Having attended the Gerry Weber Open (now Noventi Open) since its inception, I felt a piece of my tennis life was lost when it was announced that Gerhard (Gerry) Weber had passed away on September 24th at a clinic in Münster, Germany at the age of 79.
I remember when our paths first crossed. It happened at the ATP World Championships, as the year-end tournament was called in the 1990’s. It was held at the Festhalle in Frankfurt in 1992. Having heard that Weber was going to make a presentation about a new grass court tournament that would be held in Germany in 1993, my curiosity was thoroughly piqued. At the time, the tournament was to be contested the week after Roland Garros. I decided to attend the press conference because, after all, Germany, wasn’t the home of “lawn play”, so I figured the media gathering would be more significant than a “fill the time break” sandwiched between round-robin matches.
That afternoon, I learned that the inaugural Gerry Weber Open – obviously named for the tournament founder – was going to be staged in Halle (Westphalia) the same week the revered Queen’s Club Championships would be taking place in London. As Weber, who looked very dapper, almost like a successful small town bank president, talked about his plans (through a translator), I began to realize that beneath his quiet demeanor lurked an individual who was quite audacious. I should have known that he was very bold and adventurous. He would have to be, to invest in what amounted to be a scheduling face-off with the long-established Wimbledon warm-up that had begun in 1890.
At the time, I knew next to nothing about the tournament owner and even less about Halle. As it turned out, Weber was born in the city. His mother had operated a small shop in town that sold a variety of products including clothing. It seems the time spent working there sparked an interest in retail and fashion. The interest led him to become involved in the clothing business in 1965. By the early 1970s, he, along with his childhood friend, Udo Hardieck, (who was also involved in the tournament until his death in 2018), had established a women’s fashion brand and manufacturing center that was based in Halle. At its peak, the company featured five stylish clothing lines, in affordable price ranges for everyone. The chic creations were sold at Gerry Weber retail outlets around the world.
Before the tournament’s location became well known, I had occasion to write several humorous tales about players going to the wrong Halle. As it turned out, there are several cities named Halle in Germany. Some competitors thought the Halle near Dresden was the tournament site. A few believed that it was the coastal resort city. In time, it became evident that Gerry Weber’s Halle was the town of 20,000 in the countryside of an agricultural region, just a short distance from a “Teutoburger Wald”, (a nature preserve), near the city of Bielefeld where there are more than 330,000 residents, and a major university, to boot.
Though our relationship was basically “nodding recognition”, I spent enough time around him during the tournament’s twenty-seven years to realize that Weber was innately savvy. He had remarkable “situational feel”. That is the only way to explain why he signed seventeen-year-old Stefanie Graf to be a Gerry Weber brand ambassador in 1986.
In 2010, Weber again showcased his “smart-risk” management style getting Roger Federer to agree to a lifetime contract with the tournament. Federer, who was ranked No. 1 at the time, admitted that it felt a bit like he was getting married. He added that by playing the Gerry Weber Open, he “gained momentum (before) going into Wimbledon.” (To date, Federer has won the Halle singles title ten times.)
During the spring, the weather in Europe varies dramatically. More often than not, rain is a companion of the season. In its first year, the tournament was nearly washed away. Fortunately, Weber’s creativity went well beyond fashion design and color combinations. He commissioned an architect to develop a plan for a retractable roof to cover the 12,300 seats in the Gerry Weber Stadion. By 1994, it was operational and it became the first tennis event to be able to avoid Mother Nature’s spring crying jags.
But, playing tennis in an occasionally roofed enclosure didn’t offer ideal conditions for grass court maintenance. Weber, a thoughtful problem solver, handled the dilemma by recruiting Phil Thorn. Thorn had worked with his father Jim, who had been responsible for the courts at the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Young Thorn, who has overseen the care of the grounds at the facility from the beginning, developed a revolutionary idea. With Weber’s support, he grew grass for the center court on palettes, four hundred of which are carefully moved into the arena prior to the start of competition each year.
Weber was not only a visionary but he was an avid and crafty left-handed recreational tennis player. He became the head of TC Blau-Weiss, (where the Gerry Weber Open venue would be built) in the mid-1980s. Seven years later (1992), he organized a $25,000 ATP Challenger event on the club’s Terre Battue courts. His son Ralf, who looked like he had just finished graduate school at the Gerry Weber Open announcement in Frankfurt later that year, was the Tournament Director – a position he still holds with the Noventi Open.
Halle was part of Weber’s DNA. It was where he grew up. A factory and his corporate headquarters were there. His company employed thousands of people from the city and the surrounding area. He cared about the community. He was one of them. As a result, the residents adopted a “familial” feeling about the Gerry Weber Open. It was theirs. It directly reflected on the region, which is the reason that “locals” have always formed the backbone of the tournament’s staff. Annually, people saved their vacation time and used it to work at the event. They made the commitment because Weber had a commitment to his hometown.
That connection, relationship says it better, led to the Gerry Weber Open being named the ATP World Tour 250 Tournament of the Year in 2008. In 2015, the June championships became an ATP 500 series event and as before, the locals “played on”.
When you are around an individual once a year for more than a quarter of a century, you gain insight. Over that time, I formed some revealing impressions. As I look back, Weber was always very proper and never overly expressive, but beyond this exterior it was clear that he really cared. It could be seen in the way he treated staff members and season ticket holders. Though, in recent years, he had been slowed by health issues, he remained personable and annually appeared at the tournament. He was a community activist who stayed in touch with local leaders and was aware of important local issues. He offered perpetual support to the TC Blau-Weiss and the Bielefeld futbol (soccer) team.
He was, indeed, a man of the people as Martin Fröhlich brought out at the end of his story, “On the death of Gerhard Weber: Someone who shaped the region”, which appeared in the newspaper Halle Kreisblatt on September 25th. Fröhlich wrote, “Even today some people think he was called Gerry Weber. He used to say, ‘No, that is the company. I’m Gerhard’.”
Gerhard Weber led an impactful life. He was the Halle tournament’s patron. Actually, archangel better defines his role. In both women’s clothing design and tennis, he was bold, incisive and courageous. More important, he was a class act. His spirit will be missed by the game and his lifelong neighbors.
Rest In Peace, Gerhard Weber.
The Generation Inspired By Serena Williams
On Tuesday Williams revealed for the first time that she will begin to step away from the sport after a career lasting more than two decades. Throughout her career she has helped shaped the women’s game into what it is now.
It is fair to say that the landscape of women’s tennis wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for Serena Williams and her sister Venus.
It was during October 1995 that Williams made her WTA debut as a 14-year-old who was thrashed 6-1, 6-1, in her opening match in the qualifying draw at the Quebec Open. As the years passed she went from being an unknown name to one of the most successful female athletes in the history of sport. An athlete can rarely evolve into an entire brand but Williams was one of the few who has managed to do so.
In 1999 she claimed her first of 23 Grand Slam titles at the US Open where she became the first Black woman to win a major tennis event in the Open Era. Before her, the last to do so was Althea Gibson 49 years earlier. Little did she know at the time that among those watching her rise on the Tour would be some who ended up being her rivals.
“Her legacy is more than her being Serena. I started playing because of her. I’m sure there’s so many other girls that started playing because of her, so she literally built champions,” Naomi Osaka told HBO’s The Shop in 2021.
Osaka was one of the many players who managed to take on Williams on the Tour after growing up idolising her. They have played against each other five times with the most memorable clash occurring in the final of the 2018 US Open which was marred by controversy involving Williams and a run-in with the umpire.
“When she broke me in that one game and I had to try and save break points. I was like ‘What would Serena d– Oh, she’s right there.’ Oh wait, what am I doing?” Osaka revealed afterwards.
Williams, who turns 41 next month, was at one stage unbeatable in the sport due to her sheer power. At her highest she won 34 matches in a row during the 2013 season and spent a total of 319 weeks as world No.1. She has won 73 titles on the WTA Tour, including an Open Era record of 48 on hard courts alone.
“I’ve learned a lot from them [Serena and sister Venus]. People always tell me that you’re going to be next whatever blah blah blah and Serena has been considered the GOAT for at least the second half of her career and she never succumbed to that pressure,” America’s Coco Gauff told reporters in Toronto earlier this week.
“I think she overcame it and I think that’s something I take from her and try to learn from it. Not that I’m at her level and experiencing the same pressure she is, but in the moment I try to emulate that.
“For me, I grew up watching her. That’s the reason why I play tennis and tennis being a predominantly white sport it definitely helped a lot because I saw somebody who looked like me dominating the game and it made me believe I could dominate too.”
One of the most striking things about Williams is that her influence on the sport has been in various ways. She inspired many non-white players in her home country to take up tennis. Some argue that the all-African American final at the 2017 US Open between Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys was a product of the Williams sister’s effect. Others have been inspired by her ability to form a successful business portfolio outside of tennis, the fact she returned to the sport after becoming a mother or her stance on campaigning for equal rights. The bottom line is that Williams appeals to many people for various reasons which Keys once summarized.
“Venus and Serena Williams were both huge inspirations for me to play tennis. What they’ve done on court is incredible. What they do off court in business, helping other girls and championing for equal pay is also so inspiring. They motivate me to do and be my best,” Keys wrote on Twitter in 2019.
Emma Raducan recently praised the length of Williams’ career. Later this month she will play in her 81st Grand Slam main draw 24 years after making her debut at the 1998 Australian Open. There is almost a 21-year gap between her winning her first WTA title (February 1999) and her last (January 2020).
“It’s incredible her career. She has achieved so much,” Raducanu said. “And to see her around in this US swing is really inspiring. She keeps playing because she obviously loves the game.
“That longevity of a career is something that a lot of the players, me especially, aspire to achieve.”
As the likes of Osaka, Raducanu and others battle it out on the Tour, Williams has taken a backseat in recent months. In an eloquently written article for Vogue Magazine, she explains that the term retirement is a phrase she struggles to use. However, this will most likely be happening at this year’s US Open. She conceded it is time to move on and the desire to grow her family made competing as a professional athlete no longer feasible.
“You know that at one point she’s going to retire. But when she actually is going to announce it, it’s just shocking. Because you think these kinds of players will play forever,” Bianca Andreescu commented.
“She’s not afraid to be herself and to show all her emotions on the court, off the court, what she stands for. I know she’s doing a lot of things off the court as well to help inspire. It’s incredible.’
“I hope that I can achieve maybe half of what she achieved and continue on her legacy in some way.”
Williams was once asked when she thinks about being referred to as the greatest female player of all time. She responded that she would rather be considered as “one of the greatest athletes of all time.” Perhaps her legacy in tennis has nothing to do with what she has won throughout her career. Instead, it is embedded in the generations of players who have been inspired by her.
At this week’s National Bank Open Williams bowed out of the tournament on Wednesday to Belinda Bencic in what was her final match at the tournament.
“I’ve always loved playing here. And, yeah, I wish I could have played better, but Belinda played so well today.” She said during her on-court interview.
“I’m terrible at good-byes. But good-bye, Toronto.”
As for what lies ahead, the American star will play a few more tournaments before saying goodbye to life as a tennis player for good.
Wimbledon Daily Preview: Compelling Matchups Scheduled All Around the Grounds on Thursday
Day 4 play is headlined by top names such as Rafael Nadal, Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Those names are all considerable favorites in their second round matches, so other matchups on Thursday’s schedule may be more compelling and competitive. And with many of those encounters scheduled at the same time, multiple screens are recommended.
Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s five most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule. Thursday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.
Filip Krajinovic (26) vs. Nick Kyrgios – Second on No.2 Court
Despite his usual poor behavior, Kyrgios survived in five on Tuesday against British wild card Paul Jubb, who is ranked outside the top 200 in the world. But Nick is in strong form this month, with an 8-3 record on grass, having reached the semifinals of both Stuttgart and Halle. Krajinovic is also in the midst of a strong grass court season, coming off a run to the final of Queen’s Club. Like Kyrgios, he also required five sets to advance in the first round. That was actually Filip’s first-ever win at SW19, as he was 0-4 prior to this fortnight. Krygios leads their head-to-head 3-0 at all levels, though they haven’t played since 2015. On grass, Nick’s formidable firepower should be plenty to prevail again over Filip, as long as he can maintain his composure.
Elena Rybakina (17) vs. Bianca Andreescu – Second on Court 12
On Tuesday, Andreescu achieved her first career victory at The Championships. Bianca had only played five tour-level matches on grass ahead of this year, though she’s now 5-2 on grass this month. Rybakina reached the fourth round of Wimbledon a year ago, but lost two of her three grass court matches coming into this event. In their first career meeting, I give the slight edge to Andreescu based on recent form. And while Elena has accumulated 22 wins this season, only four of them have come at Majors, and none of those four against a top player like Bianca.
Barbora Krejcikova (13) vs. Viktorija Golubic – Second on Court 18
This is only Krejickova’s fourth singles match since February due to an elbow injury. Her opening round victory was her first since returning to the tour. Golubic was a surprise quarterfinalist here a year ago, when she defeated both Danielle Collins and Madison Keys. Yet she has not been able to follow-up on that result, as she has a losing record since that run. They have split four previous meetings at all levels. Their most recent clash occurred two years ago in Dubai, with Barbora prevailing 6-1, 6-2. But her lack of match play, along with Viktorija’s grass prowess, make Krejcikova an underdog on this day. While results on other surfaces have not followed, Golubic is now 13-7 on grass since last season, which includes a semifinal appearance earlier this month in Nottingham.
Karolina Pliskova (6) vs. Katie Boulter (WC) – 1:30pm on Centre Court
Pliskova was the runner-up a year ago, losing the championship match to Ash Barty 6-3 in the third. Unfortunately a hand injury forced her to miss the first two months of 2022, and she’s only 9-10 this season as a result. Boulter is a 25-year-old Brit who pushed Aryna Sabalenka to three sets at last year’s event, and is 8-3 on grass at all levels this season. And just like week, Boulter beat Pliskova on grass in Eastbourne 6-4 in the third. Now can Katie repeat that result on her country’s most prestigious court? She’ll certainly have the full support of the Centre Court audience, and her experience last year on this court could prove extremely valuable. Considering Pliskova has only twice won back-to-back matches this year, an upset on Thursday feels entirely possible.
Alex de Minaur (19) vs. Jack Draper – Third on No.1 Court
This could easily become the most competitive show court match of the day. And the British crowd will be vociferously behind Draper, especially late in the day on the tournament’s second biggest court. Jack is a 20-year-old Brit who last year took a set off Novak Djokovic on Centre Court. And he’s collected 31 match wins at all levels this season, which includes four Challenger titles as well as a semifinal run just last week in Eastbourne. But de Minaur is also having a strong season. The Australian has 25 wins, all at tour level, and was also a semifinalist in Eastbourne. Both players won their first round matches in straight sets, so they’re surely feeling fresh and confident. While Alex’s defensive skills will force Jack to strike some extra balls, Draper’s offensive weapons will be rewarded on this surface. And the crowd’s encouragement may be the x-factor Draper needs to prevail.
Other Notable Matches on Thursday:
Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Jordan Thompson – Tsitsipas prevailed in four sets on Tuesday, bringing his Wimbledon record to just 4-4. He’s 1-0 against Thompson, who is only 8-12 this season at tour level.
Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Ricardas Berankis – Nadal is now 31-3 on the year, and seemed rather unbothered by his chronic foot injury in the opening round. Earlier this season in Australia, he defeated Berankis in straight sets.
Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (LL) – A victory for Swiatek on Thursday would be her 37th consecutive win, tying her with Martina Hingis for the longest women’s singles win streak across the past three decades. Lesley is a 30-year-old ranked 138th in the world who at last year’s Wimbledon earned for first-ever main draw win at a Major by defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Simona Halep (16) vs. Kirsten Flipkens – Halep is on an eight-match win streak at Wimbledon, dating back to her title run in 2019. 36-year-old Flipkens has said this will be her last-ever singles tournament. She was a semifinalist here in 2013.
Coco Gauff (11) vs. Mihaela Buzarnescu – Gauff scarcely survived the first round, overcoming Elena-Gabriela Ruse 7-5 in the third. But Coco should be able to settle into the tournament from here, especially against Buzarnescu. She’s currently 127th in the world, and on Tuesday won her first WTA-level match in nearly a year.
Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.
Roland Garros Daily Preview: The Second Major of 2022 Begins on Sunday
The second Major of the year is upon us, with its unique Sunday start. Roland Garros is the only Grand Slam event where first round singles play is spread across three days.
The men’s draw is headlined by 13-time champion Rafael Nadal, defending champion Novak Djokovic, 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas, and the ATP’s breakout star of the last 12 months, Carlos Alcaraz. The 19-year-old Spaniard will play his opening match on Sunday, as will top ATP names like Dominic Thiem and Sascha Zverev.
The women’s draw features 12 Major singles champions, five of whom have won this event: Iga Swiatek, Barbora Krejicikova, Simona Halep, Jelena Ostapenko, and Garbine Muguruza. The 28-year-old Spaniard plays perpetual draw-buster Kaia Kanepi on Sunday. The Order of Play also includes the red-hot Ons Jabeur and US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, who faces France’s Kiki Mladenovic.
Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule. Sunday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.
Ons Jabeur (6) vs. Magda Linette – 11:00am on Court Philippe Chatrier
Outside of Iga Swiatek, Jabeur is the WTA player with the most momentum heading into Paris. Before losing to Swiatek in the final of Rome, Ons was on an 11-match win streak, coming off her title run in Madrid. She’s now 17-3 on clay this season, and has reached the fourth round of this tournament the last two years. She’ll be a considerable favorite against Linette on Sunday, though Magda could easily test the sixth seed. The 30-year-old from Poland was a quarterfinalist this year at clay events in Charleston and Strasbourg, and she owns victories over some top names at Majors, including Ash Barty and Elina Svitolina. They’ve met twice before on clay, with both matches going to Jabeur. That includes a three-set encounter at this event a year ago. I expect a similar result on Sunday.
Hugo Dellien vs. Dominic Thiem (PR) – 11:00am on Court Simonne Mathieu
Thiem is a two-time French Open finalist, but he is still fighting for his first win in over a year. Since coming back from his wrist injury, he is 0-6 at all levels, with all those matches occurring on clay. Earning that elusive win in the best-of-five format may prove challenging for an out-of-form player. This will be Thiem’s first match against Dellien, a 28-year-old from Bolivia who has played 43 matches on clay this season at all levels. He’s accumulated 30 wins, and advanced to two Challenger finals. However, Hugo is yet to defeat a top 40 player this year. While Dominic is not currently a member of that group, and is not performing at that level, taking out a Major champion at a Grand Slam event remains a daunting task. At a tournament where Thiem has fond memories of success, I expect Dominic is earn his first win since last May.
Garbine Muguruza (10) vs. Kaia Kanepi – Second on Court Simonne Mathieu
Muguruza is a two-time Major champion, and won the third-biggest title of her career at November’s WTA Finals in Guadalajara. But since that title run, Muguruza has struggled mightily, with a record of 7-8 in 2022. She’s won back-to-back matches only once this season. And in the opening round, she’s drawn one of the sport’s most dangerous floaters. Kanepi has made a career out of upsetting top seeds at Majors. As per Tennis Abstract, she owns nine top 10 wins at Grand Slam events, over the likes of Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, and most recently at January’s Australian Open, Aryna Sabalenka. Kaia is a seven-time quarterfinalist at Majors, including two times at Roland Garros. Her only previous meeting with Muguruza took place eight years ago in Melbourne, when Muguruza prevailed in three sets. But considering Garbine’s recent form, and Kaia’s history at Majors, this match is definitely deserving of an upset alert.
Carlos Alcaraz (6) vs. Juan Ignacio Londero (Q) – Fourth on Court Philippe Chatrier
Alcaraz has rapidly become one of the ATP’s players. Carlitos is 28-3 in 2022, with four titles. He is No.3 in the year-to-date rankings, and is within 200 points of the two players ahead of him (Nadal, Tsitsipas). The teenager arrives in Paris on a 10-match win streak on clay, having taken back-to-back titles in his home country. Londero is a former top 50 player who reached the fourth round of this event in 2019. But he is coming off multiple seasons with a losing record, and hasn’t played a match since early-April. Alcaraz should not have much trouble dismissing Londero on Sunday, though it is always a treat to see the Spaniard’s formidable skills on display.
Leylah Fernandez (17) vs. Kiki Mladenovic – Fourth on Court Suzanne Lenglen
Fernandez has not immediately been able to follow-up on her thrilling US Open run from last summer. Despite winning a title in Monterrey, she hasn’t reached a quarterfinal at any other event this year. But still only 19-years-of-age, Leylah undoubtedly has some big results ahead of her. Mladenovic was top 10 player in 2017, the same year she was a quarterfinalist at her home Slam. But the Frenchwoman is 2-4 in Paris since, and only 2-10 this season at all levels. While Kiki will certainly be motivated by the Parisian crowd, it would be surprising if she could upset Leylah, as the Canadian remains a dogged competitor who thrives on big stages.
Other Notable Matches on Sunday:
Sloane Stephens vs. Jule Niemeier (Q) – Stephens was the 2018 runner-up in Paris, and reached the fourth round a year ago. But she’s 0-4 on clay in 2022. Niemeier is a 22-year-old German who won an ITF-level event on clay last month.
Grigor Dimitrov (18) vs. Marcos Giron – Dimitrov is only 12-11 lifetime at Roland Garros, though he was a semifinalist in Monte Carlo this season. This is a rematch from last year’s French Open, when Giron defeated Dimitrov after Grigor retired during the fourth set.
Felix Auger-Aliassime (9) vs. Juan Pablo Varillas (Q) – Auger-Aliassime is still looking for his first main draw win at Roland Garros. He is 8-6 on clay this year. Varillas is a 26-year-old from Peru who has won 19 matches on clay this season at all levels.
Maria Sakkari (4) vs. Clara Burel – Sakkari has some scar tissue to overcome at this event, as in last year’s semifinals, she was one point away from defeating eventual champion Barbora Krejicikova. Burel is a 20-year-old from France who is a former junior No.1.
Sascha Zverev (3) vs. Sebastian Ofner (Q) – Zverev has reached the second week of this tournament four consecutive times. Ofner is a 26-year-old from Austria who prevailed at a Challenger event in Prague last month.
Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.
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