The inaugural Bad Homburg Open has finally taken place, after the pandemic prevented its debut last year. The tournament’s position in the tennis calendar is the week after the resurrected German Open in Berlin. Both these WTA events give a huge boost to grass court tennis in Germany, as warm up events to Wimbledon.
The genteel spa town of Bad Homburg was selected as the site for the latest WTA tournament partly in recognition of its long tennis history. Scottish baronet Sir Robert Anstruther introduced the game to the town during a brief stay in 1876. Many tennis historians believe this to be the first time tennis was played in continental Europe.
To gain entry to the 2021 Bad Homburg Open, the permitted 600 spectators per day were compelled to present evidence of a negative Covid-19 test within the previous 24 hours and receipt of their final vaccine at least a fortnight prior to the event.
Originally, six Slam winners were registered for the tournament: Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, Sloane Stephens, Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova and the most recent winner, Barbora Krejcikova.
Azarenka accepted a Top 20 wildcard to enter, saying she believed the event would provide the “perfect preparation for Wimbledon”. Unfortunately, Krejcikova withdrew after winning both the singles and doubles at Roland Garros. Halep, who also received a wildcard, had been training at the location for three days, but had to withdraw a few hours before the tournament draw when she aggravated her calf injury. Then Stephens had to withdraw only a few minutes before her first round match when she injured her foot.
Somehow the tournament overcame having to replace a quarter of its 32 singles entrants before commencement.
The tournament’s ambassadors, Kerber and top seed Kvitova, contributed to its success. Kerber’s ambassadorial role went beyond the usual PR and involved acting as the contact person for organisational matters for the players. “I saw how much heart and soul was invested,” she said.
When a quick replacement was needed for Irina-Camelia Begu, Andrea Petkovic was called in.
“My friend Angie Kerber said to me: I have good news and bad news for you. We now have a tournament around the corner from you, so you can live at home [50 kms away in Darmstadt].” Kerber then added, jokingly, “The bad news: The tournament will take place on grass.”
Petkovic agreed to step in despite the grass. “It’s the first tournament in my entire career where I can sleep at home.”
She beat sixth seed Sorana Cirstea in the first round and revived her Petko-Dance celebration. Cirstea’s cause wasn’t helped when a speedy Petkovic serve ricocheted off her outstretched racket and whacked her in the left eye. Cirstea sat dazed in the umpire’s chair behind the baseline as Petkovic tended her with ice packs.
Kvitova mentioned that one of the reasons she still plays is to win a third Wimbledon. In Bad Homburg, she won two three setters, then a two setter with a 12-10 tie break, to get to the semi and lose there to Kerber 6-3 4-6 6-7.
Exhausted after her day’s work, Kvitova was greeted by the “joyous” news that she had been drawn to play Sloane Stephens in the first round at the All England Club on Monday.
Number two seed Azarenka played one of the best matches of the tournament against Alize Cornet. The match lasted 3:02 hours and was so close that both players won 114 points. The score was 6-4 3-6 7-6 in favour of Azarenka.
Afterwards, Azarenka said she’d been inspired by her role model Venus Williams, “who never gives up in difficult situations”.
Unfortunately for Azarenka, her efforts in getting to the semis went unrewarded, as she had to withdraw from the match with an injury, gifting Sara Sorribes Tormo a walkover.
Hours of rain on quarter finals day meant those matches were held over till the following day. The delay meant the winners had to play their semis later the same day. Kerber won her quarter final against Amanda Anisimova 2-6 6-3 6-3, then in the afternoon, she overcame Kvitova 3-6 6-4 7-6.
After playing those six sets, Kerber backed up for the final the next day. Her opponent Katerina Siniakova was playing her sixth WTA final, but hadn’t managed a title since the two she won in 2017.
Both players started nervously and served poorly. When Kerber got the first set after 43 minutes, she looked to her relieved grandparents sitting in her box. She led 2-0 in the second before Siniakova caught up by winning some long, intense rallies.
Kerber pulled away again to go 5-2 but needed three match points to claim the championship. It was Kerber’s first tournament win since 2018 at Wimbledon.
As the German crowd celebrated with a Mexican wave, the Bad Homburg Open claimed Kerber’s victory as “a happy ending”.
Title photo by Frank Rumpenhorst