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Halle’s Name Game

Seven days before the tournament that had been known as the Gerry Weber Open began in June of 2019, Noventi became the title sponsor. The agreement was for three years. But, little attention was paid to the fact the event would be the Noventi Open for only one year. The first announcement about the 2020 ATP 500 championships referred to the tournament as the “Grass Court Open Halle.” Here is a story that examines what may be happening at the Wimbledon lead-up that is set to be contested next June.

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In the second to the last week of September, members of the media received an announcement that Karen Khachanov would be one of the stars taking part in the ATP 500 championship, June 13-21, 2020 in Halle, Westfalen, Germany. Normally, calling attention to a tournament participant nine-months ahead of the event is regarded as little more than “doing business…”. It is usually simply a matter of drumming up interest. But, there was much more to the statement and it was easy to find. The press release headline – “Grass Court Open Halle”- all but took Khachanov, the 23-year-old Russian, out of the spotlight.

 

The heading was startling and perplexing. Particularly, after having witnessed what took place on June 8th this past spring. Seven days before the tournament that had been known for over twenty-five years as the Gerry Weber Open kicked off, Dr Sven Jansen, a company Board Member, and Tournament Director, Ralf Weber revealed that Noventi would become the title sponsor of the June 15-23 event. Dr. Jensen admitted that though negotiations had begun late, Noventi realized the setting would be perfect for the dynamic health care organization.  The company believed the tournament would provide the ideal public platform, which could lead to a “forward-looking partnership.” A partnership that was set out to be for three years.

After the conclusion of this year’s championship, many were under the impression that in the immediate future, Halle would be referred to as the Noventi Open. Now, it is clear that this isn’t the case. In order to find out why, I contacted the ATP to determine if the name had been officially changed to “Grass Court Open Halle”. I was told, “Yes, that is the current name of the tournament, which is also displayed on our 2020 calendar…”

Having attended the Gerry Weber Open since its 1993 inception (and my wife, Cheryl Jones, also a Ubitennis contributor, has been on hand for nineteen of the events), I was surprised by the abrupt switch. Looking for more details, I reached out to the tournament for an explanation.

In response, I was told,  “As we already published in our press release on June 8th regarding the title sponsorship for the 27th  tournament edition, Noventi has signed a three-year-contract, but the title sponsorship was only set for one year.”

Since the “one year only” fact had been, for the most part, glossed over, I looked to the Halle tennis community for more insight. The search led to the discovery that even as the tournament was being played in June, local media outlets were using “Grass Court Championships” when referring to the 2020 event. A September story pointed out that the company and the tournament were dealing with issues involving the complexity of the contract (whose contents are not publicly known). In the feature, the question was raised – Would Noventi go on as “a big sponsor at all.”

Looking at the initial press release from last June, Ralf Weber said, “The parties will discuss the details of the cooperation for the years 2020 and 2021 in autumn.” 

A tournament spokesperson admitted, “At the moment, contract negotiations are conducted with various companies.” 

Now, there are several questions. More to the point, to be trite, what does all of this mean?

For twenty-six years, Halle was one of the premier grass court tournaments leading up to Wimbledon. When Gerry Weber, the tournament founder, was at the top of his business game, his women’s fashion company set the standard for apparel. The designs were both appealing and affordable. Profits soared and as they did, Gerry Weber AG expanded, purchasing a variety of other companies. Unfortunately, several of them had sizeable debt. In recent years, rumors concerning growing financial difficulties began to circulate. Bankruptcy was in the offing.  The ominous cloud hanging over the tournament was the result of a combination of things including an economic slump brought about by the reality that the Gerry Weber line had lost touch with present day customers. The conundrum was made even worse by the growing concerns about Weber’s overall health. Simply stated, the ATP 500 was on life-supports and was sorely in need of a monetary transfusion.

Noventi came to the rescue. It stepped in to save the day and the 2019 tournament was an overall success. Now, the question must be asked – Was the involvement a “one and done”? What exactly will be the role of Germany’s largest healthcare provider?

Perhaps the answer lies in a comment made by Ralf Weber, in June, three days before the Noventi arrangement was announced. At the time, he said, “Today, Gerry Weber is just the name of a company to me. We focus on the tournament. I’m looking forward to a new partnership. It doesn’t matter to the fans, if it is Gerry Weber or another name?”

When it came to the September press release, the tournament admitted, “We chose the name ‘Grass Court Open Halle’ for the time of transition to sell tickets and promote our tournament. However, there is no new information, as the duration of the title sponsorship-deal with Noventi was already announced back in June. As soon as there is any news to publish regarding our title sponsorship 2020, everyone will know.”

According to the ATP,  “There is no such rule/limit when a change [to a tournament title] can take place”. Keeping that in mind, with the focus on ticket sales and promotion, will the  “Grass Court Open Halle” have the same appeal as the Gerry Weber Open or the Noventi Open?

Or will the tournament have yet another title before the first ball is hit on June 15, 2020?

Stay tuned… It will be interesting to see how the Halle’s Name Game works out.

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Dominic Thiem and Jannik Sinner grab the headlines in Vienna

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Dominic Thiem beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4 7-6 (7-2) to reach the second round at the Erste Bank Open in Vienna.

 

Thiem rallied from 0-40 down to break Tsonga in the seventh game of the first set and held his next service games to win the opening set 6-4. Tsonga saved four break points in the first, third and ninth games of the second set, which came down to the tie-break. Thiem pulled away to win the tie-break 7-2. Thiem did not face a break point and won 80% of his first serve points.

Thiem will face Fernando Verdasco, who came back from one set down to beat Nikoloz Basilashvili 4-6 6.2 6-1

Italian Next Gen star Jannik Sinner beat Phillip Kohlschreiber 6-3 6-4 in his ninth career ATP match setting up a second round match against either Gael Monfils or Dennis Novak. Sinner beat Monfils last week in Antwerp en route to becoming the youngest ATP semifinalist since Borna Coric at the 2014 Swiss Indoors in Basel.

Sinner earned his first break in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead. The Italian 18-year-old player saved three break points at 4-2, but he held his serve. Sinner sealed the opening set 6-3 on his first set point.

Sinner got the decisive break in the seventh game to take a 4-3 lead and held his final two service games to seal the second set 6-3.

Hyeon Chung fought off a late come-back from Milos Raonic to take a confidence-boosting 6-4 7-5 win in 1 hour and 44 minutes. Chung set up a second-round match against either Andrey Rublev or Felix Auger Aliassime.

Chung broke serve in the opening game of each set. The Asian player built up a 4-2 lead in the second set, but Raonic came back by winning three consecutive games. Raonic did not convert a set point at 5-4 on Chung’s serve, when Chung hit a forehand winner. Chung reeled off 10 of the next 14 points.

 

 

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Taylor Fritz upsets Alexander Zverev in Basel first round

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Taylor Fritz upset last year’s Alexander Zverev 7-6 6-4 after 1 hour and 24 minutes in the first round of the Swiss Indoor Open at the St. Jakobshalle in Basel.

 

Zverev earned a break point chance in the third game of the opening set, but Fritz saved it with an ace. Both players stayed neck and neck until the tie-break, where Zverev went up a 4-1 lead. Fritz clawed his way back by winning his next two points on serve. Zverev saved a set point at 5-6 and earned his own set point, when Taylor missed a forehand. Fritz drew level to 7-7 with a smash winner. The Californian player got another mini-break before sealing the opening set with an ace after 49 minutes.

Zverev did not convert his last break point chance in the second game of the second set when he netted his return. Fritz got his only break of the match in the third game to take a 2-1 lead after a loose forehand from Zverev.

Fritz never looked back in his next service games to clinch his 29th win of the season.

Fritz, who lost eight of the last matches after reaching the final at the Los Cabos last August, hit 37 winners to 27 unforced errors. The young US player earned the only break of the entire match.

“I played really solid, so it feels good to get that win, instead of him getting me for the third time in a row. I got out there today and the sliders on my serve were working well”, said Fritz.

Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Albert Ramos Vinolas 6-3 7-6 (8-6) in a hard-fought match. The Greek Next Gen star won his only break of the first set in the sixth game to take a 4-2 lead and held on his next service games to close out the first set 6-3.

Tsitsipas earned another break in the fifth game of the second set to take a 3-2 lead. Ramos Vinolas broke straight back in the next game to draw level to 3-3. The Spanish player saved two match points at 4-6 in the tie-break. Tsitsipas forced Ramos Vinolas to a forehand error before closing out the match after 1 hour and 44 minutes.

“I knew it was going to be a difficult battle out there. He fought hard and gave me a hard time out there, but I am satisfied and happy that this match did not go longer or to three sets. The players that make it into ATP 500 tournaments are all playing well, so I expect every match to be difficult. You have to fight for everything”,said Tsitsipas.

 US giant Reilly Opelka battled past Chilean Christian Garin 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (12-10) after a match with no breaks of serve. Opelka fended off set points at 6-7 and 8-9 in the tie-break of the second set before sealing the win on his fourth match point. Opelka will face either David Goffin or Marin Cilic.

Fabio Fognini cruised past Next Gen Australian player Alexey Popyrin 6-2 6-4 boosting his chance to qualify for the ATP Finals in London. Fognini is currently ranked number 11 in the ATP Race to London with 2235 points.

“Tennis has started to change again with these young guys, who are amazing on their first and second serves”, said Fognini.

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Stan Wawrinka Explains ATP Cup Absence And Olympics Situation Ahead Of Basel

Stan Wawrinka has explained why his Olympic dream is in doubt as he prepares to start his campaign in Basel.

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Stan Wawrinka (@usopen - Twitter)

Stan Wawrinka has explained why he is absent from the ATP Cup line-up as he begins his campaign in Basel on Wednesday. 

 

The three-time grand slam champion enters his home tournament in Basel having lost a three set final to a resurgent Andy Murray in Antwerp.

Despite the loss Wawrinka has been on a momentum swing himself having reached the US Open and Roland Garros quarter-finals this season.

Although this year has been a success, the Swiss’ 2020 calendar remains a mystery having been absent from Switzerland’s team for the ATP Cup next year.

Speaking to puntodebreak.com, Wawrinka explained his decision to not participate in the cup competition in January as well as questions over his Olympic eligibility, “I have a contract with the Doha tournament, which takes place at the same time as the ATP Cup,” Wawrinka explained.

“I would like to play it (Olympics). The desire is there, but now I have to adjust my calendar for 2020 with my team. I don’t know what criteria are required to get a Wild Card.” 

The 34 year-old is not the only one requiring a wildcard to enter the Olympics with Roger Federer, Kei Nishikori amongst others relying on the same rule.

Meanwhile Wawrinka is preparing for his first match in Basel, where he doesn’t have the best record having never reached the final.

A first round match against Pablo Cuevas awaits on Wednesday and he admitted his tension when performing in front of a home crowd,“In Basel I have always been a little tense, too hesitant,” he admitted.

“Correcting that and winning my first round match against Pablo Cuevas on Wednesday depends on me. It is not the tournament that suits my style of play and that is why, although I have played some good matches here, I do not have such a good performance.”

If Wawrinka wants to reach his maiden Swiss Indoors final, he will potentially have to go through Roger Federer in the quarter-finals.

That dream last eight match is a long way away though as Wawrinka will have to go through Pablo Cuevas and the winner of Frances Tiafoe against Dan Evans.

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