SPECIAL REPORT: Halle’s Silver Anniversary - UBITENNIS
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SPECIAL REPORT: Halle’s Silver Anniversary

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On a day marked by exuberant sunshine and a matching temperature, Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany and Joao Sousa of Portugal kicked off the Silver Anniversary of the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany. Playing on the, as of yet, unmarred grass of the Stadion Court, with the roof open showcasing cloudless skies, Kohlschreiber won the first six points of the match, but lost the first set, 6-3. Playing like the tournament champion that he was in 2011, he regained control and claimed the next two sets, 6-4, 6-4.

The number twenty-five is significant in a variety of disciplines. As an example, in science, it is the percentage of DNA overlap of a half-sibling and an array of family members, including a grandparent, grandchild, uncle, aunt and so on. The Book of Revelation notes that “the throne was surrounded by twenty-four other thrones.” In the Quran, twenty-five prophets are mentioned. It is the minimum age for election to the US House of Representatives. Pachisi (Hindi for twenty-five) is an India board game, and Twenty-Five is an Irish card game. There are twenty-five players on the roster of a Major League Baseball team, and though a Nippon Professional Baseball team has twenty-eight players, only twenty-five are eligible to participate in each game. Finally, it is not known if the number was lucky for Timothy Leary, but the Father of Psychedelic Drug popularity, was a leading advocate for the use of LSD, which is a portion of the name of the LSD-25 molecule.

To use a colloquialism from Leary’s time, members of the tennis community may have thought that Gerhard (Gerry) Weber, along with his son, Ralf, were “tripping…” when they launched the Gerry Weber Open, in 1993, the week following Roland Garros. (Udo Hardieck, a long-time Gerry Weber associate co-founded the tournament, but since its inception, he has chosen to stay out of the spotlight.)

Staging a Wimbledon warm-up grass court tournament in a small German town called Halle, (and there are two other cities in Germany with the same name) primarily known for its agricultural production, was risky. In the beginning, it appeared to be even more perilous because the ATP calendar dates were the same as the venerated Queen’s Club Championships, which began in 1884 in London. As things have turned out, the bold move by the Webers has proven to be very wise.

Along with my wife, Cheryl Jones, I have regularly been the only tennis journalist from the United States to attend the event over the past twenty-five years. As a result, I have a scrapbook full of Gerry Weber Open memories. One of the most indelible is the weather that washes Europe each June. At this time of year, rain becomes part of every tournament scheduling equation. In 1993, when the inaugural Gerry Weber Open was held, the weather conditions were typical. It was wet…and as those who follow the game realize, there are only some many “It rained again…” stories that can be written.

Being inventive and insightful has made Gerry Weber a clothing manufacturing legend, and very comfortable financially. Using his drive and creativity, along with Ralf’s industriousness, the 1994 tournament was a landmark occasion. A roof that could be closed in 88 seconds had been installed, making the Stadion the first in tennis with a cover. It goes without saying that rain, which continues to plague other venues, is not an issue in Halle.

Adding a closeable roof was a savvy move, but the Webers were even more shrewd when they signed Roger Federer to a lifetime contract. It has been a long-term investment that has been bountiful for all the parties involved. The Swiss icon is the tournament record holder, having won eight singles titles. Adding luster to the count, he was the Halle champion four years in a row (2003-06), and a few weeks later, the Wimbledon winner in each of those years.

Federer has appeared in ten Halle singles finals, which is more than any other player. He is also the only competitor to win both the singles and doubles, which he did with countryman, Yves Allegro in 2005. Not only is Federer a one-of-kind player, he is an extraordinary individual. In 2012, a Halle street was named in his honor. But, more importantly, he is fully aware of the responsibilities that come with the privilege of being Roger Federer.

An example of his understanding the role occurred in 2014. After he and his good friend from Basel, Marco Chiudinelli, received a walk over in their doubles match from Martin Emmrich of Germany and Andreas Seppi of Italy (who became ill), Federer was Federer. Realizing that it was “Ladies Day”, an event the tournament holds annually, and that many attendees were anxious to see him play, he suggested to the Webers that he and Chiudinelli hold an open practice session. It was hardly a surprise that each and every one of the 4,500 seats on Court I were filled for the entertaining exhibition that took place.

When it began, the Gerry Weber Open was an ATP World Series event. In 1998, it became an ATP International Series championship. Eleven years later it moved to the ATP World Tour 250 series level. In 2015, its status changed to an ATP World Tour 500 series tournament. At the same time, its ATP calendar dates changed to the second week following Roland Garros.

Stating the obvious, grass court tennis can only be as good as the grass it’s played on. Thanks to the talents of Phil Thorn, who is Halle’s “Keeper of the Grass”, the four tournament courts are among the best in tennis. (Thorn’s father, Jim Thorn performed his own brand of magic as the Head Groundskeeper at Wimbledon for decades.) Thorn is like a master chef. He has grass recipes that must pass playability tests annually. He is always looking for the perfect combination to guarantee that the outside courts, as well as the Gerry Weber Stadion Court itself, provide a consistent bounce when the first ball is hit to the final shot at the end of the tournament. Last year, after using various combinations of grass previously, he utilized pure rye grass and was pleased with the result.

In addition to the courts, Thorn has additional responsibilities. He and his crew of roughly ten individuals before the tournament begins, (that number swells to forty-five during the competition), maintain the elegant dark green and purple color combinations on the grounds of the facility. Wimbledon’s “look” has a long-standing reputation, but Halle, in its own way, matches it.

Looking back on literally hundreds of past matches, some are unforgettable. Two magical shot-makers and delightful personalities competed in the first Halle final. In that match, Henri Leconte of France routed Andrei Medvedev of Ukraine, 6-2, 6-3. In 1996, Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia was a finalist in a surprising loss to Nicklas Kulti of Sweden, who edged him for the title, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4. Kafelnikov became the Gerry Weber Open winner in 1997 and again in ’98. He added a third title in 2002.

Ivo Karlovic of Croatia broke a longstanding ATP record while competing against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic in 2015. It was almost incidental that he won the match 7-5, 6-7, 6-3 because he dispatched forty-five aces in the quarterfinal encounter.

Halle always features the best players in the men’s game. During the tournament, they stay at the Gerry Weber Sportspark Hotel, which is like a five-star resort featuring amenities that are not found at other ATP events. Competitors can literally step out of bed, throw some clothing on and enjoy gourmet meals in the hotel’s dining areas, a floor or two away. Even more important, they do not have to spend time in an automobile weaving through traffic to get to the facility. All the players need to do is take a short walk to the practice (some of which are covered) or match courts. While it is often difficult to reach an agreement on many things in tennis, tournament participants feel that the setting is one-of-a-kind.

After a day’s play is complete, attention turns to the “Tennistainment” programs that are featured on a huge stage in the plaza a short distance behind the Stadion Court. The concept is Ralf Weber’s and the entertainment caters to the music and cabaret tastes of the young, old and those in between.

The local community has played a significant role in making the Gerry Weber Open a special tennis experience. Almost everyone from Halle, and the surrounding area do everything they possibly can to support the event each year. Some even take time away from their regular jobs and use portions of their annual vacations to help out. That is why it is categorically a “People’s Tournament.”

Gerry and Ralf Weber, who is the Tournament Director, set out to create a tennis tournament that would be unrivaled. They have succeeded, beyond all expectations. This year’s June 19-June 25 event, with the following seeds: Roger Federer; Dominic Thiem of Austria; Kei Nishikori of Japan; Alexander Zverev of Germany; Gael Monfils of France; Lucas Pouille of France; Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain and Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain, will present an unforgettable Silver Anniversary celebration.

 

 

 

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Andy Murray Makes Retirement Hint After 500th Hard Court Win In Dubai

Andy Murray won his 500th hard court match in Dubai, placing him fifth on the all-time list.

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Andy Murray further hinted at retirement after securing a 500th hard court win of his career in Dubai.

The former world number one picked up his second win of the year with a 4-6 7-6(5) 6-3 victory over Denis Shapovalov.

In typical Andy Murray fashion, the Brit came back from a set down to defeat the out-of-sorts Canadian as he progressed to the second round.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUVj537F-wQ

The win means Murray now has 500 career wins on a hard court and that is an achievement the world number 67 is proud of, “It’s not bad,” Murray told the ATP website as he sits fifth on the all-time list of hard court wins.

“Obviously hard court has been a great surface for me over the years and 500 is a lot of matches so I’m very proud of that. There are not many players that have done that, so great to get to 500 before I’m done.”

However those post-match comments weren’t the most shocking ones as Murray once again hinted at retirement this season.

The Brit has made subtle remarks that this year may be his last one but Murray’s comments today suggests that he may have already made his decision, “I probably don’t have too long left but I’ll do as best as I can these last few months,” Murray was quoted by ESPN as saying.

“I still love competing and still love the game but it gets harder and harder to compete the older you get, to keep your body fit and fresh.”

If the end is near for Murray than the Brit will look to end his career on a high for the next few months.

Before thinking about retirement Murray will look to go further in Dubai when he takes on either Ugo Humbert or Gael Monfils in the second round.

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Perspective And Fatigue: The Two Sides Of Iga Swiatek’s Dubai Defeat

Iga Swiatek spoke about perspective and fatigue after her semi-final exit in Dubai.

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Iga Swiatek showed two sides to her defeat in Dubai as the world number one surprisingly failed to win the title despite being the favourite in the semi-finals.

Heading into her semi-final in Dubai, Swiatek was heavy favourite to win her second consecutive WTA title after claiming the title in Doha the week before.

However Swiatek was unsuccessful in her bid to reach the final as she lost to Anna Kalinskaya 6-4 6-4.

It was a bitterly disappointing defeat for Swiatek who missed a golden opportunity to establish even more dominance ahead of Indian Wells.

As all champions do Swiatek offered perspective to her defeat as she looks ahead to the rest of the season, “I mean, I’m angry but on the other hand, there aren’t many players that actually survive these kinds of tournaments so I just kind of have to let it go and accept it,” Swiatek was quoted by Tennis Majors.

There was not only perspective offered but also fatigue as expectations and pressure can force simple mistakes from the best players in the world.

The world number one acknowledged Kalinskaya’s performance but did admit her own performance contributed to the defeat, “Today I would say, I mean she [Kalinskaya] played well and for sure she deserves to be in the final, but I feel like it was more about me and my level,” Swiatek told Tennis Majors.

“I wanted to be focused on myself and I wasn’t really able to implement any tactics that I had. Usually, when I tell myself what to do, I can improve my game but today I was so out of power and tired that I just couldn’t. Day by day, it was a little bit worse.”

Swiatek will hope to re-energize herself ahead of the sunshine double in America.

Last year Swiatek lost to eventual champion Elena Rybakina in the semi-finals at Indian Wells before withdrawing from Miami.

The Pole will look to improve last year’s performance when she plays Indian Wells, which starts on the 6th of March.

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‘Speechless’ Mensik Reaches Maiden ATP Final In Doha

Jakub Mensik is into his first ATP final in Doha.

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Jakub Mensik admitted he was left speechless after reaching his first ATP final in Doha.

The 18 year-old continued his remarkable week with a 6-4 1-6 6-3 semi-final victory over Gael Monfils.

The Czech Republican produced clinical tennis as he beat the 2018 champion to reach his maiden ATP final.

After the match Mensik admitted he was left ‘speechless’ and spoke about the influence Monfils had on his career, “It is amazing. Hopefully not the last one [final]. Incredible week so far,” Mensik told the ATP website.

“Today again with Gael, he played unbelievable. I know it is tough to play against him, especially with his good movement. For me every point I have to play my best game.

“I have to say this performance was one of the best in my entire life. I am so glad I reached this level in the semis, so hopefully tomorrow I play like this. An amazing feeling with my first ATP final. I am speechless.

“I told him when I was young I watched him a lot on the TV. One of the biggest showman on court. He is a great guy, so hopefully in the future we will meet once again. The rallies were so fun with him.”

Mensik has so far beaten three former champions this week as he also defeated Andy Murray and Andrey Rublev this week.

Now Mensik will aim to win his first ATP title as he takes on Karen Khachanov in Saturday’s final.

Should Mensik win the title he could climb to 75 in the world as he started the week at 116 in the world.

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