It will be the 45th time when ATP’s top guns arrive at Rotterdam to engage in some fierce on-court battles. This ATP 500 level tournament has been a constant feature in the players’ circuit for nearly five decades.
The tournament has been home to some memorable matches between legendary players and it would be worthy enough to consider the details of this event since its inception.
The first Rotterdam Open was announced as a part of the WCT circuit in 1972. The first four years were dominated by Arthur Ashe & Tom Okker. Ashe reached three finals till 1976 and won all of them. Out of these four he won twice against Okker in the finals in the deciding set. Ashe didn’t participate in 1974. In the finals that year, the battle of “Tom-boys” was won by Okker against Tom Gorman in 3 sets.
Despite being seeded consistently at the first or second spot, Ilie Nastase, who was then the first ranked player based on the computer generated rankings, could not win the title. The Bucharest backfire’s inventor reached the finals in 1977 where he was defeated by the then top seed Dick Stockton.
The late 80s was a period in tennis where Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe were on the rise. It was in 1979, when the duo met each other in the Rotterdam finals in their fourth meeting. Borg won the match to level up their then H2H record 2-2.
Till 1983, the event had completed 12 editions and 7 of them were won by Americans. Bjorn Borg retired in 1983 thereby passing on the Swedish flag to Stefan Edberg, Anders Jarryd and Joakim Nystrom. The top two seeds for the 1984 event were Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors. The two Americans had to defeat wild card entrant Stefen Edberg and eighth seeded Anders Jarryd for an all-American clash in the finals. The top two seeds successfully accomplished their task of preventing the Swedish players from entering the finals.
Before this match, Connors had played four times at Rotterdam, reaching the finals only once. Lendl on the other hand was looking for his first title in 1984. Connors and Lendl combined were insanely leading 32-3 against all others before they met in this final.
When the match started, the top seed was completely dominating Connors, handing him a bagel in the first set. When the next set began, Lendl was up 1-0. But in a short span of time the crowd was diffused into a state of panic. The scoreboard read, “DO NOT PANIC (VACATE THE STADIUM). IMMEDIATELY, BUT QUICKLY.”
Later investigation found out that the police had received an anonymous call stating that a bomb had been planted in the stadium. When the bomb squad arrived there was no bomb found nor were there any explosions. The players were naturally scared to step on the court again and hence a stadium filled with 7000 people was a vaccum space within no time.
Wim Buitendijk who was the tournament director that time said that Connors could still have been persuaded but it was Lendl who wasn’t prepared to take any risks. Lendl suggested that the $50,000 of the winner and the $25,000 of the runner-up should be safely kept in a vault until the final is resumed. The tournament agreed with Lendl. Till date, there has not been a winner of the 1984 Rotterdam event as it stands the lone ATP tournament whose final did not yield any results.
An interesting version of this story according to former doubles No.1 player Peter Fleming is,
“If you ask Lendl, even to this day, he still thinks someone from Jimmy’s team made the phone call.”
The Swedish & The Swiss
The Rotterdam event held at Ahoy Arena continued to be a successful event every passing year. The event’s allegiance was shifted to the Grand Prix Circuit in 1978 and later to the ATP Tour in 1990.
The 8th and the last American to win this event was Brad Gilbert in 1990. In all those years, apart from the American dominance, a handful of talented Swedish players entered the scene in different eras to prove their caliber. 11 times in the event’s history has a Swedish player reached a final and on 6 occasions he has been crowned a champion. The last Swede to win this event was Robin Soderling in 2011.
Apart from the Swedish players, the Swiss players have also made a mark in this event. Only twice has a Swiss player lost when he has entered the finals of this event. The Rotterdam event has seen 5 Swiss winners till date with only Roger Federer winning it twice(2005,2012). The other Swiss winners are – Heinz Guthardt, Jakob Hlasek and Stanislas Wawrinka.
When Frencman Jo-Wilfred Tsonga won the title in 2017, it was the fifth time that a Frenchman won the Rotterdam title. In 2018, the tournament will hand over nearly $4,55,000 to the winner. While Tsonga will try to defend his title and take his country a step higher to equal Sweden’s record of 6 titles, all eyes will be set on Roger Federer who will aim for glory by reaching the No.1 spot. The Swiss Maestro needs to reach the semis in order to be the oldest World No.1 player. If Federer wins the title he will equal Arthur Ashe’s record of three titles at Rotterdam.
Six years since he last won the title, Federer now finds himself within a competitive field featuring Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, David Goffin, Jo Wilfred Tsonga, Tomas Berdych and compatriot Stan Wawrinka.