From The War To The Challenger Tour: Braunschweig Venue Steeped In HistoryOn Saturday, the Sparkassen Open in Braunschweig crowned the 24th champion in its illustrious history, as 17-year-old qualifier Nicola Kuhn lifted his first ATP Challenger Tour trophy. The prestigious event has been the standard on the circuit for years and recently celebrated a third straight Tournament of the Year award. The honour is representative of the clay-court event’s steadfast commitment to growing the game in a world-class environment.
Under the watchful eye of tournament director Völker Jacke, the tournament has greatly evolved and is considered a top destination for players and fans. The Sparkassen Open founded the concept of ‘Tennistainment’, which refers to the notion that premier tennis and off-court entertainment create a first-rate experience with a festive atmosphere. It continues to be the soul of the tournament, with nightly concerts on the grounds.
The event began with a small Centre Court and one catering tent and the main stadium has since been upgraded to hold a capacity crowd of 2,000 patrons, with a big stage for the concerts and over 50 concession tents for catering and exhibitions. But while the tournament’s famous entertainment scene has garnered much attention, it is its rich and storied history that is arguably its most intriguing aspect.
The Sparkassen Open is played at the Braunschweiger Tennis und Hockey Club on the grounds of the Bürgerpark. Today, it is a large expanse of public land, but many centuries ago, it was the sprawling home of Duchess Augusta, wife of Duke Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand. The estate included the duchess’s residence, known as Schloss Richmond (Richmond Castle) and the tennis courts. In 1901, the wall that enclosed the city was removed, with the park opening to the citizens of Braunschweig and the tennis club being officially founded.
“This was the missing link at the time, to open the city and make the Burgerpark for all the citizens of the city to come and rest,” said club president Ralf Hinrichs. “It’s an open space with different flowers and trees. They took different types of trees from all over the world and brought them here. They make it a very special place for the citizens of Braunschweig. It’s a gift to the people here. That was in 1900 and the club was founded a year later.”
During World War II, Braunschweig became a World War II stronghold for the Nazis and the city was destroyed. The club partially survived the bombings, as the front gate, two small cabins on either side of the gate and many stone statues that lie around the main entrance and inside the club remain. So does the front facade of the former castle, with a series of Roman-style columns left undamaged from the time of the duke and duchess. The unique rococo style of the 1700s remains a constant reminder of pre-war Germany, when an architecture movement swept through the country.
After the war ended, for more than 50 years, the German National Championships were hosted at the Braunschweiger Tennis und Hockey Club, featuring a teenage Boris Becker and Steffi Graf, before the ATP Challenger Tour staked its claim to the historic venue in 1994. The Sparkassen Open was born.
“I don’t feel like it’s a Challenger, it’s more like an ATP World Tour event,” said Germany’s Oscar Otte, No. 170 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. “The hotel is not that far and it’s amazing. You walk through the park to get there. The centre court gives you a nice feeling playing in front of many people from your country.”
In its 24-year history, the tournament has boasted Top 10 players Gaston Gaudio, Tomas Berdych and Alexander Zverev as champions, with former World No. 2 Michael Stich serving as tournament director in the early 2010s.
“What makes the tournament so special is that after the tennis there are a lot of activities there,” Zverev told ATPWorldTour.com after winning in 2014. “It’s like the [ATP World Tour] events in Umag and Bastad where there’s a lot of nightlife and the players really like it. It’s great fun for the players and the fans.”