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bett1open Preview: The Berlin Anomaly

The WTA returns to try and conquer a city that offers vast potential to the tour.

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London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Berlin: the list of Western Europe’s major capitals is so familiar it almost rolls off the tongue. When it comes to the ATP and WTA calendars, however, one of them has long been conspicuous in its absence.

 

This week the bett1open, a WTA Premier 500 grass court tournament, takes place in Berlin. It’s the first tour-level tennis of any kind in the city since 2008.

BERLIN: ‘POOR, BUT SEXY’

It’s not just in tennis terms that the German capital remains something of an anomaly, even 32 years after the Berlin Wall came down. Berlin is an instantly recognisable name in a list of the world’s capital cities, yet in many aspects the city is not even a leader within Germany itself. It’s not an industrial powerhouse like Stuttgart, nor a financial hub like Frankfurt or Munich. It can’t even stake a strong claim in Germany’s national sport, football, where it is dwarfed by the footballing heartland in the western state of Nordrhein-Westfalen (home to the cities of Dortmund, Düsseldorf, and Mönchengladbach, to name but a few). As recently as 2013, there was no team from the capital city in Germany’s top football league, the Bundesliga, an unheard-of situation in all other European nations.

Instead, modern Berlin has carved out a niche as an enclave popular with artists and musicians, with cheap rents (until recently, at least), a relaxed lifestyle and a renowned electronic music scene that drives its unrivalled nightlife. It’s a bohemian place, relatively underdeveloped economically, but it just so happens to also be the political capital of the biggest economy in the European Union. When analysing the post-reunification struggles of die Hauptstadt, British historian James Hawes describes how in the mid-2000s ‘every other European capital city helped to fund its country; only in Germany was it the other way around’. Whether the city really cares is another question altogether – in 2003 mayor Klaus Wowereit famously described his city as ‘poor, but sexy.’ Indeed, an entire tourism marketing campaign used this very slogan.

THE GRAF EFFECT

This precarious financial position is one of the reasons that an incarnation of the Berlin Open hasn’t appeared on the WTA tour since 2008 (when Russia’s Dinara Safina triumphed). Once considered one of the most important clay court warm-up events for Roland Garros, the tournament fell victim to the financial problems faced by the Deutsche Tennis Bund (German Tennis Association) in the 2000s, largely attributed to the significant drop in interest in the sport in Germany following the retirement of Steffi Graf. The rights for the tournament were sold in 2004 to a consortium in Qatar, who continued to run the tournament for a few years before selling the licence back to the WTA in 2008.

Steffi Graf had a huge impact in Germany, both on and off the court (image via WTA on Twitter)

On the men’s side, the barren patch has lasted even longer. The ATP Tour last came to Berlin in 1991, also for a clay court event, without even so much as a Challenger Tour event taking place in the city since.

COMING IN FROM THE COLD

This is all about to change. Berlin has transformed rapidly in the past decade and is arguably more ready than ever for a tournament to make the city its long-term home. For better or worse (many of the politically left-leaning city’s residents would argue the latter), Berlin has never been more commercially attractive, remaining incredibly popular with creatives and young people in general, and its ‘cheap and cool’ appeal has naturally also brought interest from big business. Rents and property prices are soaring, commercial projects are popping up all around town, and the city now even has not just one, but two Bundesliga teams for the first time in its history. Tennis administrators have decided that the time is right to join in the fun.

Successful exhibitions were held last summer during the COVID break, including one that took place in a hangar at the disused Tempelhof Airport, giving the court backdrop a real post-apocalyptic feel that Berlin seems to specialise in. Dominic Thiem and Jannik Sinner were among the stars on show, as well as a seemingly ageless Tommy Haas. A Challenger event was reportedly being planned for the same venue this July, although this has not yet been announced in the schedule by the ATP. Either way, the emergence of a genuine top German talent in Alexander Zverev certainly gives the idea of bringing the men’s game here some added weight.

The hangar at the disused Tempelhof Airport, site of last year’s exhibition and a touted venue for a new ATP Challenger Tour event.

THE WTA MAKES THE FIRST MOVE

Which brings us to the WTA Premier 500 grass court tournament, taking place this week (14th-20th June). The big return to Berlin has already endured a difficult start – the inaugural tournament was scheduled for 2020 but became a victim of the coronavirus pandemic.

The more hedonistic side of the city won’t be so visible at the Rot-Weiss Tennis Club, located in the city’s more affluent and leafy western outskirts, but the stellar line up of players should ensure some electric beats for the crowd to along nod along to. Aryna Sabalenka (world number 4), Elina Svitolina (no. 6), Bianca Andreescu (no. 7) and Iga Swiatek (no. 9) lead the field, with Karolina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova and Garbiñe Muguruza also involved. The tournament lost Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka in the wake of events at the French Open, but the difficulties of persuading players to travel to a new tournament have been outweighed by the advantage of being part of a grass court season that offers only limited choice as top stars look to get in shape for Wimbledon.

There is home interest, too, with German number one Angelique Kerber leading the charge. Sadly absent will be Sabine Lisicki, who hails from Berlin itself and has serious grass court pedigree but is sidelined with the latest in a horrendous string of injuries.

Angelique Kerber will be looking to improve on a disappointing 2021 thus far (image via Wimbledon on Twitter)

WIMBLEDON PREPARATIONS BEGIN

As is always the case with events between the French Open and Wimbledon, it is hard to predict who will come out on top. Even top players need time to adjust to the grass, particularly those who went deep at Roland Garros and will be playing their first grass court event of the year. Regardless, this represents a big opportunity for the WTA. Berlin might be a curious mix of politicians, techno heads, and tech entrepreneurs, but it’s a city of 4 million that is full of youthful energy. On the face of it, it should be a prime candidate for a stop on the tennis merry-go-round. It will be interesting to see how this latest attempt to lay down roots in this most unique city fares.

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Anett Kontaveit Set To Battle For WTA Finals Spot After Lifting Moscow Crown

It is the third time Kontaveit has won a tournament within the past six months but will she be able to qualify for the season-ending championships?

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Anett Kontaveit (image via https://twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit has continued her recent surge in form on the Tour by fighting back from a set down to win her fourth career title at the Kremlin Cup on Sunday.

 

The world No.20 was on the verge of losing to home favourite Ekaterina Alexandrova before battling to a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, victory. At one stage in the match Kontaveit was trailing by a set and 0-4. Then in the decider she was broken at 4-4 before going on to win three games in a row to clinch the title. Overall, she won 69% of her first service points and broke her opponent five times.

“Of course, I am very happy, the match was extremely difficult, I feel relief and joy,” she said afterwards. “I got lucky at match-point, but during the match there were moments when she (Alexandrova) got lucky too. It always takes a little luck to win. She took the lead, controlled the match, it was very difficult for me, I tried to fight for all the points and this helped me to win.”

Kontaveit, who defeated former world No.1 Garbine Muguruza and Markéta Vondroušová earlier in the tournament, has now won 14 out of the last 15 matches she has played on the Tour. Her only loss was to Ons Jabeur in the quarter-finals at Indian Wells. She has played in five finals this year which is the second-highest on the WTA Tour after world No.1 Ash Barty who has played in six.

The 25-year-old is now on the verge of qualifying for the WTA Finals for the first time in her career. However, the prospect of her playing in the season-ending event depends on the results of next week’s tournaments. Kontaveit is playing in Romania and she needs to win the tournament and for rival Jabeur to lose before the semi-finals to qualify.

Meanwhile, runner-up Alexandrova exits Moscow frustrated with her missed opportunities in the match. It was the first time she has played in a final this season and only the third time in her career. Prior to Kontaveit, she scored back-to-back wins over Aryna Sabalenka and Maria Sakkari.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to win, I’m very sorry. But I will work on it and I hope next time I will be able to get a better result,” Alexandrova said during the trophy ceremony.
“I want to congratulate Anett, she played great, it was hard for me to do something.” She added.

Kontaveit, who has won three WTA titles since August, is the first Estonian player to win the Moscow trophy. Compatriot Kaia Kanepi reached the final of the tournament back in 2011.

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Focus

Bad news for the Transylvania Open as no fans are allowed

There will be no fans for next week’s event that includes Simona Halep and Emma Raducanu.

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(@TransylvaniaOpn - Twitter)

Mere days before the event was going to start the government announced a new measure that won’t allow for spectators.

 

The Transylvania Open a brand new WTA 250 event being held at the BT Arena in Cluj-Napoca got some bad news when the government announced due to a spike in covid cases the event will be held without fans.

The tournament was able to get some big names for its tournament with the likes of Simona Halep, Paula Badosa, and 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu who were hoping to feed off the crowd energy.

Now they will have to play in an empty stadium which is something that happened a lot last year and another hurdle the players will have to go through, it’s disappointing because things were getting better but the fourth wave of Coronavirus keeps ravaging the world.

This will be the first tournament back for Raducanu after being upset in Indian Wells and was supposed to be a homecoming since she is of Romanian descent.

The tournament went on Twitter to announce the news that they will be hosting the event behind closed doors.

Halep was hoping to be able to also play in front of her home fans but will now look to win another title in her native country without any spectators or fan support.

As mentioned in the tweet the effect won’t happen till Monday so the fans will still be able to attend the qualifying matches that will happen on Saturday and Sunday.

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ATP

‘I Know How To Get There’ – Karen Khachanov Targets Return To Top 10

The world No.31 has showed signs of his talent this season with a run to the Olympic final but a lack of consistency and changes to the ATP ranking system has hindered him too.

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Karen Khachanov - Credit: AELTC/Ian Walton

It wasn’t that long ago when Karen Khachanov was the highest-ranked Russian man on the ATP Tour and billed as the next big thing from his country.

 

A breakout 2018 season saw Khachanov claim three Tour titles with the biggest of those being at the Paris Masters which remains his most prestigious trophy to date. He also reached his first major quarter-final at the French Open during the same season and scored five wins over top 10 players. Those triumphs helped elevate him in the ranking to a high of eight.

However, since that breakthrough Khachanov has found himself on a a rollercoaster journey. He is yet to win another title since Paris but came agonisingly close at the Tokyo Olympic Games where he finished runner-up to Alexander Zverev. In his nine previous Grand Slam tournaments his best run was at Wimbledon this season where he reached the last eight before losing to Denis Shapovalov.

Now ranked 31st in the world, the 25-year-old is aiming to claim back up the ladder after the ATP changed their ranking logic to the method used prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The rankings turned out to be a big pun, it was frozen for a year and a half, only now normal counting has begun. I am not fixated on this,” Khachanov told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday. “My main goal is to get back to the Top10. I know how to get there. And the intermediate goals are to be healthy and motivated.”

Khachanov has been ranked outside the world’s top 20 since February and hasn’t been in the top 10 since October 2019. He is currently coached on the Tour by Jose Clavet who has previously worked with a series of top Spanish players such as Feliciano Lopez, Alex Corretja, Tommy Robredo and Carlos Moya.

“He travels with me everywhere, for which I am grateful to him. I trust him as a specialist, as a coach and as a friend,” Khachanov said of Clavet.

Khachanov has returned to his home country this week where he is playing in Moscow at the Kremlin Cup. A tournament he won three years ago by defeating Adrian Mannarino in the final. Seeded third in the draw this time round, he began his campaign on Wednesday with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, win over James Duckworth. In the next round, he faces another Australian in the shape of John Millman which he believes will be a far from easy task.

He is a fighter, a complete player, he does everything well, forehand and backhand with good intensity. He does everything at a good level, but the main quality is that he fights till the end, so it will be hard for me,” he said of his next opponent.

Moscow is the seventh tournament this year where Khachanov has reached the quarter-final stage.

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