Noventi Open…“Man On The Moon”

By Cheryl Jones and Mark Winters

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“…Let’s play Twister, let’s play Risk
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
See you in heaven if you make the list
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…”

In 1993, R.E.M., a rock band formed by four University of Georgia students, had a hit song called “Man on the Moon”. The same year, Gerhard (Gerry) Weber launched a men’s grass court tournament – Gerry Weber Open – in Halle, a town few people had ever heard of in Westfalen, Germany. Based on the really big “Risk” Weber and all those involved at the beginning had assumed, the results have been impressive.

Centre Court Halle
Centre court of Gerry Weber Stadion (now OWL Arena).
Photo: Vanessa Taylor

Gerry Weber AG was the tournament sponsor until 2018 when the ATP 500 series championship became the Noventi Open. Last year’s pandemic cancelled play, which makes the 2021 competition the 28th tournament in its rich history.

“…Newton got beaned by the apple good
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Egypt was troubled by the horrible asp
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Mister Charles Darwin had the gall to ask
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…”

As Michael Stripe’s lyrics bring out in his salute to comedian Andy Kaufman, it hasn’t always been easy for the tournament over years. Coming back from a horrific worldwide health crisis has brought about an unplanned for planned “new” approach at this year’s Noventi Open. Some of the differences include:

Beginning on Monday, June 14th, 500 spectators will be allowed to attend the matches each day. (The OWL Arena, which has a closeable roof, seats 12,300 and if all the fans decide to watch Center Court matches, four percent of its capacity will be used, making ample room for what we’ve come to know as social distancing.) Those, (non-players or their team members), allowed to enter the tournament’s venue will be tested for COVID every second day.

Those, (non-players or their team members), allowed to enter the tournament’s venue will be tested for COVID every second day.

Masks must be worn by those in the OWL Arena but aren’t necessary on the outside courts.

There are only a few members of the German media covering the tournament and all player interviews will be conducted by video.

The walk to OWL Arena. Halle (Westfalen)
The walk to OWL Arena. Photo: Vanessa Taylor

“…Monopoly, Twenty-One, Checkers, and Chess
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Mister Fred Blassie in a breakfast mess
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…”

In the beginning, the Gerry Weber Open was the first grass court championship (along with Queen’s) played after Roland Garros. This year, because Paris changed from its original calendar date to a week later, the Noventi Open, once again, serves as a bridge from Terre Battue to grass court play.

Groundskeepers OWL Arena Halle (Westfalen)
Groundskeepers inspect the lawn court at the 2019 Noventi Open.
Photo: Vanessa Taylor

With five of the men’s Top 10 set to participate, the 2021 Halle player commitments comprise the best competitive field ever. Of those on the “significant names list”, ten-time champion Roger Federer is the de facto star. (It appears that the knee soreness which brought about his withdrawal from Roland Garros has been resolved.) But Hamburg’s Alexander Zverev cannot be overlooked. The same must be said of the Russian duo, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev. The fifth member of the all-time entry cast is Stefanos Tsitsipas, the extraordinary Greek who is waiting for the Roland Garros Men’s Singles title matches to commence, as of this writing.

“Man on the Moon”, a song about not abandoning hope, concludes…

“…If you believe they put a man on the moon
Man on the moon
If you believe there’s nothing up his sleeve
Then nothing is cool”.

But the Noventi Open promises to be even more than cool…if its past is any indication of what can be expected, magic is waiting to happen…yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

UPDATE: Stefanos Tsitsipas withdrew from the Noventi Open after his five set loss to Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros final. Tsitsipas later revealed that he’d been informed five minutes prior to the final that his grandmother had died. Tsitsipas was replaced in the Noventi Open draw by Lucky Loser Yannick Hanfmann.

Title photo of Centre Court at OWL Arena by Vanessa Taylor

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