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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 rallies from one set down against Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the final at Thiem’s 7 in Kitzbuhel

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Dominic Thiem came back from losing the first set to beat Roberto Bautista Agut 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 6-2 en route to reaching the final at the Thiem’s 7 tournament. Thiem earned two breaks in the third and fifth games to race out to a 4-1 lead. Bautista Agut got both breaks back in the sixth and eighth games to draw level to 4-4 forcing the match to the tie-break. The Spanish player won the tie-break 7-5 to take the opening set.

 

Thiem slowly found his rhythm again in the second set and earned two break points in the fourth game but he was not able to convert them. The home star dropped only two points on his serve until the end of the second set and converted two of the three break points to clinch the second set 6-2.

Thiem earned a break in the fourth game to open up a 4-1 lead and held on his next service games. The tournament organizer sealed the third set 6-2 with his double break with a blistering return on the match point in the eighth game securing his spot in the final. Thiem will face either Andrey Rublev or Matteo Berrettini in the final.

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Former Roland Garros champions and five top 20 players to highlight a great edition of the Ladies Open in Palermo

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The Ladies Open WTA International in Palermo will be the first tournament to be held next August since last February.

 

The Italian tournament will feature a great line-up which includes two confirmed past Roland Garros champions Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Ostapenko and five top 20 players. There is a good chance that 2018 French Open and 2019 Wimbledon champion Simona Halep could be added in the field.

“We are glad about Simona Halep’s great interest in Palermo Ladies Open. We will be waiting for her at the Country Club for an historic edition of the Palermo tournament. We have been in contact with Halep’s manager for some time. We have been talking for days about her potential participation in Palermo. She is one of the best players in the world and her presence would contribute to make an already high-level tournament extrahordinary. We will leave our doors open to her for as long as possible, as well as for other top ten players that will want to resume their season in Palermo”, said tournament’s CEO Oliviero Palma.

The other stars who have signed up to the Ladies Open are 2019 Roland Garros champion Marketa Vondrousova, two Grand Slam semifinalists Elise Mertens (2018 Australian Open) and Anastasija Sevastova (2018 US Open), Aryna Sabalenka (winner at the Wuhan Open in 2018 and 2019, WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai in 2019 and Doha in 2020) and Elina Rybakina (winner in Hobart and finalist in St. Petersburg and Dubai in 2020), Dayana Yastremska (winner of three tournaments in Hong Kong in 2018, Thailand and Strasbourg in 2019).

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Lorenzo Sonego and Liudmila Samsonova lift the titles in Perugia

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Lorenzo Sonego and Liudmila Samsonova won the Zzz Quill Tennis Tour in Perugia. Sonego followed up his Italian title won the previous week in Todi with a 3-6 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 win over Croatia’s Viktor Galovic (world number 269 and number 7 seed) in the final of the Perugia tournament.

 

“Galovic started very well. It was difficult to adjust to his game and improve during the match. I maintained the right attitude and I managed to win the title. I enjoyed two fantastic weeks in Todi and Perugia. This confirmed my good work in training in the past two weeks. I gave my best and I am confident for the rest of the season”, said Sonego.

World number 117 Liudmila Samsonova won the women’s title came back from one set down to beat world number 307 Stefania Rubini 4-6 6-4 7-6 (8-6) in the women’s final after saving two match points.

“I won a very tough final with a lot of ups and downs. I am happy that I played many matches. It was one of my goals on the eve of the tournament. I showed that I am able to keep the level of my tennis high, when I play focused”, said Samsonova.   

 

 

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