Mark Winters and Cheryl Jones
It seems like just yesterday, but in truth it was long ago…
On June 8th, I learned that Noventi had become the title sponsor of the Gerry
Weber Open. The announcement left me with the feeling that a dear friend had
passed. My relationship with the ATP Men’s 500 event, played in Halle, Germany,
as well as that of my wife, Cheryl Jones, who is also a tennis journalist, has always
been, well, to say it simply, matchless. Year after year, (save just a few when the
New York Times sent journalists), we have been the only American writers to
cover the championships.
Tennis history buffs known that the first Gerry Weber Open was played in 1993.
But few aficionados are aware that there are actually three towns called Halle, in
Germany. The tennis Halle, Westfalen to be specific, is a small speck on the map,
in the middle of a rolling countryside that is like an Impressionist’s painting of
agricultural fields and seemingly, yet to be explored forests.
The nearest city of name is Bielefeld. It sets its self apart because though it is
quaint, like Halle, it is bigger. Bigger buildings, more shops and a much bigger
population of over 333,000 compared to a hair more than 20,000 in Halle.
At the 1992 ATP World Championships, I learned that the following year Gerhard
(Gerry) Weber planned to stage a grass court tournament – in Germany, the week
after Roland Garros. To borrow a British colloquialism – I was “gobmacked.”
Why would anyone have the audacity to go up against “an institution” as Queen’s
seemed to be, which was the only “Lead Up” to Wimbledon at the time?
Weber, a trend setting clothing manufacturer for whom the tournament is named,
and his partner, Udo Hardieck took a big chance. Many in the tennis community
believed it was a risk that was similar to panning for gold and finding only gravel.
But, as it turned out, true gold was discovered.
After the inaugural year, in which rain plagued play, the Gerry Weber Stadion, (the
center court), made a startling change. A retractable roof that could be closed in a scant 90 seconds was added. In 1994, the tournament became the first tennis event
not forced to contend with those spring rains that makes the theme of tennis played
in Europe a reprise of “Raindrops keep falling on my head…”
Grass court maintenance requires genius. Annually, Phil Thorn lives up to the
sobriquet. Having learned the “ins and outs” of growing those lawns from his
father, Jim, who was responsible for the grass at Wimbledon for ages. The younger
Thorn has proudly maintained the family tradition. He has developed a superior
grass seed mix that withstands the rigors of closed roof play. He also developed a
palate system on which the grass is grown that is much more than an advanced
scientific marvel and it is remarkable.
To fill the Gerry Weber Stadion surface, four hundred palates are used. When dry,
they weigh around 800 kilos (1764 pounds). Damp, they are almost an American
ton – 2000 pounds.
Over the years, a “Who’s Who” collection of name players have populate the
tournament. But, simply put – Roger Federer is the Gerry Weber Open story. He is
a nine-time champion and has a life-time contract with the event. For the
tournament, that guarantees his annual appearance, and it has been money well
Unfortunately, Gerry Weber AG has not done well during the past decade. When
the owner was at the top of his game, his company’s fashion designs were eye-
catching and appealing to those looking for affordable couture. Cash filled the
coffers and Gerry Weber AG bought a collections of companies that had sizeable
debt. In recent years, rumors of shaky finances began to be heard, and at the same
time, Weber’s health took a turn. All of these circumstances combined to stagger
an established institution and led to its final financial collapse.
The tremors shook the Halle community to its core. The Gerry Weber Open was
long known as “The People’s Tournament”. It was a real family affair and locals
sacrificed vacation time to volunteer for the event. It was part of their souls and
their care provided an unrivaled “feel” for what took place for twenty-six years.
Cheryl and I have experienced the growth that took place from the beginning and
we have rich recollections, enough to make a very readable book, actually.
We are hopeful that the Halle event will flourish and will add a significant new
chapter, (an amendment, actually), to the passing of the Gerry Weber Open mantle
to an equally motivated Noventi.
Daniil Medvedev Ousts Former Quarter-Finalist Tiafoe, Kyrgios Reigns Supreme At Australian Open
Both players endured a testing start to their campaigns at Melbourne Park.
Two players tipped to fill in the void when the big three of men’s tennis departs from the sport have got off to a winning start at the Australian Open.
US Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev manoeuvred his way past a tricky encounter with Frances Tiafoe. Who reach the last eight of the tournament 12 months ago in what is his best grand slam performance to date. Despite the threat posed, Medvedev held his nerve to prevail 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, on the premier Rod Laver Arena. The night-time encounter saw the Russian fired 13 aces and 42 winners past Tiafoe en route to the second round.
“It was a really tough match. I think it was a bit up and down from both of us.” Medvedev said during his on-court interview.
“I’m really happy to win because the first round is never easy. Especially against Frances, who was in the quarters last year.”
Medvedev, who turns 24 next month, has been labelled as one of potential players who can end the reign of Roger Federer and Co by winning a grand slam title this season. Last year he claimed 59 wins on the ATP Tour, which was more than any other player. During his breakthrough season he clinched his first two Masters titles as well as a duo of ATP 250 events.
Despite his victory, the world No.4 was far from contempt when it came to his latest performance. Medvedev dropped serve at least once in every set played and also leaked 35 errors. The same amount of mistakes as Tiafoe.
“There were many moments during the match where I felt I was getting momentum and then he came back.” He reflected.
“I think I can do many things better, but for the first round it’s a big win and I’m really happy.’
“I didn’t like my serve today to be honest. But hopefully I can do better in the next round, otherwise I will be in trouble.”
Kyrgios Topples Italian rival
Taking to the court at the same time as Medvedev, Nick Kyrgios also experienced a tricky start to his title bid in Melbourne. Seeded 23rd in the draw this year, the home favourite roared his way to a 6-2, 7-6(3), 7-6(1), win over Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego. Claiming his fourth tour win of the season following his trio of singles victories at the ATP Cup earlier this month.
“I was just excited to get out here. It has been a pretty emotional couple of months for all of us,’ Kyrgios commented in reference to the ongoing bushfire crisis in Australia.
“I just wanted to come out here and put on a good performance.”
Kyrgios has been one of the driving forces behind Tennis Australia’s series of fundraisers to support the bushfire appeal. He has pledged to donate $200 for every ace he produces during the Australian Open. Working out at $2800 from his latest match along after firing 14 past Sonego. Overall, Kyrgios won an impressive 87% of his first service points during the 135-minute clash.
“I feel good. I’m not looking ahead in the draw at all.” Kyrgios stated.
“Everyone can play in the draw, they are all capable. So I’m just going to take it one match at a time.” He added.
During his on-court interview, John McEnroe make an unexpected announcement. The former world No.1 has said he will donate $1000 for every set Kyrgios wins in the remainder of the tournament to the bushfire appeal. Prompting a huge cheer from the crowd.
Both Medvedev and Kyrgios will play their second round matches on Thursday.
Ernests Gulbis upsets Felix Auger Aliassime to advance to the second round in Melbourne
World number 256 Ernests Gulbis upset Canadian Next Gen star Felix Auger Aliassime 7-5 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 to reach the second round at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park.
Auger Aliassime was the second Canadian Next Gen player to lose in the first round at this year’s edition of the Australian Open after his compatriot Denis Shapovalov was defeated by Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics on Monday.
Auger Aliassime started the 2020 season with just one win in four matches at the ATP Cup, but he reached the semifinal in Adelaide last week, losing to eventual champion Andrey Rublev in three sets.
Auger Aliassime earned the first game in the ninth game at 30 to take a 5-4 lead, but Gulbis broke twice in the 10th and 12th game to win the first set 7-5. In the second set Auger Aliassime saved three break points in both the eighth and tenth games and broke in the ninth game at deuce to seal the second set 6-4.
In the third set Auger Aliassime saved four break points to hold his serve at deuce in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2. Gulbis fended off a break point in the fifth and eleventh games before winning the tie-break 7-4.
Gulbis earned an early break in the first game of the opening set. Auger Aliassime broke back in the third game and held his serve at deuce to draw level to 2-2 after saving two break points. Gulbis broke for the second time in the fifth game and held his next service games to close out the fourth set 6-4.
“Every time you come to Australia the main goal is the Aussie Open, so it’s not good. That’s what the result show, but at the same time I am staying calm and positive because I feel I am not far from playing well and winning matches”,said Felix Auger Aliassime.
Dominic Thiem beats Adrian Mannarino to reach the second round in Melbourne for the fifth consecutive year
Fifth seed and last year’s Roland Garros finalist Dominic Thiem beat Adrian Mannarino 6-3 7-5 6-2 to extend his winning record in his head-to-head against the French player to 8-0. The Austrian player hit 36 winners to 34 unforced errors. Thiem set up a second round match against either Albert Ramos Vinolas or Australian wild card Alex Bolt.
Thiem earned the first break in the fourth game to open up a 3-1 lead. Mannarino fended off two break points in the eighth game while he was serving at 2-5, but Thiem sealed the first set 6-3 on his third set point after a 27-shot rally.
Thiem went up a set and a break in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead, but Mannarino pulled the break back to draw level to 4-4, as Thiem sent a forehand long. Thiem got his second break in the 11th game to take a 6-5 lead after a 28-shot rally and reeled off 12 of the last 14 points to clinch the second set 7-5.
Thiem started the third set with an early break and won 16 of the first 20 points to seal the win after 2 hours and 21 minutes. The 2019 ATP Finals runner-up reached the Australian Open second round for the fifth consecutive year.
Thiem leads 2-1 in his three head-to-head matches against Ramos Vinolas, but the Spaniard won their only clash on hard-court in Chengdu four years ago.
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