The highlight of the tennis year will be in Wimbledon in just over two weeks. As far as the field of participants is concerned, the women’s lawn tournament on the LTTC Rot-Weiss facility at the Hundekehle is more than just a preparatory event.
Even if the top three in the world rankings, Iga Swiatek, Anett Kontaveit and Paula Badosa, as well as the former world number ones Naomi Osaka and Wiktoria Asarenka, have canceled their participation, there are still many very strong players from the top 20.
“Of course, these cancellations are a pity, but the starting field is still very strong,” says former world-class player Barbara Schett, who accompanies the tournament as an expert for Servus TV. From Monday, the station will broadcast the games daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., as well as the semi-finals and finals at the weekend. “Just before Wimbledon, Berlin is a good opportunity to get used to the grass. After last year, word got around what a great tournament this is,” says Schett.
The Austrian knows the facility from the time when clay was played here – for the last time in 2008. For Schett, there are very different reasons why the current generation also likes to travel to Berlin. In addition to the favorable scheduling before Wimbledon, the prize money (823,000 US dollars, around 775,000 euros) and the attractiveness of the city for the tournament in Berlin speak for Schett. “It depends on each player how focused she is and what type of guy she is. As a player, you are usually interested in going to different restaurants and at least seeing a few sights,” says the 46-year-old.
And last but not least, it is an advantage that Barbara Rittner is in charge of the event as director. “When a former player is tournament director, you feel much more attracted as an athlete, or understood, because you talk to each other on the same level,” says Schett, who traveled the world for many years as a former number seven in the world.
Ironically, Germany’s best player Angelique Kerber is not traveling to Berlin. After her third-round failure at the French Open, Kerber cited a lack of appreciation from the Berlin organizers as a reason for not wanting to compete in the capital.
“We called Paris and cleared it up. There was indeed a misunderstanding due to an ill-formulated email,” said tournament director Barbara Rittner of the German Press Agency. Nevertheless, the three-time Grand Slam tournament winner Kerber could not bring herself to start in Berlin.
In addition to Sabine Lisicki, who is taking part in the qualification after a year and a half break in Berlin and won her first game 6: 4, 6: 4 against Asia Muhammad (USA) on Saturday, the focus from a German perspective is primarily on Andrea Petkovic, who is set for the main draw thanks to the wild card. “It’s important for the atmosphere at a tournament that you have players from your own country,” says Schett.
Things are currently not looking so good at the top of the German Tennis Association. The quality of the field is all the more important.
How important tournaments like the one in Berlin are to promote women’s tennis has once again become clear in the past few days. Ironically, Amelie Mauresmo, the former world number one and multiple winner of Grand Slam tournaments, caused discussions as tournament director of the French Open. By making a later qualified statement that men’s games “currently have more appeal and attractiveness”.
Only Alize Cornet and Jelena Ostapenko had played on the large Philippe Chatrier court in the night session in Paris. All other appointments were reserved for male colleagues. “If a men’s match lasts four hours and a women’s match only one, then I can understand that the spectators might stay away,” says Schett. “But it just shows that there is still a big piece missing for equality.”
Since 2007, women and men have received the same prize money at the Grand Slam tournaments. However, “on the WTA tour we don’t have nearly as many opportunities to play and earn money as the men on the ATP,” says Schett. Above all, she refers to the fundamental reputation of women’s tennis. “Ever since I started playing tennis, I’ve always felt the need to justify playing tennis as a woman.”
However, Schett does not think it is expedient to concentrate exclusively on the fact that women’s matches are usually shorter because only three instead of five winning sets are played. “To get to the top, women have to invest at least as much as men, so train six to seven hours a day.”
How great the pressure must be is shown by the fact that numerous top players have revealed mental problems in the recent past: Naomi Osaka repeatedly suffers from bouts of depression, Coco Gauff, who at the age of 18 is only at the beginning of what is probably a great career, also commented about mental problems. Simona Halep suffered a panic attack on court at the recent French Open and Ashleigh Barty retired in March aged 25. She spoke of being “used up”.
Barbara Schett sees several reasons for this. Unlike before, there is less shyness about addressing the challenges of professional sport. In addition, Schett believes that many players questioned and got to know each other more intensively during the corona crisis. “Many people realize over time how electrified they are in their lives. As a tennis pro, you travel around the world ten months a year.”
The current generation of top players is also characterized by using their celebrity to point out global grievances. Gauff protested against gun violence after the recent rampage in Texas. Osaka regularly takes a stand against racism, also because she has to experience it herself again and again. Although the main focus in the coming days will be on sporting achievements, these facets can help to promote women’s tennis and its protagonists.