For the two of us the 2021 Noventi Open, (formerly the Gerry Weber Open) was surreal. It was the first time in the tournament’s 28 year history, we were not in Halle, Westphalia, Germany covering the ATP 500 series grass court event. Since only a few members of the German media were permitted to attend, along with 500 spectators each day, we followed play from a “Southern California Distance”, meaning our home near Los Angeles.
It almost seemed like we were “California Dreamin’” watching unseeded Ugo Humbert surprise Audrey Rublev, the No. 4 seeded Russian, 7-6, 7-6 in the final. With the title, the 22-year-old left-hander, who will turn 23 on June 26th, became only the second player in the championship’s history to finish as the winner in his debut. (Lleyton Hewitt, the redoubtable Aussie, was the first to collect the title in his inaugural start when he defeated Roger Federer, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the 2010 final.) Not to be ignored, the home team was proud when München’s Kevin Krawietz and Horia Tecău of Romania were 7-6, 6-4 better than Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and Hubert Hukarcz of Poland in the doubles trophy round.
Crafting a “What Happened” between the first round of play on June 14th and the final on June 20th has required long-range binoculars but here goes…
Having won the tournament, (which some believe should be named in his honor), a record ten times in person, it was unnerving to see Roger Federer lose 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 to Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada in the second round. Strategically attempting a comeback from two right knee surgeries, which kept him out of competition for a year and a half, Federer has not performed up to his “Only Roger” standards. His unforced error totals, particularly off the backhand, were more than extravagant. His internal GPS just wasn’t working. He seemed to be lost on court, which resulted in impatient shot-production. (In an “unmemorable” aside, this was the first time in his 18 Halle appearances that the legend didn’t reach the quarterfinals.)
The initial singles draw showcased six players in the Top 10 rankings. Unfortunately, Stefanos Tsitsipas, who had been the No. 1 seed, withdrew before the tournament began because of exhaustion (after the Greek’s five-set Roland Garros performance) and emotional distress. (He had learned five minutes before the Paris final that his beloved grandmother had passed away.)
By the quarterfinals there was an array of “others” in the mix. The group included two players making an initial appearance in Halle. One of them was Southern Californian, Marcos Giron, a qualifier who was the 2014 NCAA Singles champion when he competed for UCLA. The other was Sebastian Korda, the 20-year-old son of Petr Korda, a 1997 tournament singles finalist, and Regina Rajchrtová, a former WTA standout. Philipp Kohlschreiber, the tournament winner in 2011 and finalist in 2008, used a wildcard to show he still had the game and reached the Last 8. Nikoloz Basilashvili, the Georgian qualifier, in his third tournament showing, was the best of the “others”. He defeated Lloyd Harris of South Africa, another debutant, 6-4, 7-6 in the quarterfinals. Rublev brought his “this should be included in the scrapbook” showing, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in the semifinals.
Throughout the championship, Humbert was persistent, winning each of his first four matches in three sets. It is anyone’s guess if he is familiar with Henri Leconte but coincidently his countryman was the first tournament singles winner in 1993 defeating Andrei Medvedev of Ukraine, 6-2, 6-3. Born in Metz, but now residing in Luxembourg, the champion has added the Noventi Open to his indoor/outdoor hard court titles that he won in Antwerp and Auckland in 2020.
Tournament Director, Ralf Weber, traditionally, offers an analysis at the end of the event. He called the 2021 Noventi Open, “A milestone in the tournament’s history” because at the beginning of the year COVID -19 numbers were high. But after cancelling play in 2020, tournament officials, as well as the sponsor Noventi, were determined to hold a world-class event once again. Working with Halle administrators, along with the regional authorities in Gütersloh, made sure safety protocols were closely followed.
Weber addressed the fact that health restrictions severely limited attendance to just 500 per day and the size of the media contingent that, in the past, made the tournament one of the best covered ATP 500 series events in the world, was minimal.
He was proud that 31 singles matches and all of the doubles contests, 23 to be exact, were watched in over 150 countries worldwide. He further praised the television coverage in Germany by ZDF, Eurosport and other outlets that featured 85 hours of Noventi Open tennis. (We weren’t as lucky here in the United States.)
Weber concluded that in 2022 everyone involved with the tournament is looking forward to being able to return to “tennistainment” which has earned Halle’s Noventi Open the title of the best attended tennis championships in Germany.
Title photo by Friso Gentsch