By René Denfeld of The Tennis Island

  • Florian Mayer [PR] def. Alexander Zverev 6-2 5-7 6-3
  • From a career in jeopardy to his second tour title

HALLE, GERMANY – The Tennis Island’s René Denfeld looks back at the week in “Germany’s Little Wimbledon” for Britwatch Sports.

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With the weather wreaking havoc across Europe over the course of the past few weeks, schedules at the French Open as well as the immediately subsequent grass court tournaments have been turned on their heads and players as well as spectators were forced to play the waiting game.

The pattern continued last week when play in Queen’s and Birmingham was regularly washed up – and while conditions were largely wet, grey and cold in Northern Germany at the Gerry Weber Open, play on Centre Court was disrupted for 90 seconds at most.

A quaint little town in North-Western Germany keeps celebrating the biggest men’s tennis event in Germany. Year after year over 100,000 visitors venture to Halle (Westfalen) for entertainment, food, beer, pretzels, waffles and yellow balls shooting through the (mostly) green lawns along the “Roger-Federer Allee” – the name of the street leading down to the tournament site giving a pretty good idea with regards to the lynchpin player to the tournament. Federer has a lifetime contract with the event.

Sitting in a golden slot of the calendar, the Gerry Weber Open has established itself as one of the tour’s most important events of its category, regularly vying for and attracting some of the biggest names in the game – much like its counterpart of the same category held in West Kensington at the same time.

Although the Queen’s Club might be trumping its German cousin when it comes to tradition, exclusivity and Pimm’s consumption, there is one feature that sets Halle apart from every other tournament leading up to Wimbledon – its roof, the pride and joy of the tournament organisation, which can be closed in last than one and half minutes.

In an semi-ironic twist of fate the German word “Halle” would best be translated as “hall” or “indoors-” even, and most of the players were pretty relieved to get through most of the matches without too many interruptions as opposed to the past few weeks.

“When you’re on court and you go on and off and on, it’s really tiring”, Dominic Thiem said throughout last week. “You constantly have to ramp the concentration from zero to hundred and back; it empties your batteries.

“After Paris and the finals in Stuttgart taking place across several days and delays, you’re pretty wiped in the evenings. It’s unlucky with the weather in Europe this year [..] but there’s not a lot you can do about it — unless you have a roof like here, which is great.”

While the Austrian had the privilege of playing underneath the often closed roof, some of the other players on the outer courts weren’t quite as lucky, with last year’s finalist Andreas Seppi being forced to play his second match on a rainy Wednesday out on Court 1.

“I served for the match at 6-3 5-0, saw that the skies were getting darker, hoped to somehow finish it but couldn’t and then we had to stop at 30-30”, Seppi explained after a “straight-forward” 6 hour match.

“It was a bit tough waiting cause I hadn’t really eaten since noon but that break was so long that I went back to the player’s hotel [n.b.: which is on the tournament site], showered and ate something, so that made it more comfortable and there will be the roof for the weekend which makes things a little easier.”

Just like last year, the Italian ended up losing to the eventual winner in Halle – while Seppi fell to the “landlord” of the Gerry Weber Open Centre Court, namely Federer, in the finals 2015, his 2016 conqueror and tournament Champion came from complete left-field.

After taking out the Italian and Thiem in the quarter- and semi-finals, Florian Mayer capped off a fairytale week over the weekend. The German veteran celebrated the biggest victory of his career after two difficult years which saw him struggle with injury and contemplating retirement — and amazingly enough, even the weather held up with sun illuminating Centre Court on Sunday, giving the roof a much deserved break.

The 32 year-old fought off ATP Next Gen Star Alexander Zverev in the finals, who had previously recorded his first Top10 win, defeating Roger Federer in the semifinals. With a lot of the German focus and pressure on the youngster after his upset over the 8 time champion, Mayer played his flat, variable grass court tennis to perfection, tangling up Zverev in a myriad of drop-shots, big serves, slices and rallies.

“I would say it’s my biggest win in my career to win a 500 ATP event here in Germany on grass in Halle.If you see the list of champions in the past here and now my name is on the poster, on the list, I cannot believe it, really!”, Mayer laughed on Sunday evening.

For his 19 year opponent, it was a tough end to an impressive week. In the finals Zverev just didn’t have the same match tension and focus that helped him prevail over his idol Roger Federer on the previous day and his frustration was palpable afterwards.

“I served worse than the days before, I did double-faults in important moments, in the third set, the way he broke me, I missed four shots. That can’t happen. I had a lot of 30 all chances which I played really bad at. He played very well. In the important moments he played very well. He deserves to win today, he was the better player. It’s as simple as that”, the ambitious teenager analysed rather soberly.

Still, it was a lot to build upon for the 19 year old, who will head into Wimbledon as a seeded played for the first time in his career one year after debuting in a Slam main draw — and his opponents continue to predict big things for the German.

“He’s a great talent, great guy, too. He’s got a big serve, he’s got a nice backhand, he’s improving his forehand and his movement forward. I think he’s working really hard, he’s serious about this and he has to be”, Federer assessed in Halle.

While Zverev will be avoiding the biggest name in the first round, Halle Champion Florian Mayer has proven that he’s one of the biggest floaters heading into Wimbledon and due to his title, he has jumped from World #192 to #80, kickstarting his comeback in the late autumn of his career on his beloved grass courts.

“The feeling on the grass will always be there — and it’ll never go away!”, the 32 year old smiled.

René Denfeld is a 28 year old tennis writer/weather frog from Frankfurt, Germany. He’s got a dodgy forehand, laserlike backhand and can be found over at The Tennis Island as well as on twitter @Renestance.

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