a-half hours of often nerve-wracking tennis.

The German, ranked 45th in the world, finally took the third set and the tie with his fourth match-point.

Earlier in the day, Roger Federer’s replacement Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko took advantage of the French Open champion’s no-show here to reach the second round. World number two Federer announced his withdrawal on Tuesday citing exhaustion after winning Roland Garros on Sunday, and his replacement in the draw took his chance with both hands.

Lucky loser Lacko beat Israel’s Harel Levy 7-6 (8/6), 6-2 to reach the second round where he will face Germany’s Andreas Beck on Thursday.

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Germany’s far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance

Best known as an anti-migrant party, Germany's far-right AfD has seized on the coronavirus pandemic to court a new type of voter ahead of regional elections in the state of Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday: anti-shutdown activists.

Germany's far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance
Björn Höcke, party chairman in Thuringia, at an election event in Merseburg, Saxony-Anhalt on May 29th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

“Sending so many people into poverty with so few infections is problematic for us,” is how Oliver Kirchner, the AfD’s top candidate in Saxony-Anhalt, views the measures ordered by the government to halt Covid-19 transmission.

The anti-shutdown stance seems to be paying off in the former East German state. The party is riding high in the polls and even stands a chance of winning a regional election for the first time.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD chooses hardline team ahead of national elections

Surveys have the AfD neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, with the Bild daily even predicting victory for the far-right party on 26 percent, ahead of the CDU on 25 percent.

In Saxony-Anhalt’s last election in 2016, the CDU was the biggest party, scoring 30 percent and forming a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

But the CDU has taken a hammering in the opinion polls in recent months, with voters unhappy with the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.

Social deprivation

A victory for the AfD would spell a huge upset for the conservatives just four months ahead of a general election in Germany — the first in 16 years not to feature Merkel.

They started out campaigning against the euro currency in 2013. Then in 2015 they capitalised on public anger over Merkel’s 2015 decision to let in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The party caused a sensation in Germany’s last general election in 2017 when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote, entering parliament for the first time as the largest opposition party.

Troubled by internal divisions and accusations of ties to neo-Nazi fringe groups, the party has more recently seen its support at the national level stagnate at between 10 and 12 percent.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD investigated over election ties

The party is also controversial in Saxony-Anhalt itself. In state capital Magdeburg, posters showing local candidate Hagen Kohl have been defaced with Hitler moustaches and the words “Never again”.

For wine merchant Jan Buhmann, 57, victory for the far-right party would be a “disaster”.

“The pandemic has shown that we need new ideas. We need young people, we need dynamism in the state. For me, the AfD does not stand for that,” he said.

Yet the AfD’s core supporters have largely remained unwavering in the former East German states.

For pensioner Hans-Joachim Peters, 73, the AfD is “the only party that actually tells it like it is”.

Politicians should “think less about Europe and more about Germany”, he told AFP in Magdeburg. AfD campaigners there were handing out flyers calling for “resistance” and “an end to all anti-constitutional restrictions on our liberties”.

Political scientist Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University puts the AfD’s core strength in eastern Germany down to “social deprivation and frustration” resulting from problems with reunification.

The party’s latest anti-corona restrictions stance has also helped it play up its anti-establishment credentials, adding some voters to its core base, he said.

Other east German states in which the AfD has a stronghold, such as Saxony and Thuringia, continue to have the highest 7-day incidences per 100,000 residents in the country. Saxony-Anhalt’s 7-day incidence, however, currently is below the national average (31.3) as of Wednesday June 3rd.

READ ALSO: Why are coronavirus figures so high in German regions with far-right leanings?

Hijab snub

Funke predicted the AfD would attract broadly the same voters in
Saxony-Anhalt as it did in 2016, when it won 24 percent of the vote.

“Some have dropped off because the party is too radical, some radicals who didn’t vote are now voting and some of those who are anti-corona are also voting for the AfD,” he said.

The Sachsen-Anhalt-Monitor 2020 report, commissioned by the local government, found that the main concern for voters in the region was the economic fallout from the pandemic. But the AfD’s core selling point — immigration and refugees — was number two on their list.

According to AfD candidate Kirchner, many people in Saxony-Anhalt still view the influx of refugees to Germany “very critically”.

“And I think they are right,” he said at a campaign stand in Magdeburg decked in the AfD’s signature blue. “Who is going to rebuild Syria? Who is going to do that if everyone comes here?”

When a young woman wearing a hijab walked past the stand, no one attempted to hand her a flyer.

By Femke Colborne