I spent last week in Antwerp, taking days off the day job to enjoy the ATP 250 event. Here are 10 takeaways from my time at the European Open.
1. Cost of Admission
For a weekly pass it was only €150, and for qualifying €10. Comparing this to the price of another sporting event, such as a football match in Belgium (e.g a ticket to watch Anderlecht is between €20 to €40), the tournament represented great value for money.
2. Dad music DJ
I’m not sure where the tournament found the DJ. His music choices ranged from 80’s Europop to 90’s electropop. Ok, at times it was fun but my patience was tested the day after a couple of Duvels. I was in a minority of one that didn’t enjoy the DJ – my #sackthedj effort on twitter warranted 0 Retweets or Likes.
3. Sticky Court
I love the sound of squeaking tennis shoes on an indoor surface, to me it is one of the best sounds in sport combined with the sound of a clean hit off the middle of a racket. However, there were two similar injuries that I witnessed. Both Nikoloz Basilashvili and Ivo Karlovic moved their feet sharply and rolled over their ankles. It is not often that you see this kind of injury, so for two to happen within days of each other made me wonder if the courts were a little sticky…
4. Dodgy Hawkeye?
The European Open was the first ATP tournament to use FOXTENN, which provided a ‘hawkeye’ service. Players calling for a hawkeye adjudication is standard practice now on the ATP tour. However, this Hawkeye appeared to deliver some questionable results. I recall in particular the Ivo Karlovic versus Guido Pella match, and the players were stunned at some of the answers from the system. The crowd, including myself, laughed a couple of times at what the Hawkeye was telling.
5. Great opportunity for young players
In addition to wildcards for Frances Tiafoe and Denis Shapovalov, Stefanos Tsitsipas made it through qualifying. Unfortunately for the two wildcards, things didn’t go so smoothly for them. Tiafoe had his chances against Goffin but came up short, whilst a tired looking Shapovalov was edged out by Ernesto Escobedo. It was great to see the #NextGen given a chance in Antwerp, and I hope the tournament will do similar next year.
6. Tsitsipas breakthrough
It was a pleasure to follow the Greek talent’s run through qualifying. I have followed Tsitipas closely this year, and after a season where he has lost out narrowly to established main tour players it was great to see him find some success in Antwerp. Tsitsipas crushed the handy Pablo Cuevas, was on the brink of victory against Ivo Karlovic when the Croat retired, and then got the better of home favourite David Goffin – a first top 10 win.
7. Strong run by Bemelmans
Ruben Bemelmans made a rare run to an ATP semifinal. The native Fleming impressively battled through Peter Gojowzyk and Joao Sousa (as well as Nick Kyrgios, but more about that later) to a career first appearance in the final four of a main tour event. Antwerp is situated in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium, and the crowd were thrilled by hearing one of their own speak in Flemish after his victories.
8. Kyrgios, a valid wildcard?
I was very surprised that Nick Kyrgios took a wildcard into the event, and my scepticism was merited when the Australian produced a bizarre, but not unexpected performance in his defeat to Ruben Bemelmans. It is pretty obvious that Kyrgios likely received a decent sign-on fee to appear in Antwerp. However, he was reportedly watching NBA until 4am the night prior to his first match, and even commented on Instagram that he wasn’t interested to be there. Kyrgios is one of my favourite players and he entertained me with his display. There were plenty of trick shots and some signs of his indisputable talent, but he clearly couldn’t give a damn. Kyrgios is an attraction and put my bum on a seat, but I would be surprised if the tournament organisers would be keen on hosting him in 12 months time.
9. Lucky Omen for Tsonga
The lucky omen for Tsonga? Me. Not only did I witness him win in Rotterdam but I was there again to watch him in Antwerp. Tsonga has been the King of Indoors this season with a further win in Marseille back in February. The Frenchman was fortunate to get the better of Julien Benneteau in a first set that Benny really should have won, but overall he was a deserving champion. Tsonga was a class apart from Bemelmans, and always carried an edge over Diego Schwartzman on this surface.
10. 2018 – 3rd time lucky for Schwartzman?
Two of Diego’s three ATP finals have been in Antwerp. The indoor conditions in Antwerp play not too quick and the Argentine – who plays his best ball on clay – is able to craft the points in his favour. Schwartzman played, in my opinion, the most interesting tennis all week. At only 170cm Schwartzman plays with an intelligence that makes up for his lack of natural physicality. Will the improving Argentine make it 3rd time lucky in 2018? I know for sure, I will return to cheer him on.