On 5th December 1982, the Sportpaleis arena situated in the Anvers city of Belgium held an invitational tennis event. The only players who could participate in this indoor carpet turf event, should have won a title in Europe at least once before in the same year. For nearly a decade, this event was played as an exhibition before it went on to become a part of ATP’s circuit, and also offering ranking points. So lets dig deep into the early years of this event and how it progressed to become an ATP 250 event.
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
In 1982, when the first event was held as an exhibition, the prize money was a whooping $7,00,000, which was much higher than the other major events at that time. The other big reward was a Golden Racquet. The diamond studded Golden Racquet was offered to that player who would win the event thrice in five years of participation.
This Golden Racquet was a hefty one at 13.5 pounds, studded with 1420 diamonds. It was worth $1,000,000. In 1985, it was Ivan Lendl who first laid his hands on the Golden Racquet with an additional $2,00,000 prize money.
THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Renamed in 1986, the event had a successful run till 1991. After 10 successful editions, the tournament was promoted to an ATP 250 event. It became a part of the World Series from 1992 till 1994.
In 1995, the tournament was not held. Mark Miles, the then ATP Tour Chief Executive said that two more stadiums needed to be constructed in Sportpaleis. It was the same year when the ATP decided to inculcate this tournament in the Super 9 series.
In 1996, the tournament returned as a part of the Championship series. This was also the last year when the tournament was played on clay. In the final two years of this event, the turf was changed to hard and Marc Rosset & Greg Rusedski became the last two championships.
Adjacent to the Sportpaleis lies the Lotto Arena. The last ATP tournament held in Antwerp was in 1998. ATP announced the return of an ATP 250 event in Belgium and Lotto Arena was the chosen venue. The Golden Racquet was replaced by a prize money of $671,281. It was Richard Gasquet who won the inaugral title of the European Open.
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The second edition of the tournament will see Nick Kyrigos and home favourite David Goffin headlining the ATP lineup. It is set to commence on 16th October, with the finals scheduled on 22nd October.