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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Jannik Sinner: “Rafa Nadal is superior in his head and knows exactly what to do and when to do it”

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Jannik Sinner made a major breakthrough season in 2020 winning his maiden ATP title in Sofia becoming and reached his first Grand Slam quarter finals at Roland Garros in his debut at this tournament at the age of 19. He has become the youngest player to win an ATP Tour title. 

 

“After the final in Sofia I felt emotional. I am human, but I feel the emotions inside me. I was very happy but I know that I have to work very hard. Before the victory ceremony I was a bit angry as I was still trying to understand why I had lost the second set. It was a strange season. I would have liked to play more matches and learn more about the life on the Tour and how to train with the biggest players on the circuit. I am now feeling more comfortable than last year”, said Sinner.

The Italian player is the first debutant beat Alexander Zverev en route to reaching the Roland Garros quarter final since Rafael Nadal achieved this feat in 2005 en route to his first French Open title. 

He lost to Rafael Nadal in the quarter finals in Paris after playing at great level in the first two sets. En route to the quarter final in Paris Sinner beat David Goffin, Benjamin Bonzi, Federico Coria and Alexander Zverev. 

“Rafael Nadal is superior in his head. He pulls very hard but above all he understands the decisive moments. He knows exactly what to do and when to do it. It’s really something else a tennis player. What I am missing to get there ? Well, the blows and the body, as well as the body. Let’s say a little bit of everything. The doctor said I still have to finish growing and developing. The truth is that I have to improve myself in every aspect, both physically and mentally. It takes time to get there”, said Sinner in an interview to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. 

Sinner was disappointed about Zverev’s comments after their match at Roland Garros. 

“I respect Zverev a lot because he has got more experience on the circuit, and he is great player. However, I do not respect his statements after his defeat to me at Roland Garros. He contradicted himself a lot. He said he had fever, but in the third and fourth sets, he ran more than me”, commented Sinner. 

Sinner became the youngest quarter finalist at a Grand Slam tournament since Bernard Tomic at Wimbledon 2011 and at Roland Garros since Novak Djokovic in 2006. The player coached by Riccardo Piatti earned the biggest win in his career when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to his his maiden third round at Masters 1000 level in Rome.

Jannik has reached his career best ranking at world number 37. 

In the interview Sinner talked about his passions outside tennis.  

“I like to go karting and play football every now and then. I cheer on AC Milan because my first roommate was an AC Milan fan and he also and he also made me passionate as the days went by. In general I also follow the chairs on Netflix and I believe that in Australia. ”, said Sinner. 

Sinner talked about his relationship with Riccardo Piatti. 

“Riccardo is my coach, but also a good friend. We talked about tennis all the time. During the lockdown we watched a lot of past tennis matches together”. 

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ATP Finals Day 8 Preview: Championship Sunday

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Dominic Thiem earned his 300th career victory yesterday in London (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

Today either Dominic Thiem or Daniil Medvedev will win this event for the first time.

 

A year ago, Dominic Thiem was just a few points from winning this tournament, going down in defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a third set tiebreak of the championship match.  Thiem went on to reach his third Major final at January’s Australian Open, but couldn’t hold on to a two-sets-to-one-lead.  At the next Slam, he would finally win his first Major title, in a dramatic, nerve-wracking five-set final against Sascha Zverev.  For the second consecutive year, he’s reached the championship match of this event after beating two of “The Big Three.”  Thiem defeated Rafael Nadal in a high-quality affair during round-robin play, and overcame Novak Djokovic in yesterday’s semifinals despite blowing four match points in the second set tiebreak, and despite going down 0-4 in the final set tiebreak.

A year ago, Daniil Medvedev came into this event on a 29-4 run, a stretch that saw him win three titles and reach six consecutive finals.  But the fatigued Russian went 0-3 in his ATP Finals debut.  In this abbreviated 2020 season, he did not advance to a tournament final until just two weeks ago, when he won first title in over a year at the Paris Masters.  Now he’s on a nine-match winning streak, having gone undefeated in the round-robin stage.  And just yesterday, he earned his first victory over Rafael Nadal in comeback fashion, after Nadal served for the match in the second set.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Daniil Medvedev (4)

Thiem is 3-1 against Medvedev overall, 2-1 on hard courts, and 1-0 indoors.  Their first meeting was two years ago in Daniil’s home country, where Dominic survived 7-6 in the third.  Last summer in Canada, Medvedev easily prevailed, losing only four games.  And in this year’s US Open semifinals, Dominic was victorious in straight sets.  Neither man will be fully fresh today, coming off semifinal matches just 24 hours ago against the top two players in the world, each of which approached three hours in length.  Thiem’s encounter with Djokovic seemed slightly more draining, both physically and emotionally. 

When they met two months ago in New York, Medvedev got off to a terrible start, losing the first set 6-2.  He struck almost twice as many errors as winners, winning only 65% of first serve points and a dismal 25% on his second serve.  But this week he’s served excellently, averaging 79% of first serve points won.  And some easy service games have enabled Daniil to apply more pressure to his opponents’ serve.  The result has been an average of over three breaks per match, Comparatively, Thiem has broken his opponent’s serve only once per match.  But an underrated aspect of the Austrian’s game is his ability to protect his own serve.  Outside of his dead rubber against Andrey Rublev, Dominic has only been broken two times in three matches.  And that includes clashes with two of the sport’s all-time great returners: Nadal and Djokovic. 

Thiem should be slightly favored based on their head-to-head, as well as his considerable edge in experience.  Regardless of the winner, let’s hope these two men provide us with an extended, enthralling encounter.  With the Australian tennis summer in doubt, it may be quite awhile before we see professional tennis of this caliber.

Doubles on Day 8:

In the doubles championship, it’s Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic (5) vs. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (7).  Yesterday in the semifinals, Melzer and Roger-Vasselin came back from 1-7 down in the match tiebreak and saved a match point to advance.  Koolhof and Mektic prevailed on Saturday in straight sets.

Full order of play is here.

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ATP Finals Day 6 Preview: Novak Djokovic and Sascha Zverev Play for the Final Qualifying Spot

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Novak Djokovic hasn't won this event since 2015 (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

The winner will join Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, and Daniil Medvedev in Saturday’s semifinals.

 

Djokovic is a five-time champion of this event, yet is looking to avoid failing to advance out of the round-robin stage for the second straight year.  Zverev was the champion here two years ago, and is vying for his third consecutive semifinal.  Friday’s other singles match has no implications on the semifinals, as Daniil Medvedev has already advanced, while Diego Schwartzman cannot.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Sascha Zverev (5)

Zverev has a chance today to achieve what very few top players have: an even or better head-to-head record against Novak Djokovic.  Sascha is currently 2-3 against Novak, and 1-2 on hard courts.  They played twice at this event in 2018, with Djokovic easily prevailing in the round-robin stage, and Zverev avenging that loss a few days later in the final to win the biggest title of his career.  Their most recent encounter came last year at Roland Garros, with Novak winning in straight sets.  Notably, all five of their matches have been straight-set encounters, with none of the 11 sets even reaching a tiebreak.  So based on their history, grabbing the first set today will be extremely crucial.  Djokovic appeared unwilling to play long rallies on Wednesday against Medvedev, and admitted during his post-match press conference that he wasn’t feeling 100%.  Zverev hasn’t played his best this week either, but was able to tough out a three-set victory over Schwartzman two days ago to keep his advancement hopes alive.  If Djokovic is feeling fresher today, his 40-4 record on the year makes him a clear favorite.  If not, and if Zverev can limit his double faults, Sascha’s indoor hard court prowess makes him fully capable of eliminating the world No.1 from this tournament.

Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Diego Schwartzman (8)

On Thursday, having already qualified for the semifinals, Dominic Thiem seemed rather uninterested in supplying resistance to Andrey Rublev.  In today’s dead rubber, which comes just 24 hours prior to the semifinals, will Medvedev fight to defeat Schwartzman?  Daniil knows he has an appointment on Saturday with Rafael Nadal, which he can safely assume will be a grueling task.  So I’m sure he’ll be looking to avoid an extended battle today.  And Schwartzman will be keen to not go 0-3 in his ATP Finals debut.  Medvedev is 4-0 against the Argentine, having won eight of nine sets played, which includes a straight-set win just two weeks ago at the Paris Masters.  Under normal circumstances, Daniil would be a strong favorite. But we’ll see how motivated the Russian is today, especially if Diego gains an early advantage.  These two men have a contentious history, going back to their intense battle in January at the ATP Cup where Schwartzman felt Medvedev was taunting him.  Diego would surely enjoy gaining his first win against Daniil.  And despite their lopsided head-to-head, that’s entirely plausible.

Doubles Matches on Day 6:

Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares (1) vs. John Peers and Michael Venus (6).  The winning team will secure the last remaining semifinal birth.

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (4) vs. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (7).  This is a dead rubber, as Granollers and Zeballos have already advanced, while Melzer and Roger-Vasselin have been eliminated.

Full order of play is here.

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