Courtside at an ATP 500 event

Sitting courtside at a grass-court ATP500 event is sure an awesome experience. And at the GERRY WEBER OPEN it is even more special and here are the reasons why.

For one, the centre court here has been built in a manner that ensures that one has a great view of the play regardless of where one is seated. Over the last 3 days I have had seats in the Gallery, Lower Tier (or Unterrang) and Lower-Tier Box and the view from all these seats were really good. Of course, the closer one is to the action the better it always is – but being close to the action is not easily done all the time.

Two, as one of the two key events that work as a warm-up for the Wimbledon a couple of weeks later, it has managed to attract the best players over the year. And, of course, there is Roger Federer who has graced this tournament from before he won his first at Wimbledon, won it 9 times, etc. Which was the main draw for coming here for all of us.

Three, it is GRASS. For folks like me who grew up watching Wimbledon on TV during the 80’s in India (and those were the only two weeks of tennis telecast that we would get during the year), tennis equals grass-court tennis. Even today. Some 35 years later. Maybe it is the romanticist in me, but there is something about tennis on the grass courts that feels like a throwback to an older era.

Six of us, courtside, on Court No 1. We were watching the Tsitsipas vs Pouille match, one that I expected would be interesting. And our first live view of Stefanos.
The nice thing about Halle is that seats on courts other than the Center Court are free. So, one could just go and plonk anywhere and see an ATP grass-court match as close as one could. I had earmarked the Tsitsipas vs Pouille match as one to watch on Day 2 – the former, in my view, will be an interesting player to watch in the coming decade (along with Shapovalov) and the latter won this tournament in 2016. It was a great experience seeing a match up this close, though the match itself wasn’t as close as I thought it would be.
Stefanos’ serving action up close in Court 1. Stefanos winning 6-2 7-6 quite easily (iPhone click)
Gasquet in action against Florian Mayer in a losing effort on Day 2 (iPhone click)
Federer was also up on Day 2 (Tuesday) – I had expected that he would play his first match only on Wednesday and hadn’t really got the best seats for Day 2. Apparently, he was all warmed up after his victory in Stuttgart a few days back and was raring to go early in Halle. Damn! And, to top it all, there was a security rule of “not more than 50mm” lens being allowed into the venue (and they forgot to update that on their website) – and all I was toting was my 70-200, double damn!! So, I had to make do with my iPhone. The match against Bedene was a typical Federer-esque early-rounds one – a few magical shots to keep all of us ooh-ing and aah-ing while the maestro comes through in straight sets (6-3 6-4 the scoreline read).
That effortless, smooth service action of the maestro and the leap before he makes contact on the ball, sending it precisely where he intends it to land (iPhone click)

Three days in, the event had truly warmed up and it was a lovely sunny day. Some nice matches were slated to be played in the Round of 16 and we had seats right next to the court. This time around I was prepared for their “not more than 50mm” lens rule with a 11-16mm (which, nevertheless, took a few mins to explain to the security folks – hello, 16 ist kleiner als 50, nicht?)

We had Kei (Nishikori) vs Karen Khachanov & Stefanos (Tsitsipas) vs Denis Kudla that I wanted to watch and was planning on skipping the last match of the day, Thiem vs Sugita., to have a nice dinner in town. It was a lovely sunny day and the overhead sun, as it moved across the court during the afternoon play, did cause some lens flares – which I thought was quite cool and gave a nice feel of reality to some of the images.
Karen Khachanov serving in his match against Kei. I thought that this one would be close, probably a 3-setter. But, Kei was probably not in his elements.

Seeing professional tennis players so close was quite something. They do make it seem all quite effortless when we see them on TV, but the effort that went into their strokes could be clearly heard from our courtside seats.

Kei with his trademark shot, a leaping backhand cross-court winner

The three young tennis fans in the family were clearly very thrilled to be watching the action from right next to the court. And the two girls were thrilled to be able to get Karen Khachanov’s autograph right after the match.

3 young tennis fans, courtside

I am pretty sure that Federer was the main draw on Day 4 – his match was the third scheduled on the centre court and the seats filled up quickly just before the match was to begin.

A view of the Centre Court just before start of play on Day 4 (an iPhone pano)

Paire played out of his skin after a routine 6-3 first set to Federer. Federer had a few lapses in his service games in the second and that was enough of an opening for Paire to grab the second 6-3. They went hammer and tongs at each other in the third with Federer managing to eke out a couple of match points on Paire’s serve, which Paire negotiated safely through. And in the tie-break, went down 2 match points before somehow conjuring a win. Was good to see the fight in the maestro and a reminder that even at 36, he is not a man to throw in the towel at any stage.

Federer in action on his Day 4 match against Paire – one in which he pulled a rabbit out of a hat and escaped (an iPhone click)

Day 4 was the last that we saw of sunny days during the tournament. The next 3 days were forecast to be wet and cold. But a Centre Court with a retractable roof meant that there would be little disruption expected to the proceedings. All the 4 quarter-finals were scheduled for the Friday with Sugita vs Kudla starting off the proceedings, followed by Federer vs Ebden, then Khachanov vs Bautista Agut and then Seppi vs Coric.

A stitched iPhone pano (of 4 images) view from where we were seated for the quarterfinals (Unterrang C Row 9, seats 41-44). Shot in a manual mode on the iPhone and stitched together on Lightroom.

The Ebden match turned out to be quite a routine victory for Federer,  despite Ebden taking a service-and-volley approach to the entire match hoping to put Federer off his stride. Agut vs Khachanov was a grass-court baseline slugfest and Coric continued to impress everyone in his straight-set victory over Seppi. Sugita seemed to be a bit off colour in his match and went down in straight sets to Denis Kudla, setting up a Kudla-Federer semifinals on one side of the draw  with Agut and Coric setting up for another baseline slugfest on the other side.

Federer warming up before his semi-final match against Kurla

The semi-final day turned out to be another wet and cold day and that meant that the matches would be played under the roof. The first set of Federer’s match turned out to be quite tight, with Kudla not really giving any free points and the tie-breaker promised to be interesting. But Federer showed a clean pair of heels to run away a 7-1 winner in the tiebreak and take the first set. From which point there could be only one result from this tie. The Coric-Agut match promised to be a slug-fest – unfortunately, Agut took a big tumble after being wrong-footed at 3-2 in the first set and had to concede – which set up an interesting Coric-Federer finals. We had planned this trip to watch Federer on grass in Halle nearly a year ago and we were now rewarded with 5 matches of the maestro in the tournament regardless of the outcome in the finals, couldn’t have really asked for more.

One thought on “Courtside at an ATP 500 event

  1. Pankaj Dutt says:

    We’ll shared Sam….reading your blog made me feel as I was there by your side.
    Not allowing more than 50mm is a bummer….particularly for tennis and photography enthusiasts like yourself. ( Fir the time being we’ll relegate your first love ‘GOLF’, out of this conversation….
    But, yes, I get that it was all about the experience…up close and friendly.

    Good read…keep it coming!


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