German tennis head: Changes would hurt Hamburg tourney

WILMINGTON, Del. -- The head of the German Tennis Federation said the ATP Tour's planned tournament restructuring would have a devastating effect on the annual men's clay-court event in Hamburg.

Georg von Waldenfels testified Tuesday that the ATP's plan to move the Hamburg tournament from May to July and downgrade it to second-tier status would make it difficult to attract top players to Germany.

"It's just a dead tournament," he said, noting that the planned July date would come at a time when top-ranked players are gearing up for the North American hard-court season that leads up to the U.S. Open.

"You get sponsors if you get top players. ... The decisive thing are the top players," said von Waldenfels, the first witness in a federal trial of the German federation's claims that the Association of Tennis Professionals' tournament restructuring violates antitrust laws by attempting to monopolize player commitments and tournament sanctions in men's professional tennis.

Von Waldenfels said that under ATP bylaws, Hamburg should be automatically renewed as a top-tier event each year as long as it complies with the association's rules. He also said he believes that the ATP is contractually prohibited from downgrading any of its top-level tournaments before 2010.

"My understanding is that under these rules, we are automatically each year in the same position as the year before," he said.

Under cross-examination by ATP attorney Brad Ruskin, von Waldenfels denied that the GTF had acceded to the ATP's plan when it submitted an application to be one of the eight top-tier tournaments in the ATP's Brave New World tournament structure. Von Waldenfels said the federation, which was instead given a second-tier designation for which it had not applied, was simply trying to preserve its rights.

"We made very clear that we are not in accordance, we do not agree with the Brave New World. ... I'm not willing to be part of any cartel in which all competition is thrown away," he said.

The plaintiffs, which include Hamburg tournament operator Rothenbaum Sport GMBH and the Qatar Tennis Federation, allege that the new tournament structure is the result of collusion among officers for ATP, the governing body for professional men's tennis, and owners of certain favored tournaments acting in their own self-interests.

But Ruskin, the ATP lawyer, said that in selling 25 percent of its interest in the Hamburg tournament to the Qatar federation in 2005, GTF expressly acknowledged that ATP had the authority to change tournament dates and classifications.

Ruskin also said that, before filing its lawsuit, GTF never asserted that it had the right to remain a top-tier tournament through the end of 2009.

Von Waldenfels said he didn't think any such assertion was needed, because there were only rumors that the German tournament was going to be downgraded and no official communication from the ATP.

"Nobody ever talked to us, seriously, and said 'We have this in mind,'" he said.

While Ruskin's questioning was somewhat combative at times, von Waldenfels sounded a humorous note when referring to the wet weather for which Hamburg is known.

"The Hamburg rain is nicer than the Wimbledon rain," he quipped.