For someone who has grown up in Southern California, Rancho Santa Fe to be exact, Taylor Fritz has not had a lot of experience dealing with rain. Tennis, after all, isn’t a rain sport. But, that wasn’t the case during his first appearance at the Gerry Weber Open, the June 13-19 ATP 500 series event taking place in Halle, the cozy small town in Westfalia that often can’t be found even on a German map. (The Gerry Weber Open is one of 13 championships in which the winner can earn 500 points.)
Rivers of rain have drawn more attention than the tennis this spring – first at Roland Garros and then at last week’s pro tournaments all across Europe. Yesterday, Fritz, who received a wild card into Halle, was supposed to face Yūichi Sugita, a 27-year-old qualifier from Sendai, Japan early in the day on Court 2. The downpour was on and off and played havoc with the match schedule from the get go. Fortunately, the Webers, Gerry, the astute clothing manufacturer for whom the tournament is named, and whose business fortune was made in the town of Halle, and his son, Ralf, the Tournament Director, had the foresight to built a center court stadium with a closeable roof 23 years ago. (The 2016 Gerry Weber Open is actually the 24th.)
That made it possible to play some matches on opening day, but Fritz had to wait…and wait… and wait. He finally got on court a bit after 6:00 p.m. on Monday and started well, holding serve and breaking his opponent immediately. Up 3-0, he seemed to be in control. At 5-3 and serving for the first set, the 18-year-old was broken.
From that point on, both players continued to maintain serve under increasingly desperate and moisture laden skies. The Tiebreak began with more rain threatening. Fritz won the first point and earned a mini-break, taking the second. Then, his game began to slip and slide. The heavens opened up, halting the match. It was resumed this morning, after more rain.
As Fritz explained after his 7-6, 2-6, 6-3 defeat, “I was pretty upset (after we stopped). I should have backed up the break. I could have easily been up a double break instead of having to go into a Tiebreak. I just played badly on the big points. Once I lost the Tiebreak, I regrouped and played well in the second set. Sugita had a chance in the fourth game of the third set and again, I didn’t play the big points well.”
Sugita, who won 98 of the 191 points, played in the hour and 43-minute contest, converted only two of six break point opportunities, but those two points essentially earned him the match.
Fritz’s game oozes potential, but as would be expected for someone so young, he is still “learning” his way on the tour. As he brought out about rain play, “You just have to roll with the conditions. You have to stay positive, and when it’s time, you have to come out and be ready to play.”
The Webers have created a one-of-a-kind facility. The practice courts are covered and the sports park/hotel/multi-purpose complex is nearby and more than player friendly. Fritz noted what more than a few other players have pointed out, “I like being able to stay in my room and have everything so easy.” Wrapping up a visit with an outcome that wasn’t what he had hoped for, he said, “I plan to be back next year because in the whole tournament nothing is an issue. All you need to do is come out and execute.”
Now, if only the Webers could do something about the rain… If that were possible, it would make the Gerry Weber Open even more exceptional than it already is.
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