This year’s version of the Hamburg European Open became the only joint women and men’s tournament in Germany. According to its patron Alexander Otto, with the new 12 day format, “a touch of Grand Slam is emerging”.
One notable difference between Hamburg and a grand slam is that the men and women do not play concurrently – after the women’s event follows the men’s.
In its first edition, when it was known as the German Open Tennis Championships, the event was a Masters 1000 and warm-up event for Roland Garros. Its status changed to a 500 in 2009 and it moved to July in the ATP calendar, meaning that it took place after the grass season that concludes with Wimbledon.
Last year, the pandemic pushed the event back in the annual schedule to September. The happy consequence of the rescheduling was that it once again became a warm-up event for the also delayed Roland Garros.
This year, Hamburg overlapped with eight days of Wimbledon.
Unfortunately, the tournament’s new marquee player, Dominic Thiem, was forced to withdraw prior to the start with a wrist injury. But he is contracted to return next year.
Happily for the tournament, Stefanos Tsitsipas’s early exit from Wimbledon and the current overlap of the tournaments meant he could step right in to replace Thiem as Hamburg’s no. 1 seed.
“For me, the transitioning from clay [at Roland Garros] to grass was very difficult. I didn’t expect it to be so, but I think there are a lot of things that you have to change switching to grass. One would be technical, and tactical which I didn’t adjust to very quick.”
Tsitsipas made the Hamburg final last year, with Andrey Rublev winning the title.
This year the final featured 6th seed Filip Krajinović of Serbia and Spaniard Pablo Carreño Busta, the 2nd seed.
Krajinović’s journey started against world no. 149 Daniel Altmaier, who has won five matches in his seven year career, though none this year.
Altmaier needed time out for blisters on his hands during the 77 minute second set but came back to win the tiebreak. At its conclusion, he required a medical time out during which he continually poured water over his head. He lost the third set 1-6 in under 30 minutes.
Next for Krajinović was 37 year old wildcard, Philipp Kohlschreiber. In his first round, the German had needed seven match points and all the brilliance of his backhand to get past Jaume Munar. Against Krajinović, he saved one set point at 5-6 15-40 but couldn’t run down the deft volley that claimed the set.
One break to Kohlschreiber was enough to win him a close second set 6-4, but then Krajinović ran away with the match.
Tsitsipas’s top seeding gave him a bye in the first round. In a 7-6 6-3 win over Koepfer, whom he hadn’t played since they met on the Futures circuit many years ago, the difference was his excellent volleying. He won 18 out of 23 points at the net. That win set up a quarter final with Krajinović. It turned out to be the most interesting match of the tournament for a few reasons.
Tsitsipas came out firing forehand winners, going to an errorless 4-0. A double fault at 4-0 30-0 became his first error. He took the next game for 5-0 in 18 minutes. His blinding play to this stage was reminiscent of his first set against Djokovic in the Roland Garros final.
But Krajinović thwarted Tsitsipas’s set point in the next game with a brilliant serve into the corner. Two more great serves got him his first game. Krajinović then lifted to break Tsitsipas and hold serve again. But Tsitsipas had enough of a head start to take the set 6-3.
On serve for 2-1 in the second, Krajinović broke with the tiniest drop shot. It wasn’t the first time a sneaky Krajinović drop shot had caught Tsitsipas by surprise. He swiped the court with his racquet several times and cracked it, but played on with it. The racquet did not survive the next point. As he returned serve, Tsitsipas was left with just the handle in his hand. The rest flew into the photographers’ row at the side of the court.
To rub it in, Krajinović produced another sneaky drop shot to take the game and go to 4-1. Several more drop shot winners followed and Krajinović took the set 6-1, having won nine of the last 11 games.
Krajinović had already complained to the umpire about his opponent taking too long between points, resulting in a warning to Tsitsipas, then Krajinović complained about his ten minute off-court break after the second set. So, at the start of the third set, Tsitsipas was docked a serve for his second time violation, meaning his first serve was deemed a second serve.
Not long after, Tsitsipas began muttering to himself. It started with a simple “Let’s go!” on an Ad point but at 1-2 then he became increasingly animated towards his box.
During the next game Tsitsipas, forced into a corner, put up a short lob. As he anticipated Krajinović’s smash reply, he turned away before Krajinović had hit the ball, walked across the baseline towards his box and started talked loudly at his team. The umpire was dismissive of Krajinović’s complaint about Tsitsipas’s interference.
Serving at 1-3, Tsitsipas received another time violation warning. But from there he focused. Serving to stay in the match at 3-5, he went up 40-0 but Krajinović persistently hit through his backhand for winners and reached Ad through a Tsitsipas double fault. Tsitsipas then drove a forehand over the baseline. For his victory, Krajinović could thank his 26 backhand winners.
There were no celebrations on his way to the net to shake hands, even though Krajinović had beaten only two Top 10 players in his career out of 23 opportunities. Those winning occasions were in 2010 when Djokovic retired after the first set and last year against Dominic Thiem in Cincinatti. Now he had beaten Tsitsipas, the player with the most wins on clay this year.
“He started really well, being aggressive and I couldn’t find my game,” Krajinović said. “He overpowered me but at the end of the first set I started to feel better. I was going for my shots down the line. It paid off in the end. I am happy to beat such a great player.”
To get to the final, Krajinović had to beat countryman Laslo Đere in their semi. He did so 6-4 6-2, reaching his first final at ATP 500 level.
“I found a way today and I am extremely happy to be in the final,” Krajinović said. “I was attacking his second serve. The way I finished the match with good serves was what I needed. I came to Hamburg without any pressure and here I am in the final.
“I have been around for a long time, and I played three finals before but never managed to win the title. I was close a couple of times. I will try to take this one. I am playing a good tennis right now. Let’s see how it’s going to end. It’s never too late,”
Krajinović, whose first three matches were three-setters, met Pablo Carreño Busta, who hadn’t dropped a set, in the final.
Against Carlos Taberner, Carreño Busta faced break points to go down 0-3 in the second set but won 7-5 6-3. Then in his quarter final with Dusan Lajovic, he went down 0-4 but won 7-6(4) 6-3.
He then faced Frenchman Federico Delbonis in the semis and won 7-6(2) 6-3. “Every time I play against him, I feel very uncomfortable,” said Carreño Busta. “The last time we played in Madrid, I was a set and 4-0 up and lost.
“Today my level was very good. I probably played better in the second set than in the first one, but I continued fighting all the time.”
At 30, Carreño Busta is having a great year, winning 71% of his matches, well above his career average of 55%. He has already won a title on clay this year.
Throughout the first set of the final, he got on the front foot and pushed Krajinović back into the court. He broke Krajinović for 2-1 and then served a love game.
His momentum was halted temporarily by an incorrect line call against him, allowing Krajinović to break back for 2-2. Carreño Busta had expected the point to be replayed but the chair umpire maintained that the bad call hadn’t affected his shot.
After spending the sit down complaining, he immediately regrouped and breezed through the remainder of the set 6-2. He won the second 6-4. This was his sixth title, but the first at 500 level.
“I played one of my best matches of the year, which is not easy to do in a final. It is a special title for me. I lost my last final [at ATP 500 level] to Dominic Thiem in Rio. Finally, I have it and I like to continue this way.”
Title photo of Pablo Carreño Busta by Valeria Witters