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.
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
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.
French Tennis Star Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Shares His Experiences With Racism
The grand slam finalist opens up about what it for like being the only ‘half-breed’ in his school as well as other problems he has experianced.
Former top 10 player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has become the latest sporting figure to speak out about his personal struggles with racism in the wake of mass protests gripping America.
Dozens of cities in the north American country have been placed under overnight curfews following violent demonstrations that have resulted in various injuries and looting. The outcry started when an unarmed black man called George Floyd died whilst being arrested. Video footage showed that a police officer was leaning on his neck which resulted in him dying from asphyxia, according to a private post-mortem paid by his family.
The incident has sent shockwaves throughout the world with various top names speaking out against the use of disappropriate force against minority groups. Speaking about the situation, Tsonga said that racism is a problem everywhere before sharing some of his own personal experiences.
“This type of behaviour that we see frequently in the United States, but that’s on another scale, is repeated continuously throughout the world, is unbearable for me,” he told radio station France Info.
“Such an event removes the consciences of everything and shows how necessary a change is.’
“The non-acceptance of the difference and racism, as well as other issues, such as sexuality, religion or sexual orientation, continue to be used as an excuse to commit atrocities.”
Growing up the 35-year-old said he was singled out as a youngster for being a half cast. His mother is white and father is black. The problems he encountered took place both during and outside of school. Tsonga was born in the French town of Le Mans, which is famous for its annual 24-hour Motor sport race.
“Since I was a child I have had to regularly experience racial discrimination and inappropriate comments,” he said.
“I was the only half-breed in my elementary school, so you can imagine what was happening.’
“All of them were nicknames, insults, I had to bear that when I was a teenager I was continually stopped on the street asking for my papers, people who met me covered their bag as if they was afraid I was going to steal from them and they wouldn’t even let me pass in some places when I went with my friends.”
Whilst nowadays France has grown to be a much more tolerant country like many others, incidents such as the one involving Floyd proves that there is still much more needed to be done. As for Tsonga, he hopes his son Sugar, who was born in 2017, will not go through the same as him.
“There are still a lot of people who make offensive comments without realizing it because discrimination is so ingrained that for many it is not even so. But there are words that can hurt a lot. I have had a hard time finding my place and my identity; I just hope that my son doesn’t feel like a stranger wherever you go,” he concluded.
Tsonga is the last Frenchman to contest a grand slam final at the 2008 Australian Open. So far in his career he has won 18 ATP titles and peaked at a ranking high of fifth back in 2012.
Juan Martin Del Potro Splits From Coach
The tennis star has announced a big change to his team.
Former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro is on the hunt for a new coach after agreeing to end his collaboration with Sebastian Prieto to continue focus on his rehabilitation from injury.
Del Potro has been working alongside Prieto since 2017 and achieved a series of career milestones under his guidance. Including winning his maiden Masters 1000 title at the 2018 BNP Paribas Open and reaching a ranking high of third in August that same year. Their decision has been made to allow Prieto to focus all of his attention on Juan Londero. Another Argentine player who is currently ranked 62nd in the world.
“I want to share that I have agreed with Sebastian Prieto to end our partnership, so that he can work with Juan Londero, while I continue my rehab process,” Del Potro said on Twitter.
“I’m very thankful to Piper for all of these years together. He is a great coach and even a better person. All the best!”
45-year-old Prieto is a former ATP player who peaked at a ranking high of 22nd in the doubles. During his career, he won 10 Tour titles with all of those occurring on the clay. He also reached the quarter-finals of the men’s doubles tournament at the 2003 French Open.
It is currently unknown as to who will be taking over as Del Potro’s new coach. The former grand slam champion hasn’t played a competitive match since last June due to a serious knee injury. At the Fever-Tree Championships in London, he fractured his right kneecap and was forced to undergo surgery to repair it. The second time he had to undergo that procedure within as many years after also suffering a similar injury at the 2018 Shanghai Rolex Masters.
Del Potro is currently undergoing rehabilitation and it is unclear as to when he will be able to return to the Tour again. All professional tennis tournaments have been either suspended or cancelled until at least July 31st due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although both the US Open and French Open are hoping to go ahead as planned.
So far in his career, the 31-year-old has won 22 ATP titles and earned almost $26 million in prize money. Earning more money than any other player from his country in the history of the sport.
Novak Djokovic On Why He Didn’t Post Details Of Lockdown Training
The Serbian tennis star has shed some light on his recent training routines as he outlines plans for a Balkan tennis tour.
World No.1 Novak Djokovic has been training almost daily since the world of tennis came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic but opted to keep his activities out of the limelight to avoid any potential backlash from fellow players.
The ATP Tour has been suspended since March due to the Pandemic with officials hoping to restart the sport in some capacity during the summer ahead of the US Open. Nevertheless Djokovic, who started 2020 by winning 18 matches in a row, has been able to continue practicing in Marbella. He and his family were staying in a house located next to a tennis court.
Speaking with Serbian reports on Monday, the 17-time grand slam champion admitted that he didn’t want to ‘anger’ others by posting updates on social media of him training. Showing that he has been able to stay active more than other players during the lockdown.
“I had the opportunity to train almost every day during coronavirus because we stayed in a house next to a tennis court. I played a lot of tennis on a hard surface, but I didn’t upload anything on the net so as not to anger other players,” he told The Telegraf.
“I started recently on clay, I had two training sessions here, I feel good physically. I was quite active, I followed my program. Of course, the intensity decreases because I was not preparing for tournaments.”
With uncertainty surrounding when the Tour may start again, numerous countries have created their own domestic tournaments. In Djokovic’s case, he is the founder of his own event that will be played across the Balkan region. The Adria Tour is set to take place between June and July with three top 20 players set to participate. Besides Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov are also taking part.
“I started the whole idea of the project and I communicate every day with TSS (Serbian Tennis Federation) and the company that organizes all this,” said Djokovic.
“The current international competitions, ITF and ATP will not happen before the first of August, and even that is uncertain. Afterwards, I will have time again if things resume on a hard surface in America, because I will have a month to prepare for the continuation of the season.”
Should it all go to plan, the clay-court tournament is set to be played in Belgrade (Serbia), Zadar (Croatia), Montenegro and Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Although it has been confirmed that the locations of the Bosnian and Montenegrin events are still not fully confirmed with the possibility of Sarajevo hosting one leg of the tour. Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Prior to the Tour suspension, Djokovic was unbeaten in 2020. He started the season by winning three consecutive titles at the ATP Cup, Australian Open and Dubai Tennis Championships. Those triumphs enabled him to earn prize money of $4,410,541. He also earned just over $70,000 from playing doubles so far this year.
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