By Florian Heer
(July 7, 2014) STUTTGART – 2014 is an historic year for the ATP 250 Tournament in Stuttgart. This week is the last in which the Mercedes Cup will take place on clay. Due to modifications on the ATP World Tour calendar in 2015 with three weeks between Roland Garros and Wimbledon, the event will change its surface to grass. In co-operation with the All England Lawn Tennis Club, transition began on 12th August 2013 and this July the first court at the venue of the TC Weissenhof has become ready for some tennis action played on the green.
No other than seven-time Grand Slam Champion John McEnroe and former Wimbledon winner Michael Stich were the first to step on the new grass in Stuttgart for a show match on Monday afternoon. Both also captured the doubles title together at Wimbledon in 1992 and talked to the media earlier the day.
“Since the seventies the players wanted an extra week between the French and Wimbledon because it was very difficult to make that transition so quickly, as the courts were a lot different that time,” McEnroe said. “I think it will be great for the players as well as for events like Stuttgart to have the opportunity coming before the big events than after the big events,” the former world No. 1 added about the importance of the Mercedes Cup being part of the new “ATP Road to Wimbledon” project. “Obviously I was doing a lot of commentating at Wimbledon but I did have the chance to play with some juniors, which was nice. I also played with my brother, so yes, I did have the chance for some practice but only for about four hours a day and the grass looks greener here than in Wimbledon,” McEnroe added with a smile about his preparation for the show match.
“This transition to grass is a big chance for Stuttgart. The tournament has a long tradition and it is also a nice fact that the venue will remain the same with only the date and the surface changing,” Michael Stich said. “It is also quite a courageous act from the organizers to implement the project. For Germany it is a great story and I’m pretty sure that the players will like and accept the new surface. Furthermore, I’ll properly remain the last German winning this tournament on clay,” the Mercedes Cup champion from 1991 laughed.
The “Rasen – Premiere” took place in front of 2,000 spectators on former court 18 surrounded by terraces built from natural stones and even grass in the stands, which creates a special atmosphere. John McEnroe, nine years older than his opponent, emerged victorious winning 6-4, 5-7, 10-8. The US-American, who was born in Wiesbaden in Germany, was pretty satisfied with the outcome of the match and the experience on the new surface as well of its quality. “The grass is really great. You have a lot of grip on the court. I really enjoyed playing here. The atmosphere was fantastic, which will be even better when matches will be also played on centre court next year,” McEnroe said afterwards.
The entire show, with a doubles exhibition between former Mercedes Cup winner Henri Leconte and Alexander Waske and the two Wimbledon Champions following the singles match, lasted about four hours. Eventually a very special, yet unique day at the TC Weissenhof came to an end at 7.30 p.m. and it seems that the green future for the Mercedes Cup will be a bright one.
Florian Heer travels the tennis tour with a focus on ATP Challenger events and the ITF Future Circuit. Follow his twitter account @Florian _Heer.