This article first appeared on Campden Hill LTC Website, May 2017.
Halle (The Gerry Weber Open) Tournament, Katrina Allen
Have you been lucky enough to see the sublime Roger Federer play live? This time last year, I hadn’t, and was pretty desperate to do so before he retired.
And then I came across William Skidelsky’s book ‘Federer and Me, a Story of an Obsession’. It’s a brilliant read, both funny and informative but, best of all, in his chapter about the German tournament in Halle, he revealed how I might realise my dream. For this is where Federer plays his Wimbledon warm-up and where he has a lifetime contract (so there’s no chance of seeing him at the rival tournament at Queen’s). And, unlike Queen’s, there’s a sliding roof so play is guaranteed in the main stadium where they naturally schedule all his matches.
The tickets are a steal and there’s always a great line-up which last year, apart from Federer, included the likes of Dustin Brown, Gulbis, Baghdatis, and Berdych.
If you don’t speak the lingo, nab a German speaker, as the website is slightly complicated and, naturally, in German. After a bit of confusion, I finally managed to book my tickets and they came through in the post within a few days.
One word of warning: I might well have done what Skidelsky himself almost did, which was to book a flight to Leipzig near the other, much larger Halle (Saale) in east Germany. This one is Halle-Westfalen, near Hanover.
So, I flew to Hanover and got the train to Bielefeld, a really vibrant and untouristy town, where I’d booked an airbnb. From there it’s just a 30 minute train ride to the tournament.
Since Halle is so out of the way, the tournament has a very local feel. You’re unlikely to hear much English. Food stores galore (with many strange but delicious local specialities, including the rather scary raw pork mince baguettes) and, of course, brilliant beer. I wandered into the much smaller stadium, beer in hand, and saw a great match between Baghdatis and Dustin Brown.
But this tournament is all about Roger, really. After all, he’s won it eight times. It may as well be called the Roger Federer Open. Even the path leading to the players’ hotel is called Roger Federer Alle. It was changed a few years ago from Stichstrasse, presumably named after Michael Stich who, I suspect, wasn’t too happy about that.
I saw Fed win two matches and he was, of course, majestic. You just don’t get the same sense of his power and fluidity on the t.v., and it’s even more fun seeing him in such an intimate setting.
I also managed to wangle a press pass (now that wouldn’t have been possible at Queen’s at the last minute), which meant I saw him from the press benches and went to his after-match conferences. Unlike the press conference bunfights at Queen’s and Wimbledon, there can’t have been more than 15 people. “English questions first please” went the press officer. And since there was only one other English journalist, I got to talk to him. O.K., my questions were pretty pathetic but he took me seriously and for a few blissful minutes it was just me and him, having a chat….
After I left, he lost to the local boy Alexander Zverev in the semis, the first time he’d lost to a teenager in over 10 years and I was relieved that I’d managed to see him in the nick of time. Or so I thought, because he then won the Aussie Open. How silly of me to write him off.
He may well be playing at Halle for a few years yet but just in case this one is his last appearance and you’ve never seen him live, you’d be mad not to go if you have the chance. I reckon you could get flights, three days of tickets and an airbnb for two people for about the same cost as equivalent tickets at Queens (if you can get them). I know where I’d rather be, especially if it’s pouring with rain.
But get onto it now before they sell out.
This year’s tournament is from 17th – 25th June.