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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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Andy Murray Explains ‘Crushing’ Feeling After Olympics Exit

Andy Murray explained his emotions after exiting the Olympics today.

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Andy Murray and Joe Salisbury (@the_LTA - Twitter)

Andy Murray admits he feels ‘crushed’ after losing in the Men’s Doubles quarter-finals at the Olympics.

 

The two-time Olympic gold medallist failed in his attempt to win a medal for a third consecutive Olympics after him and Joe Salisbury lost to Croatian duo Ivan Dodig and Marin Cilic 4-6 7-6(2) 10-7.

It means that Murray will likely not win another Olympic medal with this expected to be his last Olympic Games.

On social media Murray admitted that he was crushed about today’s result:

Having been a set and a break up it looked like that Murray was going to have a fairytale ending to his Olympic career.

However the Croatians turned the match around to seal victory and a place in the semi-finals.

Murray also spoke to BBC Sport about whether he will indeed compete at another Olympics, “I don’t know if I’ll get the opportunity to play again,” the three time grand slam champion added.

“I’ve loved every minute of playing in the Olympics. I wished today could have gone differently. I had another chance with Joe to win a medal. We were so close, and that’s what’s disappointing. I would like to have done some stuff differently in the match to try to help out more. Very disappointed.”

Murray will now look ahead to the US hard court season where he will look to compete at this year’s US Open where he is one withdrawal away from the main draw.

As for Cilic and Dodig they will now face New Zealand duo Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus.

The other semi-final will see top seed Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic take on US duo Austin Krajicek and Tennys Sandgren.

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Novak Djokovic Thrashes Davidovich Fokina To Set Nishikori Showdown At Olympics

Novak Djokovic moved into the last eight at the Olympics where he will face Kei Nishikori next.

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Novak Djokovic (@ITFTennis - Twitter)

Novak Djokovic’s bid for a historic gold medal continues after a convincing 6-3 6-1 victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

 

The world number one’s bid for the golden slam rolls on after a dominating straight sets win over the Spaniard.

Despite the win the top seed had to defend break points early on as Davidovich Fokina showed early signs of consistent aggression.

Davidovich Fokina’s all-round game was working effectively on return and the Spaniard managed to save two break points himself with some neat patterns of play.

However Djokovic eventually grinded out the break for a 3-1 lead as his defensive skills were too strong for the Spaniard.

After that the Spaniard did well to fend off Djokovic’s returning pressure as he maintained a good percentage of 1st serve points won.

However the Serb eventually served out the opening set in 47 minutes in a strong performance.

From there the Serb increased his level and intensity as he made Davidovich Fokina work harder than the first serve.

A flawless second set display was enough as Djokovic broke three times to seal his place in the quarter-finals.

The win means Kei Nishikori stands in Djokovic’s way of competing in a medal match as the Serb looks to win the one thing that has alluded his career and that is a gold medal.

Nishikori beat Ilya Ivashka to make the last eight after winning 7-6(7) 6-0 in just over two hours.

Alexander Zverev also went through to the Olympics quarter-finals with a straight sets win over Nikoloz Basilashvili.

The German will now face Jeremy Chardy in the last eight after the Frenchman ended Liam Broady’s run in Tokyo.

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Svitolina Beats Giorgi to Reach Semis in Tokyo

Elina Svitolina has guaranteed herself a medal match after beating Camila Giorgi in Tokyo.

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Elina Svitolina (@ITFTennis - Twitter)

The world number six booked her spot in the final four after beating Camila Giorgi of Italy.

 

Elina Svitolina is into the semi-finals of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics almost guaranteeing herself a medal after beating the world number 61 and Italian in straight sets 6-4, 6-4 serving 6 aces and hitting 13 winners in the while Giorgi hit 32 unforced errors in the loss.

The Ukrainian went on the attack from the word play earning two breakpoints in the match’s opening game as the Italian seemed to get off to a slow start and she made her pay by getting the early break.

After consolidating the break the number four seed was hungry for more getting two more chances to break and breaking once more to go up a double break.

At 5-1 the Ukrainian had two set points but failed to convert and the Italian took advantage of it breaking back the very next game with a stunning forehand winner to get one of the breaks back.

The world number six eventually served out the first set and continued to ride the momentum into the second set where just like the beginning of the first set she broke in the first game and cruised from there.

At 3-1, she had three more chances to go up a double break once again and she earned it with a sublime forehand winner up the line before getting broken the very next game.

Despite giving one of the breaks back, Svitolina could serve out the match and will play Marketa Vondrousova in the last four.

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