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Gerry Weber Open “Tidbits”

Here are some of the talking points in the first couple of days including Roger Federer’s form.

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By Mark Winters

There are many stories to tell about the Gerry Weber Open, the ATP 500 event, taking place this week in Halle Westfalen, Germany. For this reason, today’s column will take a different path and offer “tidbits”, a collection of behind-the-scenes items that provide a unique look at players and the tournament itself.

Federer Thoughts…

Mention Of Halle Or Gerry Weber Open

When asked what was the first thing that came to mind when Halle or the Gerry Weber Open was mentioned, Roger Federer, the defending champion said, “I have been coming here for so long now, and I have been so successful. It’s been, maybe, the most successful tournament in my life. It’s one of my favourite tournaments during my career. So, there you go. It’s fairly simple actually.”

Men’s Slam Winners Are Now Older

When it was mentioned that the last seven men’s Grand Slam singles titles were won by players over the age of thirty, Federer noted, “I’m not exactly sure what the secret is that the older guys are doing so well. I think it could happen again that 17, 18, 19-year olds can win Grand Slams. I just think it depends on the generation.

“I don’t care how much work you put in, you also need to have luck. The talent must be there, the framework and support of parents and coaches, and maybe the country, and the support you have from the federation. It all just works out perfectly and you win a Grand Slam final like what (Michael) Chang did, or (Pete) Sampras did, or (Bjorn) Borg, or Rafa, and Becker also, when they were teenagers. It’s amazing to me to win Slams at such a young age.

“And I think as players stay hungrier for longer and have also taken care of their bodies more professionally than the generations did in the past, which is [a] natural [progression]. We have the means to travel easier, to have a physio or a massage therapist, a fitness coach and so forth. I think it all kept us on the tour for longer and healthier. We can play for a longer period of time which the older generation didn’t have [the resources to do]. They all retired between the age of 28 and 32 and now we all play into our mid-thirties almost. We have opportunities and, maybe, because of this we give younger players a more difficult route to success. I’m not sure that I can explain it. But, that’s my take anyway.”

Happy With First Round Victory

After defeating Aljaz Bedene of Slovakia 6-3, 6-4 in the first round, Federer admitted, “I think I got out of the blocks well. I felt good right away. The court here in Halle is easier to play on than last week in Stuttgart. It’ a bit harder, so the ball bounces up more. So, it was nice to get balls in my strike zone. I was connecting well on the return right away. I was able to read the serve quite well but, after a while, that kind of went away. Then I was just trying to figure out how to break him. After I did I was able to hold serve all the way.

“I’m very happy with my serving and my play from the baseline. For a first round match, having hardly any play on these courts, I’m very happy actually.”

Nike Or Uniqlo Or…

Federer, who has been a stylish advertisement for Nike tennis since 1994, has been playing, since March, without a clothing and shoe contract. Supposedly, Uniqlo, the Japanese company that Kei Nishikori represents, would like to sign him to a mega-million-dollar deal.

The 36-year-old, who has been asked again and again, what he plans to do, responded, “I answered the question last week (in Stuttgart) and I explained that my contract ran out back in March. So, naturally there is a lot of talking going on and there is nothing really, I have to add to it. When the time is right and there is something to say, I will. But, until then I don’t really enjoy talking about it to be honest. Not that there is a problem, but it is just one of these situations you wished was resolved a long time ago.”

Zverev Practically Mute

Alexander Zverev (zimbio.com)

Normally, Alexander Zverev of Germany is loquacious in interviews. At Roland Garros, after scoring a five-set second round win over Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, he asked a journalist, who posed a question, “Where are you from buddy?” When he was told, “Yorkshire in England”, Zverev left everyone in hysterics after smiling and saying jokingly, “Nice. If they ever hold a tournament there, I’m coming just because of that accent. I love it. I didn’t understand a word you’re saying, but it is not important.”

Yesterday, after last year’s finalist and No. 2 seed was surprised 6-1, 6-4 in the first round by Borna Coric of Croatia, he was much less glib. With no humor, he offered, “My preparation for this tournament was one practice and one doubles match. That’s it. That’s all I played on a grass court. So, it’s not going to be a secret that I’m not going to play my best. I hoped for an easier first round to get into a tournament, but I think I had one of the toughest first rounds any seed can get.”

Is Molleker Germany’s Future?

Rudolf Molleker is a seventeen-year-old who was born in Sievierdonetsk, Ukraine, and settled in Oranienburg, Germany, with his parents Roman and Tanja, when he was three. Given a Gerry Weber Open wild card, he lost today to Lucky Loser Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, 6-4, 7-6. Following the contest, the No. 286 ranked performer candidly said, “In my opinion, I didn’t have a good junior career. It was pretty hard for me to play on that level mentally. I had too many expectations for myself. Playing here was easier for me. I had no expectations. Today, proves that I can play on this level. It was a good experience for me. I still have to work a lot, and hopefully, get much better.”

Sponsor Count Up

The Gerry Weber Open has enjoyed success for over a quarter of a century. Community support and involvement is essential in this setting. But, the real key to success is, actually a double (not doubles) team. Elite players such as Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev, Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain and Lucas Pouille of France, to name of few of the international stars participating in this year’s event, draw notice and are key to filling the stands. Ticket sales are then an obvious result.

Not to be overlooked, in holding a tournament is sponsor support. In 2018, the Halle sponsor count is fifty-nine. Four companies – Richard Mille, Harting Technology Group, Christinen Brunnen and Lubbering – are involved for the first time.

As the saying goes, “The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts” and annually this is holds true in Halle Westfalen at the Gerry Weber Open.

 

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Carlos Alcaraz In Doubt For Madrid Open Title Defence

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Carlos Alcaraz admits that he is not certain if he will be ready in time to play at next week’s Madrid Masters.

The 20-year-old is yet to play a clay tournament in Europe due to a forearm injury which ruled him out of both Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He hurt his right arm whilst training shortly before the Monte Carlo event began. 

It is the latest in a series of injury issues that has affected Alcaraz throughout his young career. Since the start of 2023, he has also been derailed by issues with his abdominal, hamstring, post-traumatic arthritis in his left hand and muscular discomfort in his spine. 

“My feeling isn’t right, but it is what it is. Now I’m fully focused on recovery and I have a little more time,” Alcaraz told reporters in Barcelona on Monday.
“My goal is to try and go to the Madrid Open, but at the moment nothing is certain. I was given specific recovery times and I’ve respected them, but I haven’t felt good. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
“I can’t say I’ll be 100% in Madrid, but that’s my intention. We’ll train and do everything we can so that the feelings improve so I can play a match … It’s also a very special tournament for me.”

Alcaraz has won the past two editions of the Madrid Open, which is classed as a Masters 1000 event. In 2022 he defeated Alexander Zverev in the final and then 12 months later he beat Jan-Lennard Struff in the title match.

The setback comes after what has been a steady start to the year for Alcaraz who has reached the quarter-finals or better in four out of five tournaments played. He successfully defended his title in Indian Wells and then reached the semi-finals in Miami. 

Should he not play in Madrid, it is likely that the Spaniard will lose his No.2 spot to Jannik Sinner who is just over 100 points behind him in the standings. He will still have the chance to play a clay-court event before the French Open with Rome taking place early next month. 

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Olympic Qualification Is Not the Only Goal For French Veteran Gael Monfils

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Gael Monfils (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

Gael Monfils admits he doesn’t have too many years left on the Tour but this doesn’t mean his targets are any less ambitious. 

The 37-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings over the past 12 months following battles with injury. At his lowest, he was ranked 394th last May but is now in 40th position. As a result, he is closing on securing a place in the Olympic Games which is being held in his home country of France for the first time since 1924. The tennis event will be staged at Roland Garros. 

“When I was 400, I was thinking the Olympics would be great, but it’s going to be tough,” Monfils told reporters on Tuesday. 
“There are younger players playing well. If I don’t qualify, I don’t mind. It will just mean I’m very close to the ranking I want to be. That ranking will allow me to find another goal.”

Monfils is already a three-time Olympian but has never won a medal at the event. He reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice in 2008 and 2016. 

Another goal of Frenchmen is the Wimbledon championships which concludes just three weeks before the Olympics begin. The proximity of these tournaments will be a challenge to all players who will be going from playing on clay to grass and then back to clay again. 

“I really want to go and play Wimbledon. I don’t have so many Wimbledons to play in the future. The Olympics is one goal, not the only goal.” Monfils states.
“My dream is of course to be part of the Olympics. I played three times at the Olympics. I’d like to be there again. But I also really want to do well in Wimbledon this year. To reach my goal, it has to be including Wimbledon.” He added. 

Monfils is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters where he beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening match. In the next round, he will take on Daniil Medvedev in what will be their first meeting since 2022. He leads their head-to-head 2-1. 

Medvedev has openly spoken about his roller-coaster relationship with playing on the clay. He admits it is not his favourite surface but how much of a factor could this be in his upcoming clash with Monfils?

“Of course, it’s not his favourite one, but he’s still Daniil Medvedev, and whatever the surface, it’s always very complicated to play him,” Monfils concludes. 

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Matteo Berrettini wins in Marrakech displaying quality tennis

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Matteo Berrettini - Marrakech 2024 (photo X @ATPTour_ES)

Matteo Berrettini defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets, 75 62, and proves that his comeback is well grounded  

If life is often considered a continuous narrative, it may be no coincidence that today Matteo Berrettini’s comeback journey intersescted Carballes Baena, a player he had faced twice in straight tournaments, Florence and Naples in October 2022, shortly before plunging into his annus horribilis, an injury-plagued 2023.

Just like resuming the story from where it was left.

Carballes Baena, the defending champion, got off to a sharper start, holding serve with ease and earning a first break point in the second game. Berrettini averted the threat by hammering down three serves but lost his service two games later.

Doubts on the Italian’s recovery from his energy-draining semifinal may have been starting to come afloat. However Berrettini broke back immediately, unsettling the Spaniard’s consistency with changes of pace and alternating lifted and sliced backhands.

The next six games neatly followed serve. Figures witness how close the match was. After 45 minutes the scoreboard read 5 games all, and stats reported 27 points apiece.

The eleventh game was to be crucial. Carballes Baena netted two forehands, while trying to hit through the Italian’s skidding spins and conceded a break point. Berrettini followed up two massive forehands with a delicate, unreachable drop shot and secured the break.

Carballes Baena was far from discouraged, and fired two forehand winners dashing to 0 40  with the Italian serving for the set.

Berrettini was lucky to save the first break point with a forehand that pinched the top of the net, and trickled over. Then he hit two winning first serves to draw even. Then again two first serves paired with their loyal forehand winner: Berrettini’s copyright gamepattern sealed a 59 minute first set.

The match seemed about to swing round at the very start of the second set when Carballes Baena had three break points and was winning all the longer rallies. Once more Berrettini got out of trouble thanks to his serve. Carballes Baena’s disappointment turned into frustration after he failed to put away two quite comfortable smashes and lost his service immediately after.  

Unforced errors were seeping into the Spaniard’s game and when Berrettini won a 16-shot rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand on the stretch and went on to grab a two-break lead, the match appeared to have taken its final twist.

Berrettini did not falter when serving for the match at 5 2, despite an unforced error on the first point. Three first serves chauffeured him to two match points.

Carballes Baena only succeeded in bravely saving the first, well steering the rally. But the 2021 Wimbledon finalist produced a massive serve out wide and joyfully lifted his arms to the sky, for a most emotional victory. It means so much to a player whose talent and career have been incessantly diminished by injuries.

It’s been a tough last couple of years” Matteo Berrettini said, holding the trophy. “Thanks to my team I was able to overcome all the tough moments my body didn’t allow me to play. I thank you and all the people that made my comeback possible: all my friends and my family, the people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured and I didn’t think I could make it.”

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