Clay Court Showdown: All Highlights from the Hamburg European Open 2023
Today’s tennis stars meet the future’s rising talents! The Hamburg European Open delivered an electrifying showcase of world-class players engaging in a captivating exchange on the prestigious Rothenbaum center court. Alongside the current tennis elite, the event introduced promising young talents poised to make their mark in the days ahead. Beyond the court, the audience also enjoyed a lineup of exciting off-court events…
⠀The top-seeded players⠀
CASPER RUUD (ATP 4)
ANDREY RUBLEV (ATP 7)
DONNA VEKIC (WTA 20)
BERNADA PERA (WTA 27)
Misfortune for Alexander Zverev: The local favorite had lost his passport at the airport. Fortunately, a new document could be swiftly issued, allowing him to continue his journey to Canada after the tournament. +++ Traveling also posed problems for the two top seeds, Andrey Rublev and Casper Ruud. The duo, who had contested the final of the 250-level tournament in Bastad just the previous Sunday, only arrived in Hamburg on Monday evening, significantly delayed and rather fatigued. +++ Weather played spoiler to several matches this year, leading to extended playing sessions due to numerous rain interruptions. The Round of 16 match between defending champion Lorenzo Musetti and Jozef Kovalik on Wednesday evening, held on one of the outdoor courts, even had to be suspended due to darkness and resumed the following day on the center court.
“It is a beautiful city and a fantastic tournament. My goal is to finally win an ATP 500 tournament. Why not here?”
Insights from the Hometown Hero Alexander Zverev
About his childhood memories of the tournament in his hometown:
I’ve been coming to the tournament since I was a little kid. My first vivid memory is the incredible final between Nadal and Federer, where Federer emerged victorious. I must have been around six or seven years old at the time. One of my earliest memories is also about approaching Federer and asking for an autograph. I even asked in English. I was really proud of that.
“I was born and raised in Hamburg, I did almost everything here for the first time in my life, these roots remain. There are few ATP tournaments in the world that I would like to win more than Hamburg.”
About his favorite places in Hamburg:
As kids, we used to go to Planten un Blomen Park very, very often. There was a huge playground where I enjoyed spending time. A typical day trip would involve going to the cinema next to (Dammtor, Editor’s note) station first, and then playing in the park. Even when the Hamburger Dom fair was there, it was always a highlight for me.
About the motivation behind founding his Alexander Zverev Foundation:
Conditions like diabetes are not often discussed. Therefore, there is little understanding among people who aren’t affected by diabetes. For me, it often happened that as a teenager or young child, I would go to doctors and was often told: ‘With diabetes, high-performance sports – you can forget about that immediately! Do something sensible instead. Go to school, pursue higher education, and make sure you get your life in order.’ I believe that both I and other athletes, like a player at Real Madrid, for example, who plays with diabetes, can now show that with this condition, anything is possible. With this condition, you can lead a normal life and pursue your dreams. That was a huge motivation for me. On the other hand, in different parts of the world like Africa or many parts of Asia, it’s not about leading a comfortable life, but about survival, because many children, many young people simply don’t have insulin or test strips. As a diabetic, you need to be well taken care of. You need access to necessary medications and care. So, one part is certainly about encouraging courage in children and young people, but the other part, and for me the much larger part, is that I want to try to provide all people out there – not only in Germany, not only in America, but everywhere in the world – the opportunity to lead a reasonable life with diabetes.
Hardly any of the tournament’s visitors left without this souvenir: The limited ATP Bottle by Waterdrop was highly sought after at the Hamburg European Open! The double-walled Steel Bottle with a bamboo cap could even be personalized on-site with visitors’ names or initials – just like the players who also drank from a bottle bearing their name on the court.
Legends Return to the Place of Their Successes
Celebrating female power: In a special reunion, legendary tennis figures gathered at the historic Rothenbaum venue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). Among them was Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, a three-time champion of the Hamburg Women’s Tournament, who returned to her former stage of triumph 23 years after her last appearance in the final. “I am truly glad to be back. The Hamburg audience has given me so much, and I have felt genuinely loved here. Someone even asked me on the plane if I am still playing,” expressed the Spanish athlete. Alongside Sánchez Vicario, tennis luminaries such as Helga Masthoff, Eva Pfaff, and Isabel Cueto-Baumann also graced the event. Together on the Friday of the tournament, these revered ladies raised a toast to the organization’s milestone, relishing birthday cake and indulging in cherished memories within the VIP Champions Club. On Saturday, Swiss tennis icon Martina Hingis also made an appearance, attending the festivities with her daughter. Reflecting on her bond with Hamburg, Hingis noted, “This city holds a special place in my heart. It’s where I played my first final and celebrated my first doubles victory. I’m genuinely thrilled by the invitation and excited to return after all these years.”
⠀Who is watching?⠀
Boris Hermann (professionalsailor)
Hadi Teherani (architect)
Johannes Strate (singer)
Laura Noltemeyer(social media star)
Beyond the Baseline: Off-Court Delights
Not just on the court, but also off it, visitors to the Hamburg European Open had abundant opportunities for a rich experience. A spacious food court offered excellent catering during the extended tournament days. In the Public Village, talented artists provided daily live music. Furthermore, guests were able to enjoy engaging activities. There was particularly much on offer for young tennis fans. On the first Sunday of the tournament and the subsequent Monday, children up to 16 years old even enjoyed free admission. Additionally, they could anticipate a range of highlights, including interactive activities at the Kids’ Court, autograph sessions with tennis stars, a children’s press conference featuring Kevin Krawietz, Tim Pütz, and Andrea Petković, as well as the chance to engage in painting and crafting with Andrey Rublev.
He is en route to the global tennis elite – Zhizhen Zhang, China’s top-ranked player, is currently shattering records and has also made his mark in Hamburg…
“He is my absolute favorite player – spectacular gameplay, immense charisma, an absolute superstar to me,” says tournament ambassador Andrea Petkovic about China’s Zhizhen Zhang. The 26-year-old from Shanghai is currently having the best season of his career and breaking all records: In 2022, he became the first Chinese player to enter the Top 100. By now, he has even reached the 53rd spot. He made history by becoming the first Chinese player to reach the quarterfinals in Madrid. At the French Open, he became the first player from China to reach the third round and qualified for Wimbledon and the US Open – another first for his country. Now he also made it to the semifinals in Hamburg, showcasing his talent.
His response to the compliment from Petkovic: I’m very surprised to hear that, but of course, it also makes me happy. However, I believe I still have a long way to go before reaching that level. I have established myself among the top 100, but there is still much room for improvement. It’s crucial to maintain my level and consistently perform well while seeking continuous progress.
About his last year: Last year was quite tough. I played all the challengers and didn’t go back home to China due to the Covid situation and quarantine restrictions. On the other hand, it was pretty good for us, as we achieved some good results during that time.
This is what he says about his compatriot Yibing Wu and tennis in China: We are two different types of players. I tend to focus more on clay courts, whereas he excels on hard courts. Yibing and I push each other, and we also bring hope to other players. They can at least see positive results from us, which might make them believe they can achieve it too. We are giving our best, and hopefully, young kids and aspiring players can look up to us and follow our example.
About Ivan Ljubicic, former coach of Roger Federer, who has been spotted in his box in Hamburg: First, I met him a long time ago, and I also practice at his academy in Lošinj, Croatia. Whenever I have time, I go there. Last year, I practiced there quite a lot during the European swing. If I had a week off, I would go there to train. But he’s not my coach – although I wish he was.
About the secret of his game on clay court: Clay court is really tough, it’s really tiring. If I have a lot of time to hit the ball, I feel quite comfortable. There is no secret.Just close my eyes, hit the ball, and then let’s see.
Even the young aspiring stars received a platform at the Hamburg Open. On Friday and Saturday, a unique junior tournament took place on the side courts of the venue. During the Girls Nations Cup, a miniature version of the Billie Jean King Cup, U13 teams from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands competed against each other.
⠀The Most Intense Showdowns⠀
These matches provided a particularly thrilling spectacle:
The top-seeded players certainly didn’t hold back in their opening matches, going the distance right from the start. The final match from last Sunday in Bastad seemed to still weigh heavily on both of them. “I’m tired,” admitted Andrey Rublev, and it was evident in his appearance as well. Nevertheless, he managed to come out on top in an intense, gripping, and hard-fought match against Spain’s Bernabe Zapata Miralles, with a score of 5-7, 6-1, 7-6 (9-7). Likewise, Casper Ruud struggled but secured a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 victory over Argentina’s Sebastian Báez. The rain-soaked court on the Center Court, which didn’t quite dry properly due to the closed roof, also posed challenges for the two top stars. It took away a significant amount of pace from their typically powerful game and facilitated returns for their opponents. The tension was palpable in both the women’s and men’s final matches. With a local hero making it to the last round in each category, the atmosphere in the stadium was electric. In the final of the Hamburg European Open, Dutch player Arantxa Rus emerged victorious over hometown favorite Noma Noha Akugue with a score of 6-0, 7-6 (7-3). Under the closed roof and in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,000 spectators on Center Court, Hamburger Alexander Zverev showcased a moment of brilliance with a stunning lob to secure an intriguing first set. The No. 4 seed of the ATP 500 event continued to display a high-class performance, securing the decisive break in the eighth game of the second set to claim a 5-3 lead. Zverev won 55 percent of the total points played and succeeded in one hour and 50 minutes, ultimately defeating Serbia’s Laslo Djere 7-5, 6-3.
REASONS TO VISIT HAMBURG EUROPEAN OPEN
1 Double dose of tennis: One of the best things about the Hamburg Open is that it is a combined event – the sole one in Germany – featuring both men’s and women’s competitions. This unique setup provides a rich array of matches to enjoy, with the event’s Super Tuesday being a prime example, offering a jam-packed schedule of 25 matches in a single day.
2 Up close with the stars: Imagine this: you’re strolling around the grounds, and suddenly, one of the top players, en route to practice, crosses your path and takes a moment for an autograph or selfie. At the Hamburg Open, fans can get up close with their favorite stars. Especially the kids benefit from autograph and even training sessions with their tennis heroes.
3 City-center venue: Unlike most tournament locations, the Rothenbaum Stadium is conveniently situated in the heart of Hamburg’s downtown. Not only is getting there a breeze, but you also have ample time for sightseeing during breaks, making it a complete and convenient experience. Plus, you’ll find charming restaurants in the vicinity!
⠀A STAR IS BORN⠀
During the Hamburg European Open, Noma Noha Akugue has taken the tennis world by storm. The 19-year-old German has demonstrated a remarkable blend of determination and talent that defies her age. Born into a family with a sporting legacy, her father, Roland Obazelu, was a former lightweight boxer and an avid admirer of Steffi Graf. However, tennis became Noma’s chosen path. Introduced to the sport at the age of three in Glinde, a small town in northern Germany, she embarked on a journey that has captivated the world’s attention. Notably, she achieved the distinction of becoming the youngest-ever German tennis champion at just 17 years old. Making her ATP main draw debut at the Hamburg European Open, Noma Noha Akugue accomplished an exceptional feat by reaching the tournament’s final. Originally ranked 207th in the world, Noha Akugue was initially slated for the qualifying rounds. However, due to the withdrawals of other players, she earned a wildcard entry into the main tournament. Throughout her journey, she triumphed over opponents like Brazil’s Laura Pigossi, Australia’s Storm Hunter, Italy’s Martina Trevisan, and Russia’s Diana Maximowna Schneider. Her impressive run culminated in a final match against the Netherlands’ Arantxa Rus, who is 13 years her senior. Noma’s achievements have left an indelible impression on those who have witnessed her growth. Five years ago, she was first admitted to the German Tennis Federation’s youth squad under the guidance of national coach Barbara Rittner. “She is incredibly diligent. We knew she had the potential to succeed on the tour, but the speed of her progress surprises me,” said Rittner, who was coaching Noma alongside Andrea Petkovic during the tournament because Noma currently doesn’t have her own coach. Benjamin Ebrahimzadeh, who has previously worked with Angelique Kerber, had been her coach until April and certainly facilitated her development. In the spring, he answered the call from Austria’s Dominic Thiem – leaving Noma without a coach. However, the left-hander still managed to reach the top! Following her runner-up finish at the Hamburg European Open, her ranking soared from 207th to 142nd, marking a new personal best. “I saw that I have what it takes to compete with the best players,” she said. “The hard work has paid off, and I hope I can keep playing like this.”
The last two days of the tournament were dedicated to inclusion – featuring interactive activities, a talk, and the grand finale of a Nations Cup match between Germany and Austria. The German team consisted of Britta Wend and Tony Dittmar, while the Austrian team was composed of Tina Pesendorfer and Nico Langmann. Ultimately, the Austrian team secured the victory and was celebrated during the coin toss before the men’s final on the Center Court.
After their victories, the champions of the Hamburg European Open proceeded to the traditional winner’s photoshoot in front of the City Hall. “I am very happy and can hardly believe it,” says Arantxa Rus, reflecting on the biggest success of her career, which she dedicated to her father who passed away four months ago. In addition to the trophy, she received a winner’s prize of €29,760 and earned 280 points in the world rankings. This achievement propels her to the 42nd position in the world rankings, marking the highest ranking of her career. Alexander Zverev‘s upward trajectory continues as well. The World No. 19 earned €342,500 in prize money along with 500 ATP Ranking points. Furthermore, he has etched his name in the annals of tournament history. Zverev has become the first men’s champion from Germany at the Rothenbaum Tennis Complex since Michael Stich achieved the feat in 1993. “This title means a lot to me, winning the tournament where I was born. It’s a very emotional moment for me and my family. It’s also emotional due to the challenges I faced over the past year and a half. It wasn’t easy. I can’t describe it in words. I’m just incredibly happy right now,” said Zverev.