Gerry Weber Open – Brings Back Los Angeles Memories

The 23rd Gerry Weber Open came to a close on Sunday, June 21st in movie script fashion. In a 30 & Over final, seven-time champion, Roger Federer, who is thirty-three, faced thirty-one-year-old Andreas Seppi, the first Italian to reach the title round at the Halle, Germany event. Going into the match the top seeded Swiss legend was in his tenth final in twelve tournament appearances. Given that he had eleven wins in his career record against one loss to his unseeded opponent, it is no surprise that Federer upped the total with a 7-6, 6-4 victory.

Federer’s eighth trophy winning performance in Halle put him one up on Wimbledon and Dubai where he has triumphed seven times, each. Even more telling, the championship took place the first time the Gerry Weber Open was an ATP 500 event.

In 1993, Gerry Weber, a clothing-manufacturing impresario whose company is based in Halle, began a grass court tournament, which initially followed Roland Garros (and now, with the new ATP schedule, takes place two weeks after the terre battue season concludes). It was a 250 tournament, but Weber, whose savvy rivals those who teach at the Wharton Business School, and his son, Ralf, the Tournament Director, followed an ingenious plan. They constructed a tennis facility in the town and made it clear that annual tennis showcase was the “the peoples….” tournament.

Not only did this philosophy inspire undying local support, it made the location, which is roughly twenty-four kilometers from Bielefeld, the major city in the area, truly unique when compared to other ATP tournament sites. The Webers creative inspiration didn’t end there. They put a closeable roof on the center court so while Queen’s, which takes place the same week in London and seems to always contend with interrupting showers, the Gerry Weber Open plays on.

They also made a business decision that was “top of the Forbes list” worthy. They insightfully signed Federer to a lifetime contract. Each year, the seventeen-time Grand Slam tournament winner begins his grass court play at Halle. From a spectator and marketing standpoint, the decision guaranteed a profitable balance sheet for years to come.

Sadly, for Southern California tennis fans, Federer never appeared at the annual men’s tournament that was played at the Los Angeles Tennis Center-UCLA for twenty-eight years. At one time, the Pacific Southwest, as the event was known when it was launched in 1927 at the Los Angeles Tennis Club, was fabled. The best of the best, in the men and women’s game, played.

With Open Tennis, the professional game changed. In time, the ATP and the WTA organized circuits, and money, for all intents and purposes, became the player appearance gatekeeper. Los Angeles, with a summer date and ATP 250 tournament status, battled on and remained strong for some time.

Under the guidance of Tournament Director, Bob Kramer and his devoted staff, along with the unwavering commitment from the Southern California Tennis Association (the SCTA owned the event), inventive fan attracting approaches were developed, and big name players were pursued. But, in the fall of 2012, the local keepers of the professional tennis flame were forced to extinguish it. Losses had to be cut and the storied Los Angeles tournament was sold to Bogota, Colombia.

Prior to the Sunday, June 21st final, Tournament Director Ralf Weber said, “The 23rd Gerry Weber Open was a strong start to a new era. As a 500-ATP tournament for the first time, it is in an elite league. The strong field of competitors offered better options for marketing. The larger media presence increased the growing worldwide notice.”

From the very beginning, those watching the quarterfinal match between Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and Ivo Karlovic of Croatia were put on notice…Start Counting. By the time, it was over Karlovic had delivered forty-five aces in his 7-5, 6-7, 6-3 victory, which was a record for a three-set match. The total broke his previous record of forty-four served up against Daniel Brands of Germany at Zagreb in 2014.

Southern California resident Scott Lipsky teamed with President of the ATP Players Council, Eric Butorac and reached the semifinals. There they were edged by Rohan Bopanna of India and Florin Mergea of Romania quite dramatically, 7-6, 4-6, 13-11.

Steve Johnson  Photo Martin Meissner, AP

Steve Johnson
Photo Martin Meissner, AP

Steve Johnson began his second round Gerry Weber Open match against Florian Mayer by stunning the crowd. He dominated play, winning the first three games against the German. Shots were flowing. His composure was “Johnson” strong.

The thirty-one year old Mayer, who was sidelined by a groin injury in Miami last March and didn’t return to competition until April of this year, finally got on the scoreboard. Then the match turned. The Bayreuth native ran the table collecting six straight games. Not only did he become steadier, his shots were more telling. He also seemed to be aided by a dramatic, painful looking fall that scattered Johnson across the Gerry Weber Stadion Court in the fifth game. From that point on, his game was out of sorts.

Ever competitive, Johnson gamely fought, but Mayer broke him in the fourth game of the second set. The Manhattan Beach resident got back on course in the seventh game earning a reciprocal break. From there, both players held serve, carrying the match into a Tie Break.

There Mayer’s magic returned and he closed out last year’s quarterfinalist, 6-3, 7-6 in one hour and twenty-four minutes. Overall, he won seventy-three points to his opponent’s sixty-nine.

Following the contest, the winner, said, ”It was difficult. I had seen his match yesterday (against Bernard Tomic) and knew I had to have a good game plan. I played a lot to his backhand. My serve was great and I played a lot of good returns. I went to the net at the right moments, but I was weak finishing points and that must not happen at this level. Luckily, I did not do it on the big points. I saw the statistics, and he had ten break points, and I fended off all but two with good serves. I have to be more consistent.”

Ralf Weber  Photo Gerry Weber Open

Ralf Weber
Photo Gerry Weber Open

Befitting his importance, Ralf Weber praised Federer, saying, “You can tell he loves the tournament, the quiet environment, the normalcy here. The decision to give him a life-long contract was an absolute milestone for the Gerry Weber Open. As he has pointed out, ‘I can practically fall from my hotel room onto the center court’,” (The Sportpark Hotel is but a well struck lob away.)

Looking ahead, Weber said of 2016, “We are clearly counting on Roger. He still is the most important ambassador of the tournament. A clear mission for us is trying to sign Novak Djokovic. Alexander Zverev is the face of the future in German tennis. That’s why we have contracted him for three years. For us, the 24th tournament already starts on the Monday after the finals.”

Mark Winters

Look for a fresh examination of tennis topics at “Mark Thoughts”

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