The Admirable Chaos of the German Open
Ten years ago, the ATP screwed over the German Open in Hamburg. For the unaware, there was once a Masters 1000 event in Hamburg. It was important! Everyone played it. Then, the rich guys behind the Madrid Open came calling with a shiny offer to become the new Masters 1000 on clay. With dollar signs in their eyes, the ATP bosses downgraded Hamburg to a 500 and moved them to the middle of July. This triggered a threefold demolition of the German Open’s purpose:
1. The downgrade from 1000 to 500.
2. The movement away from the main European clay season in April-May to the lesser clay season after Wimbledon in July.
3. The previous two reasons ensuring no top player would ever want to play in Hamburg before the American hard court season. In fact, with the 250 in Atlanta taking place in the same week, it’s during the American hard court season.
Thus, the tournament that first began in 1892 was relegated to complete tennis backwater. Previous champions of the German open include Roy Emerson, Ivan Lendl, Gustavo Kuerten, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal. No longer. These days, only top player who seems to love this event is Dominic Thiem, who was truly put on this earth so that he could play obscure European clay events in German-speaking nations.
This means the German Open, for most intents and purposes, essentially serves as a great way for formerly mediocre tour players to rack up points, the tournament is a gold mine for clay court players to rack up enough points to keep them in the top 100. Since Nadal won in 2015, only one tournament finalist ever received a top-four seed in the draw (that was No. 3 seed Pablo Cuevas, who promptly lost to No. 7 seed Martin Klizan). There hasn’t been a single seeded player in the semifinals in two years.
This all often leads to hilarious results. Who can forget qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili’s run in 2018, or Federico Delbonis defeating Federer in straight sets in 2013? What about Fabio Fognini’s first-ever 500 title as a No. 12 seed in that same year?
Throughout the years of Zombie Hamburg, the tournament has shown one consistency: the ability of random Argentine dirtballers to earn more points and prize money than they could ever have hoped for. In recent years, the tournament has been dominated by…Leonardo Mayer. Seriously, Mayer won the tournament in 2014, won as a lucky loser in 2017, and made the final in 2018. He’s 15-4 in Hamburg over his career, accounting for a full 8% of his tour-level wins over a professional career that has spanned 16 years. [Sadly, we won’t get the return of MayerMania, as he lost in the first round to 18-year-old Rudolf Molleker.]
Other dominant forces in Hamburg include Federico Delbonis, who made a miracle run to the final as a qualifier (beating Federer, as previously mentioned). Juan Monaco also won in 2012. And then, of course, there’s Fabio Fognini, who thrives off winning scrappy titles in obscure places around the world. Fabio may have broke into the top 10 after winning the Monte-Carlo Masters, but he’s still out there grinding it out in Hamburg. I mean, what else can you expect from the 2013 champion and 2015 finalist?
Thus, tennis in Hamburg is more often than not a total circus. The event hands out four wild cards to young German players, who often shock unmotivated veterans (see Molleker, Rudolf). The tennis played is almost performance art. The center stadium is huge and opulent from its time as a premier destination on the calendar, but the tennis being played on the court is generally total trash.
And so, what should we make of this tennis event? There are very few things being done for thousands of dollars that can be construed as “pretty nonsensical”. We should cherish them for their stupidity. We cannot let them die. An orphaned tennis tournament is a beautiful site. Someday, the ATP might downgrade them to a 250. Then a Challenger. Someday, it will become the Hamburg Futures, or it will simply cease to exist forever. From dust we rise, and to European red clay we shall descend.