by Florian Heer
The Hamburg European Open has a rich legacy that stretches back over a century, making it one of the oldest tennis events on the ATP Tour. With such a storied history, the tournament carries an air of tradition and prestige, attracting a stellar line-up of stars each year.
The top four seeds of the 2023 edition have arrived in northern Germany in order to kick off their Rothenbaum campaigns. Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev headline a star-studded field that includes third seed Lorenzo Musetti, who is the defending champion. Alexander Zverev leads home hopes as the fourth favourite.
Hometown hero Zverev looks back on past times
“I have been coming to the tournament since I was little. In the beginning, it was still a Masters event and held in April at four degrees Celsius with drizzling rain,” Zverev told journalists at a press conference on Monday. “My first significant memory is of the final between Federer and Nadal. Mischa used to warm up with Nadal before the matches, and I asked Federer for an autograph – in English – I was really proud of that.”
Following earlier events in Munich and Halle, Zverev will play for the third time this season on German soil at the Hamburg European Open. “There will probably be many spectators on-site, and I hope it will help me,” he said. “I believe that if I am healthy and get through the early rounds, I will be one of the favorites. I gladly accept that.”
The hometown hero Zverev will open his title bid on Tuesday afternoon against Alex Molcan of Slovakia, leading their head-to-head record 2-0.
“It’s the third clay-court tournament, where we will be facing each other,” Zverev said. “In Paris, I performed well and managed to win in three sets. Last week in Bastad, it was incredibly close with a 7-5 victory in the third set. He’s a challenging opponent for a first-round match. His style of play offers many options. Let’s see how it goes. I expect it to be a good match. For me, it’s about getting into the tournament and finding my rhythm.”
Musetti ready to defend his title
While Zverev is seeking his first title in 2023, the same goes for Musetti. After two semi-finals on clay this season, the 21-year-old reigning Hamburg champion from Italy is back in town.
“It’s always nice to return to Hamburg, especially after last year with such good memories. I played some really nice matches here and I am looking forward to start the tournament trying to defend the title,” said Musetti.
“Last year’s title probably helped to improve my tennis. It was a confirmation that I am able to keep the pace at this level. I cracked the Top 30 and reached a new career-high ranking position. Later in the season, I won another title and achieved some good results. Hamburg was kind of a starting point and has been one of the best moments of my career so far. It gave me a lot of confidence.”
The Carrara, Italy native will take on Swedish qualifier Elias Ymer in the first round.
“I have never faced Elias. I played many times with his brother Mikael but not with him. It will probably be a tricky opponent in the first round. We will see what’s going to happen,” Musetti said, sizing his upcoming opponent. He added: “I had a good last week in Bastad, hopefully I can be in good shape this week. I am feeling good, and I will try to stay focused, thinking not too much about the pressure of defending the title.”
Bastad finalists arrive in Hamburg
Rublev comes in fresh with a title win in Bastad, beating Hamburg’s top seed Ruud in the final. The World No. 7 has a successful history at the Hamburg European Open, lifting the trophy here in 2020 and reaching another final in 2019.
“I am happy to be back and very excited,” said Rublev, who took the same flight as the Norwegian to northern Germany. The 25-year-old will face Bernabe Zapata Miralles of Spain in the opening round.
“We know each other pretty well. He is a fighter and is physically very strong. His backhand is amazing. We need to find out his weakness to capitalize on it,” said Rublev. Ruud faces Argentine Sebastian Baez in his first-round encounter.
ATP main draw gets underway
Meanwhile, main draw action of the ATP 500 event began on Monday. Teenager Luca van Assche emerged victorious from the French Derby with Alexandre Muller, winning 7-6(3), 6-4 in two hours and 13 minutes. The 19-year-old champion of the 2021 Roland Garros Boys’ competition will next face either No. 7 seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain or last week’s Swiss Open Gstaad winner Pedro Cachin of Argentina.
Laslo Djere caused the upset of the day by knocking out sixth-seeded Argentine Tomas Martin Etcheverry 7-6(2), 6-3. The 57th-ranked Serbian will play Guido Pella of Argentina in the second round.
Pera survives Sonmez scare in first round
On the women’s side, defending Hamburg European Open champion Bernarda Pera overcame a tricky first-round match. She edged past Turkish qualifier Zeynep Sonmez 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 in one hour and 55 minutes.
“I am more relieved than happy. All credits to her. She played really well. I was missing a lot and I am sure that we will meet again in the future,” Pera told Barbara Schett during her post-match, on-court interview.
Up next for the No. 3 seed of the WTA 250 event will be Estonian veteran Kaia Kanepi, who beat Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvan 6-1, 6-4 in 74 minutes.
Also, local wild card entry Noma Noha Akugue notched her first tour-level win against World No. 142 Laura Pigossi of Brazil. The 19-year-old lefty from Hamburg broke her opponent’s serve five times to seal a 7-5, 6-4 victory in one hour and 53 minutes. Noha Akugue will next challenge either the tournament’s top seed Donna Vekic from Croatia or Australian Storm Hunter.