MEERBUSCH, August 21, 2016
It has been a six hours car ride from Munich until we finally arrived at the venue of the last outdoor Challenger event of the season, which is held on German soil. And it wasn’t easy to find. Meerbusch was the name of the desired location, but there was no sign of the city, as the town is composed of eight large and small villages which used to be independent communities before the municipality with about 55,000 inhabitants was created in the 1970s. All of them still bear their own names on the signs along the streets. Büderich is the one, in which the €42,500 Cittadino Challenger is actually taking place.
For the last four years in the middle of August, clay court players from all over the world have gathered together at the local Sportpark in the Rhein-Kreiss-Neuss and Marc Raffel is the man of action, who established the tournament in 2013.
“I have been the team manager of the tennis club Blau-Weiss Neuss for 15 years and when the co-operation ended in 2012, I asked myself what to do now. ‘So let’s make a Challenger event,’ I told myself and that’s why we are here right now,” he told us on Saturday afternoon between the two singles semi-finals, while we are sitting on cosy rattan chairs in the middle of the new created Tennis Village.
“We were very well received in Meerbusch. My good business contacts helped me in the early stages of the tournament and we started the event with Maserati as the title sponsor,” Raffel explained. He is head of a sports consulting company called M.A.R.A., which organizes tennis tournaments, manages athletes but also arranges sport journeys.
“However, it is not only about the title sponsor. It is important to have one but this accounts for only about 15 to 20% of the total budget,” the sports teacher and tennis coach pointed out. “You need to have support from many different companies. We have a pool of about 90 sponsors. If there is a firm, which wants to spend only €500 or €1,000, I will meet them and then they are going to be part of our tournament.”
The location itself represents a good chance in order to acquire new financial support, as Meerbusch is ranked about the municipalities with the most income millionaires in North Rhine-Westphalia. “It looks good that Cittadino remains on board for the next season. Certainly there is going to take place a fifth edition of the Challenger in 2017,” Raffel is confident in times when a lot of smaller tennis tournaments seem to struggle with economic difficulties.
Mix of Tennis And Entertainment As Key To Success
There is also a second area of activity during the week, as many different side-events are taking place off the courts. Live music, kid’s day, business night – a lot of things are going on besides the tennis action. “The tournament in Braunschweig with its idea of ‘tennistainment’ could be a role model for many Challengers. Nowadays, it is not only about tennis in order to attract people. We need to create a good mixture,” he told and seems to have a clear vision for the tournament.
“We still want to develop the event in social as well as sporting aspects. With the cities of Düsseldorf, Krefeld, Mönchengladbach and Neuss, the catchment area for tennis interested people is huge. It offers considerable potential and we want to aim at establishing here a tournament of the highest Challenger category.”
With the Neckarcup in Heilbronn, the Franken Challenge in Fürth, the Marburg Open, the Sparkassen Open in Braunschweig, the indoor event in Eckental and the tournament in Meerbusch, currently five ATP Challenger events are held in Germany. Only the tournament in Braunschweig has a total financial commitment of €106,500, the highest prize purse at this level of men’s professional tennis. In 2017, the inaugural edition of the Koblenz Open will fill out the gap in the first four months of the season. All ATP Challengers in Germany have agreed a framework partnership for the next five years.
Raffel is pleased with the co-operation and his own tournament in 2016. “6,000 spectators came to the venue last year and we will achieve similar numbers this week,” he said and added: “Even though, it is holiday season in Northrhine-Westfalia.”
A couple of interesting players were part of the main draw this year, led by Halle’s Gerry Weber Open champion Florian Mayer. He was joined by fellow top 100-member Roberto Carballés-Baena and former world number 14 Jerzy Janowicz. The young guns of the tour also competed in Meerbusch. Most notable the Challenger debut of only 16-year-old Nicola Kuhn.
“His sponsor Yonex asked for a wild card and after he had won his opening match, he showed a fantastic performance against Mayer. He was an enrichment for the tournament,” Raffel is happy with this year’s line-up.
“Unfortunately, Dustin Brown was forced to withdraw with an injury but he came to the venue on Thursday and spent some time with the fans in the village. I am sure that he will also return in order to play tennis here again next year.”
When he was finally asked, if he wants to see a special player appearing in Meerbusch one day, Raffel did not mention a particular name but told with a smile: “If Philipp Kohlschreiber is on his farewell tour some day, we will be happy to welcome him here.” In this sense, we are sure to return to Meerbusch. And then, we will know the way.