Saturday School: Hamburg Open – From an ATP 1000 to ATP 500 event

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In 1892 a new clay tournament was started in Germany that was open to only German and Austrian tennis players. However, five years later, the tournament expanded its reach outside the two countries and the German Open got its first non-German player in 1897 when George Hillyard won the tournament after defeating compatriot George Greene in the finals. Gradually, the tournament grew in popularity among tennis players and years later it added a doubles tournament in its schedule.

Before the Open Era, Germany’s Gottfried Von Cramm led the title count with six titles at the German Open. John Newcombe became the first player to win the German Open when the Open Era started. A decade later, the tournament became a part of the Grand Prix Championship series. When the ATP was formed, the Hamburg Open fell under the bracket of ATP Super 9 series. Manuel Orantes, Eddie Dibbs and Andrei Medvedev were the most successful players of the Hamburg Open until the end of the 20th century.

When the 21st century began, Gustavo Kuerten won the Hamburg Open title after defeating Marat Safin in five thrilling sets. Months later, Guga backed up his Hamburg title by capturing a second Roland Garros title. This was also the first tournament where the Hamburg Open became a part of the ATP Masters Series. The next eight edition of the event saw Roger Federer capture four titles at Am Rothenbaum, making him the most successful player of the Hamburg Open in the Open Era. Federer ended Nadal’s 81-win streak on clay when he defeated the Spaniard for the first time on clay in 2007 at the Hamburg finals. In 2008, Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer in a rematch of the 2007 final and won his eighth Masters title in the process.

 

The Hamburg Open faced its biggest setback in 2009 when it was downgraded to an ATP 500 event. This was a part of ATP’s “Brave New World” program which intended to have 12 big title tournaments in a calendar year- 4 slams and 8 Masters 1000 events. The plan included demoting Hamburg and Monte Carlo into ATP 500 events. The latter somehow made its cut to maintain its status of a Masters event but it was not mandatory for all players to play there.

When the ATP made the decision to send the Hamburg event into a lower tier, it also shifted its place in the calendar from May to July. This was very crucial as till 2008 the Hamburg event was serving as a warmup event for the players before the Roland Garros. The German Tennis Federation (DTB) was enraged by this decision. This led to the DTB and the Qatar Tennis Federation (who jointly owned the Hamburg Open) to sue the ATP. They argued that the ATP had given Hamburg a status of an Masters event which was renewable every year as long as they followed ATP’s rules and regulations.

 

“We remain convinced that the ATP illegally withdrew the Hamburg tournament’s Masters status and we were right to challenge the decision,”

Georg von Waldenfels, then DTB president

In its defense, the ATP said that being the governing body of tennis circuit, it had the right to make certain decisions which would propel and magnify the power of tennis at the global stage. The men’s tennis governing body also said that this was a part of their plan to raise money, improve scheduling and increase tennis’ popularity.

“These are exciting times for men’s professional tennis with the ATP set to unveil the largest set of changes to the Tour since its inception in 1990.”

Etienne de Villiers, then ATP Chairman   

The antitrust case brought in by the DTB landed in ATP’s favour after two weeks of trial. The ATP also escaped a fine of 39 million Euros which it would have to pay had it lost the case. The DTB did appeal for to the Court of Appeals but yet again their appeal was in vain after the laying down of a 45-page court verdict. 

Hamburg’s demotion led to it being replaced by Mutua Madrid Masters run by Ion Tiriac. It also paved a way for the Shanghai Masters.

“Hamburg at one point was willing to sell its promotional rights to Tiriac outright, but that the ATP blocked the move. Why should Tiriac benefit from an enormous windfall ($15 million was the figure I heard) in addition to winning a coveted slot on the calendar for Madrid? Eventually, Hamburg withdrew the offer and dug in its heels.”

– Peter Bodo

In 2009, Nikolay Davydenko won the first Hamburg Open title as an ATP 500 event. In 2015, Rafael Nadal won his second Hamburg title after defeating Fabio Fognini 7-5 7-5. Nadal became the only player to win the tournament both as an ATP 1000 and ATP 500 event. Currently, Leonardo Mayer is the defending champion. The Argentine won his second title last year at Hamburg but won’t return this year to defend his title.

During its inception, the event was open only to German and Austrian players. However, the last German to win the German Open was in 1993 when Michael Stitch defeated Andrei Chesnokov in four sets. On the other hand, no player hailing from an independent Austria has bagged the Hamburg title. World No. 9, Dominic Thiem is the top seed at the Hamburg Open this year and will look forward to become the first Austrian to win the German Open.  


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