The German Open has an important place in German tennis history. For years, the best players in the world have been guests at the LTTC Rot-Weiß Berlin facility. Tennis was booming, Steffi Graf won the tournament on the red sand nine times, the center court at Hundekuhlesee in Berlin’s Grunewald is now named after her. But when Graf left, interest in tennis in Germany also declined. In 2008 the tournament had to return its license. The big comeback should take place this year.
With the help of the marketer Emotion, Berlin secured a license for the WTA lawn season ahead of Wimbledon, and a sponsor got on board. “Because of the tradition, we have a very demanding audience in Berlin,” tournament director Barbara Rittner told SPIEGEL. “It was therefore always clear to us that if there is an opportunity, it must be something special.” Lawn, summer, top players – Berlin was back after a twelve-year break.
Then the corona crisis came and the tournament was postponed – for the time being.
Actually it should be played from June 15th to 21st. But the women’s association WTA agreed with the men’s counterpart ATP and the Grand Slam organizers of the ITF for a tennis break until July 13 – the end of the lawn season. Rittner confirms its intention to hold the premiere event in Berlin in 2020. But it doesn’t sound really confident.
“Personally, I think it will be pretty hard to play this year,” said Rittner. The 46-year-old knows her profession. She was a player, is “Head of Women’s Tennis” at the German Tennis Association (DTB) and a TV expert. “Tennis is a global sport that involves a lot of international travel,” she says. In a time of travel restrictions, that’s a huge problem.
For Rittner, it is also about distortion of competition: “You can only host a fair tournament with world ranking points if everyone has the opportunity to participate.” The pandemic is moving around the world at different speeds. “The USA, as an important tennis nation, is particularly badly affected,” says Rittner. Invitation tournaments without reference to the world rankings could be a special case.
Tennis without spectators is unthinkable for Rittner
While the currently best German tennis player Angelique Kerber is considering closed tournaments in the “Sport Bild” tournaments, tournament director Rittner excludes this path. “Tennis lives from the audience,” she says. “The audience revenue in tennis is 30 to 40 percent, which is also the case in Berlin.”
By mid-July, 21 tournaments will be canceled on the WTA tour. Smaller events will have problems, especially if the organization is well advanced. Tickets have to be reimbursed, sponsorship money threatens to break away in the crisis. This does not apply to Berlin. “We are fortunate to have a main sponsor who is willing to take the move and view the tournament as a long-term project,” said Rittner. Theoretically, the game could be played in Berlin until early September, a decision should be made in late April.
Regardless of the postponement, the system will be converted further. “In September, three grass pitches were created, which are now looked after by a Wimbledon greenkeeper around the clock,” says Rittner. Apart from that, there are a lot of little things attached to such a tournament that now have to be regulated: driving services, hotel bookings, catering or the regulations for tickets that have already been purchased. At the present time, the organizer does not want to give precise information about the costs now incurred.
French Open continues to be criticized
If Rittner’s forecast of a tennis-free year is not fulfilled, it is still unclear what the tournament calendar will look like after the French Open has been moved. “It was a solo attempt that has not yet been discussed,” says Rittner, who is informed about current developments by the WTA once a week with other tournament directors. “Something like this must not happen again. That was clearly communicated to the French Open.”
WTA, ATP and ITF are said to be closer thanks to the French solo. Rittner believes a change in the power structures in this complicated construct made up of different stakeholders is unlikely: “I cannot imagine that an association will assume responsibility for everyone.”
Should it still be possible to play in autumn, the players could be the victims. Many tournaments hope for a place in the new calendar. There are plans to extend the season to mid-December, ATP player representative Vasek Pospisil even spoke of impending “anarchy”. The break until the next start of the season would be extremely short. “Then the year with the Olympic Games as a further high point can be very long. This could result in injuries and overloading,” says Rittner.
A more complete restart is more likely in 2021.