With the signing of Novak Djokovic, the Erste Bank Open from October 26th will see seven top ten players and a density that for tournament boss Herwig Straka is unique even on the tour. Rafael Nadal is unlikely to come.
It will be a superlative tournament in the Wiener Stadthalle. With the signing of Novak Djokovic, the Erste Bank Open from October 26th will see seven top ten players and a density that is unique for tournament boss Herwig Straka even on the tour, not just this year. “I think this is the most difficult tournament to play that I have ever seen,” said the Styrian in an interview with the APA – Austria Press Agency on Friday.
Nevertheless, Straka, who also works as Dominic Thiem’s manager, is also concerned about the increasing number of corona cases. He hopes that there will be no restriction of the currently admitted 1,500 fans per session in the large town hall. “It is obvious that the situation has tightened a bit in the last few days and weeks. But there is still not a single proven case at an event that is professionally organized,” assures Straka.
They have a 40-page, strict security protocol that has been approved by the health authorities. “Nothing can actually happen there because there is not so much distance, as many tests and examinations as in the town hall for the spectators in the whole city. I would not understand it, but you have to reckon with everything.” Thanks to the newly introduced day and night session, up to 2,500 fans will be able to watch tennis together in the hall in both sessions; partly fans will be present in both sessions.
And they will also be able to look to superstar Novak Djokovic for the first time since winning the title in Vienna in 2007. “He probably doesn’t come until the end of the week and has a lot of extra wishes. So that he can perform perfectly, he has an environment around him, from food to fitness, things that we have to meet, but that’s okay,” says Straka.
The fact that the 17-time major winner and first in the world rankings comes to Vienna did not cost a huge amount. “It wasn’t a financial issue at Novak. The agreement came quickly, Novak just wanted to play,” said Straka. This would also be the case with Rafael Nadal if he wanted to play. “I spoke to him once this week and I don’t think he will come.” For the record French Open winner, the switch from sand to hardcourt would be too short-term, plus he had some additional hype after the 13th title in Roland Garros.
A Djokovic was guided to Vienna because of the 500 ATP points to be won. The hunt for Roger Federer’s number 1 record is likely to be the main driving force. “That was always my speculation, thank God it worked. He can make 500 free points, so he will definitely be fully motivated,” said Straka. The 33-year-old Serb did not play in the same week last year. In March 2021, Djokovic could overtake the all-time leader from Switzerland (number 1 in the world for a total of 310 weeks).
A challenge for Straka and his team is of course the safety bubble in the hotel or the town hall. But nobody can prevent a player from simply running away, like Sam Querrey recently in St. Petersburg. “The hotel is not a prison, if someone escapes from the hotel window and takes a private jet, that can of course also happen in Vienna,” said Straka about the case, which he as a member of the ATP Board on Friday as a point of the day in a phone call expected.
The players’ hotel will have its own floors reserved only for players. “This is the so-called red zone. Only tested people are allowed in.” Every good player will have their own area. There will be no “home sleeper”, unlike otherwise, of course for local hero Dominic Thiem. “Dominic has to sleep in the hotel too.”
How is the US Open winner doing before his home tournament, where he is the defending champion? “Well, he has recovered and is slowly starting to play tennis again. He will now start full tennis training at the weekend,” reported the manager. Thiem is already training on the new hard court in Traiskirchen, where the same surface has been laid as in the town hall. “Dominic will train there and go to the bubble on Friday at the earliest.”
As difficult as the spectator situation is for the organizer, the prospect of fans in comparison to many other venues such as the last time at the US Open, but also at the last tournaments after Vienna in Paris-Bercy or the ATP Finals is almost impossible Privilege: in New York, Paris and London was or is played without spectators.
In terms of TV distribution, Straka expects new records due to the exceptional situation, the cancellation of the equivalent ATP 500 event in Basel and the great cast. “On TV we will have world-class ratings, of course with the field even more so. TV-wise we will shoot through the roof.” This is also to be expected in Austria, where both ServusTV and ORF are broadcast live. “Both have had record ratings again and again recently. With Dominic, but also in other games.”
A repetition of last year’s victory will be extremely difficult for his protégé. Vienna only has a 32 grid, the “cut off” (last directly qualified player) is only 27. That means that currently the number 28 in the ranking would have to qualify. “It doesn’t exist anywhere. Even the smallest 1000 tournament is the smallest in Paris with a 48 grid. In this respect, defending the title is an enormous challenge,” says Straka, even if there is no player in the field that Thiem has not yet beaten .
It is already fixed: a wildcard next to Djokovic goes to Austria’s second top 100 man Dennis Novak, a qualification wildcard to Jurij Rodionov. “One or two” wildcards are left.
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