Hamburg Masters History

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 3: German baron Gottfried von Cramm hits a backhand during a match at France Tennis Open 03 June 1936 in Paris. Von Cramm won the tournament twice in 1934 and 1936. (STF/AFP/Getty Images)
The history of the Hamburg Masters is fast reaching its conclusion. The flourishing event, which has attracted literally thousands of spectators over its 116 years, has been relegated by the ATP to a minor tournament. The People’s Republic of China will be the fortunate recipient of a new, revised Masters Series calendar in 2009.

The event began in 1892 in a city decimated by disease, and the first tennis courts were really off-season ice-skating rinks. Not even plummeting spring temperatures could keep the ardent tennis players and supporters away from the site, which is now Rothenbaum. Germany’s Walter Bonne claimed the first men’s singles title after 25 long days of intense competition.

During the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm, the tennis courts were large grass fields which, during the winter, were flooded with water in an attempt to form an ice rink. In those days the tournament was said to be ‘at Uhlenhorst’ or ‘in front of the Dammthor’, which described the ice skating ‘fields’. These fields are now the impressive Rothenbaum Tennis Centre in central Hamburg.

Around the time of the First World War there was one man who virtually owned the tournament – Otto von Froitzheim. Making Hamburg Masters history, he claimed the title an incredible seven times, a record which has never been matched in the ensuing 82 years, and now, with the demise of the Hamburg Masters, will never be matched, let alone beaten.

In 1925 Rothenbaum gained a reputation as a stadium of ‘functionalism and grandeur’ far surpassing that of the other European venues. The city fathers made every effort to successfully clinch a Grand Slam tournament, but lost out to the Wimbledon Championships of the All England Club and the French Open at the Stade de France, now Roland Garros.

For two decades from the 1930s, Gottfried von Cramm reigned supreme. He and partner Henner Henkel dominated the European tennis scene right up until Adolf Hitler and the Nazis spoilt their party. Henkel sadly lost his life during the invasion of Russian, but von Cramm survived and helped to revive tennis in shattered Germany. It was only in 1948 that the German Tennis Federation was allowed back into world tennis.

1964 saw the first all-German final, with Wilhelm Bungert and Christian Kuhnke battling it out in front of a capacity crowd of 7 200 spectators. It was a long 29 years before a German would claim the title again, and Michael Stich did just that in 1993 when he beat Russia’s Andrei Chesnokov in four sets 6-3 6-7 7-6 6-4. Since then no German has been successful at Rothenbaum.

In 1985 temperatures dropped dramatically and snow and ice covered the venue, but nothing was going to deter eventual winner Miloslav Mecir from Czechoslovakia. Battling six-degree temperatures, he claimed the title from Sweden’s Henrik Sundstrom without dropping a set.

It took the organisers a full 15 years to agree to swop the dates of the Hamburg Masters with the clay court competition in Rome, thus alleviating the problem of inclement weather which had plagued the Hamburg Masters since its inception. The dates were moved up by one month.