Tennis’ short grass court season gets underway in the second week of June, and the ATP 250 tournament in Halle is one of the most popular Wimbledon lead-up events.
The first Gerry Weber Open was held in 1993 in Halle, a relatively small town in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Flamboyant Frenchman Henri Leconte was the inaugural winner of the event, which has grown in significance and prestige over the last two decades. Some of the biggest names in recent tennis history have travelled to Halle in a bid to fine-tune their grass court games prior to Wimbledon.
The tournament venue, the Gerry Weber Stadion, is one of the most sophisticated tennis arenas in the world. Boasting a seating capacity of 12,300, it also has a retractable roof that can be closed in just 88 seconds, making play possible regardless of the weather.
Only three men have ever won the Gerry Weber Open more than once. The first multiple champion was Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who triumphed in 1997, 1998 and 2002. In 2009, Tommy Haas became the fourth of five Germans to win the tournament; he picked up a second Halle trophy in 2012.
But Roger Federer leads the roll of honour with five titles. The Swiss was unstoppable in Halle from 2003 - 2006, years in which he also went on to win Wimbledon. Federer was the champion again in 2008, disappointing the home crowd with a comprehensive defeat of Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Hewitt def. Federer, 2010 final:
Roger Federer entered the 2010 final riding a 29-match winning streak in Halle. In fact, he had won 76 of his last 77 matches on grass, the only defeat coming at the hands of Rafael Nadal in the epic 2008 Wimbledon final. In the showpiece, he faced Lleyton Hewitt, a player he had beaten 15 times in a row and who was considered by many to be past his prime.
The beginning of the match followed a familiar pattern. Federer dictated points with pinpoint groundstrokes and impressive serving, while Hewitt scampered and scrambled for every ball. Federer broke in the sixth game and held convincingly thereafter to take the first set 6-3.
However, Hewitt, one of the most dogged competitors in the history of the sport, was not ready to go down without a fight, and stated his intentions by breaking his rival in the opening game of the second set. Federer broke back immediately, and after several games dominated by the server, had three break point chances at 4-4, 0-40. But the tenacious Aussie stared down each one, pushing the set to a tie-break which he won by seven points to four.
Disconcertingly for Federer, and his legions of fans in the Gerry Weber Stadion, the unforced errors began to pile up at the start of the deciding set. In contrast, Hewitt became a paragon of consistency, and immediately broke serve. Federer managed to hold for the next few games, and had several opportunities to erase his opponent’s advantage - especially at 30-40 on the Hewitt serve in the tenth game - but the underdog continued to hustle. Two points later, the 2002 Wimbledon champion secured victory when the ball clipped the tape and dropped dead on Federer’s side of the court.
Video: Hewitt v Federer, 2010
- In 2012, the tournament officials renamed the street leading to the main stadium “Roger-Federer-Alle” in honour of the five-time champion.
- In 2005, Federer teamed up with compatriot Yves Allegro to beat Marat Safin and Joachim Johansson and win a rare doubles title. Safin was also Federer’s opponent in the singles final that year.
- Rafael Nadal played in Halle in 2005 and 2012, but didn’t advance beyond the second round in either year.
- Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman reached the doubles final three times, more than any other player.