Video and text by Mauro:

Some highlights and funny moments at the 2012 Champions Trophy in Halle, a mixed doubles exhibition among tennis legends introducing the Gerry Weber Open. Stefan Edberg and Anastasia Myskina met Michael Stich and Martina Navratilova in a show match played at the best of three sets with a Champions’ tie-break in the final set.

I was able to film some of the best moments of the day from the stands: the presentation of the players, some rallies and the on court interview to Stefan Edberg. At a moment in the clip, a little band appears on the stands of the Gerry Weber Stadion and starts playing the Italian pop song “Quando, quando, quando” during play, causing ilarity from the crowd and the players. Stich and Navratilova eventually won the match 5-7, 6-2, 10-8.

More info on STE…fans.

Part 3 of Mauro’s report of the “Champions Trophy” at the Gerry Weber Open (part 1, part 2).

Do you really care about the match, after all? Well, it was really a show much more than a match, often players laughed and joked, even during rallies. You can’t expect much more from a doubles senior exhibition, when even singles matches between former champions are played with smiles on their lips. There was even a moment when music was played during the match and the players found themselves dancing at the rhythm of the Italian pop song “Quando, quando, quando”. And the 10 thousand people crowd appreciated the atmosphere of relaxation… (By the way, it was amazing to see how many people chose to renounce to watch the French Open mens’ final on tv to attend an exhibition among legends. There’s a growing demand for Champions tennis, mostly by fans who are no longer satisfied with what tennis has become today, an aspect that can’t be ignored by tournament organizers).

Myskina and Edberg started the match behind, suffering an early break, but then recovered and won the set 7-5, with a littile bit of quarrel on the set point, when the play was stopped for a presumed double bounce on a pick up from Martina. No story in the second set, when Stich and Navratilova went immediately up a break and closed 6-2.
In my opinion, the match was decided in the Champions’ tie-break, on the score of 8-7 for the German/American team, by an amazing shot from Navratilova, a wonderful forehand lifted lob that overcame Stefan Edberg on the net and died just a few centimeters away from the bottom line, getting Edberg’s applause and an ovation by all the crowd. That shot alone was worth the ticket price… that, in the end, I could even have not paid, since I received a free ticket in a shop in the centre of Halle and also one from my friend Doris, another fan of the page and our translator from German. I watched the match next to her, sitting in a much better place than the one I had booked on the website of the Gerry Weber Open.

I can’t thank her enough for giving me the chance of watching Stefan Edberg’s dancing on grass just a few meters away from the court, a show that would have even captured the eye of an alien who doesn’t know what the word “tennis” means. I was also impressed by the sliced backhand vs sliced backhand by Stich and Edberg, but, unfortunately, most of the times the German shifted to Myskina “cutting” the ball, the rally ended… The Russian showed why she was the only player on court who had never won a Slam on grass and her lack of specialization on that surface was even more evident, because compared to the smooth movements and shots by three masters of what lawn tennis used to be. At the same time, it was nice to see Martina Navratilova in such a brilliant physical shape. Her stretch on the net and her touch are just a miracle, a joy to watch for a tennis fan of any age.

Read part 1 of Mauro’s report here.

Where to start from? When you have the chance to meet your childhood idol, suddenly every word becomes foreseen. So I would like to begin from the kindness of the staff at the press office of the Gerry Weber Open. It was only thanks to them that, without any media credential, I managed to access the press conference of the Champions Trophy and, believe it or not, without really knowing how, I found myself sitting in the first row, watching the winners of 70 Grand Slam tournaments combined speak, two meters away from the man I had always only watched on tv and who was the owner of my feelings back in my teenage days.

I was there, waiting to come in at a sign of the tournament communication director after all the players had ended speaking. He, indeed, introduced me to Stefan who saw me and smiled at me, when he recognized the outfit I was wearing: «Ah… and he has a nice Adidas jacket!», he said, maybe going back with his memory to 25 years ago, when he lifted his second Australian Open trophy with that on.

I was not shaking as I thought I would be, it was such an informal situation, after all, and, no need to say, Stefan is surely not the guy who makes you feel uncomfortable or out of place. I had the chance of shaking his hand and came in with very straight words:

«Hello, Stefan, nice to meet you. My name is Mauro and I’m from Italy. I’m the admin of STE…fans, the international fan community dedicated to you. I want to give you this special screenshot of the home page of my site in memory of this day, that, for me, ranks at the very top of the best moments that I had in my life».

Stefan didn’t know of the site (secretly I hoped he would…), but nevertheless he said: «Thanks very much, I appreciate it!». Then, he came down to the space before the seats in the media room and kindly accepted to take pictures of the moment. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to exchange more words with him. But, just the meeting itself was an extraordinary opportunity that I received from the tournament staff only thanks to the quality of my work and, maybe, to the human interest of the story of a fan who had flown to Westphalia from Italy just to hand his hero a little gift.

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Thanks a lot to Mauro for his report from Halle. Check out his website STE…fans for more news, pics and videos about Stefan Edberg.

Halle is the Gerry Weber Open. Everywhere you can see the logo of the tournament, that turns 20 years old in 2012, and the walk from the quiet and tidy historic centre of the town to the Gerry Weber Stadion, along Alleestraße and Gartenstraße, is filled with indications that seem to celebrate it as the most important touristic attraction. Surely not everybody is a tennis expert here, but everybody knows (or has heard of) the tennis tournament, even the nice taxi driver that takes me to the hotel from Bielefeld, a town 18 kilometers away, and doesn’t speak a word of English.

Halle, Gerry Weber Stadion

Many would say there’s not much more to see in Halle Westfalen, but, in my opinion, this is not true. Surely not the best destination if you’re looking for “movida” and intense night life (you would hardly meet twenty other persons in the centre if you take a walk from 7 to 9 pm, just as I did), but there are at least a couple of things that catch the eye of a foreigner.

Halle is definitely a “green” city. Without need to reach the near Teutoburg Forest, you will find plenty of nature-friendly spaces inside the town itself and going slightly outwards. Most of the houses built in the characteristic half-timbered style, that remind of the Medieval history of the town, have a very well kept garden space that shows the love and respect for nature by the inhabitants. More bikes than cars around, and this, for an Italian abroad, is always something amazing to watch, just like the “culture of silence” they have here and, generally, in this area of Europe. If you were to think of a tennis tournament for Halle, it could only be on grass, and the rainy weather, the temperature just over 13-14 Celsius degrees of these days reflect the perfect “scenario” for the typical grasscourt tournament of middle June.

Halle Gerry Weber Open
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Follow Amélie Mauresmo: @AmeMauresmo

6. The Davis Cup’s schedule also has to be brought into the real world. Should it be held for a week every other year, like golf’s Ryder Cup? Or maybe once a year? Whatever the answer, the powers-that-be need to
sit down and decide how to re-interest tennis’ top players in participating in this great event.

Changing the Davis Cup format has been a huge argument over recent years, as top players have shown their “intolerance” towards this event that is such a part of tennis history. Many suggested that it becomes a biennial event or a Ryder Cup style event. Rafael Nadal, one of the more frequent Davis Cup players, has also once stated it should be played at the best of three sets… I think these format changes would only depreciate the competition. The way it is, Davis Cup has contributed to bring the sport in many parts of the world that are excluded from élite tennis or can’t afford to host top-level tournaments. Maybe an increase of the number of matches in the ties would prevent a country with only a big player from succeeding and would provide a fairer representation of the real tennis power of a nation. Where players are right, instead, is on the calendar collocation of the Davis Cup. Such a big event can’t be placed in the week immediately after Wimbledon or the US Open: this is clearly an aspect that discourages the big names from taking part in it and on which the heads of the game should really work.

7. Only tennis’ top-notch amateurs should be allowed to compete in the Olympics. The lure of a gold medal would encourage young players to stay in college and wait longer to turn pro. The results would be more mature professionals and a purer Olympics.

To be admitted in the Olympics has been a great conquer for our sport. Though winning a gold medal will never be the same as winning a Major tournament for most of the players, you can’t deny that competing for your nation in a stage like the Olympics has a huge charm for any athlete. What would be the meaning of making amateurs compete at the Olympics? Do you really think a single person in the world would love to watch Mr. John Smith play on the Wimbledon Centre Court in 2012? Or do you think that a young who aims at becoming a professional tennis player would wait longer to turn pro, encouraged by the prospect of winning a gold medal for his/her country competing against other amateurs? Sports have changed since Pierre De Coubertin’s age. You can’t even think of sports today without thinking of the media and world-wide audiences. Tennis already struggles to find room on the general media. If played by amateurs, it would be completely cut off.

8. The service line should be moved three to six inches closer to the net. The serve has become far too important to tennis – especially at Wimbledon, where the best fans in the world sit patiently through rain delays, only to sit through boring serve-a-thons.

A lot (maybe too much…) has already been done to limit the service power over the last ten years. Indoor surfaces are no longer fast carpets, Wimbledon grass has higher and more regular rebounds (and there’s a roof on Wimbledon Centre Court, so… no more endless waiting for tennis…). I don’t remember a “service-only” player winning an important tournament in the last eight years. Maybe the last big success by a player who mostly based his game on service power has been the 2003 US Open won by Roddick. This point had sense maybe twenty years ago, in the era of Ivanisevic and Rosset. Tennis has moved on and has maybe gone too further on this aspect.

9. Let cords should be eliminated. Having to play all let serves would speed up the game and make it more exciting.

What would you think if, facing a match point, your opponent’s serve should hit the net and bounce just an inch beyond it? I would feel extremely angry…

10. Tennis players should be far more involved in charity work. The sport should champion a couple of causes as a group and try to make a difference – the kind of difference Andre Agassi and Andrea Jaeger have made, Andre with his school for disavantaged kids in Las Vegas, and Andrea with her Silver Lining Ranch for terminally ill children in Aspen, Colorado.

Again, much has changed on this aspect as well in recent years. I think the real turning point has been the “Rally for Relief” played in Indian Wells in 2005, that collected money for the populations hit by the tsunami in the Indian Ocean at the end of 2004. We have to give Roger Federer big credit on rising tennis world’s attention on charity. Maybe it’s never too much, but these events have increased by a great deal, compared to the past.

Article written by Tennis Buzz’s contributor Mauro Cappiello
Read the first part of the article»