Stuttgart Tournament Ambassador Michael Berrer: “The Boldest Decision Was Switching To Grass!”

Michael Berrer (photo: Florian Heer)

STUTTGART, June 15, 2024

The grass season has picked up steam with the BOSS Open at Stuttgart’s Weissenhof. One person who knows the ATP 250 event in this Swabian metropolis inside out is Stuttgart native Michael Berrer. In 2008, when the tournament was still played on clay, the former World No. 42 reached the quarterfinals here. Today, Berrer serves as the tournament ambassador. We met him for an interview on quarterfinal Friday.

Tennis TourTalk: Stuttgart. Weissenhof. What are the first two things that come to mind about the tournament?

Michael Berrer: A lot comes to mind when I think of Stuttgart. I have very fond memories of the tournament as a player, and I believe it has developed into one of the most beautiful ATP 250 events on the tour. I’m thrilled to represent this tournament as an ambassador. It’s a great honor.

There are now quite a few tournament ambassadors, even at other events in Germany. What are your responsibilities at Weissenhof?

These are indeed very diverse. Before the event, I act as a liaison between the tournament, sponsors, and the press. Tommy Haas is also here as a tournament ambassador, which is a fantastic combination. We’ve joked that he’s “international” and I’m “local.” Of course, Tommy is on a different level in the tennis world, being the Tournament Director of Indian Wells. During the week, I’m also there for the players. Through my advisory role with the ATP, I maintain close contact with the players throughout the year. They are offered various services here, such as driving Porsche Turbos and testing Tycans, which is a unique opportunity and well-received. I know some players have bought such vehicles afterwards. This also sends a great message to the company’s employees. Additionally, there are opportunities to purchase items at better rates in connection with our main sponsor. I also assist guests on the grounds and answer questions. Players also have their needs, like ensuring they have enough soap in the showers (laughs). There’s a lot to do, and it’s important to always be attentive. Overall, it’s a lot of fun.

The tournament has undergone several changes in recent years. The organizer, however, has remained a constant. How do you see the development at Weissenhof?

The boldest decision I’ve seen in tennis was switching to grass, but it was also the best. The organizers clearly had a vision. Sports events are dynamic, and you need a certain flexibility because anything can happen at any time. This is managed very well here, and I have the utmost respect for that. It’s important to remember that e-motion hosts three consecutive tournaments, and the team works extremely hard. This is also a top performance from the entire team.

How much does the withdrawal of Alexander Zverev hurt?

It’s always a risk. It hurts. It’s happened two years in a row now, but you have to empathize with the player. We all saw what he did in Paris, and both finalists were exhausted. You can’t blame him for withdrawing. We hope he participates next year. Nonetheless, we have fantastic players, and we’ve seen amazing matches from the first round. The venue has been well-attended throughout the week.

You were a player who enjoyed playing on fast surfaces. How do you see the development of grass courts in recent years?

They’re getting slower. Even when I was still active, playing serve-and-volley was almost impossible. The balls have become softer, and the grass mixture has changed. The weather also plays a role. Players’ athleticism is improving. The match between Musetti and Koepfer was one of the most intense grass-court matches I’ve ever seen. Both played very cleverly. We’re seeing more and more long matches, which is exciting.

You have a Master’s in Sports Psychology and work as a mental coach. What components are particularly important in this field?

It’s a very complex topic. It’s not just about what happens on the court but also what happens off it. I was caught in this stream myself. Players put a lot of pressure on themselves. The question is, what is this based on? A colleague once summarized it well: people are mostly driven by four emotions – anger, joy, sadness, and fear. Tennis players are often angry and have little joy. But no one talks about these last two things, neither in the companies where I work nor on the tennis tour. These aren’t just negative things. If I’m scared, I’m stressed and nervous before a match. It’s not a nice feeling, and I can’t play this sport for ten years feeling that way. However, this is rarely addressed, and even top-10 players lack the tools. I had to meditate before my matches because there’s probably no athlete who is as tense before a match as I am. That’s still the case when I play in the league (laughs). That’s why I decided to study this. I needed a solution because I love tennis. My master’s thesis was on “fear of winning,” a phenomenon I didn’t think existed. However, expectations rise after a victory. This is often observed among French players due to the high pressure of performing well at their home Grand Slam in Paris. This, combined with fear of failure and anxiety about the future, is something we try to help players with, also in conjunction with the ATP.

Why do tennis players experience little joy?

I can’t explain it. I’ve been to international junior tournaments for the Baden Tennis Association, and haven’t seen a single player smile in those days. I might not have been the best player, but I would say I could at least convey fun on the court.

In Stuttgart, Alexander Bublik is participating, a player who openly states that he sees tennis merely as a job.

I accept and respect that. However, he’s also a character who brings a certain entertainment to the court. I can’t always expect the best performance from a player, but I do expect a body language that excites the audience. After all, spectators pay 100 euros for a ticket.

Which players do you enjoy watching today?

I rarely watch full matches but don’t like limiting myself to highlights. Tennis isn’t about shot-making but percentage play. You don’t win a match by hitting many winners but by making fewer errors while being aggressive. I regularly watch Jan-Lennard Struff, Carlos Alcaraz, and Holger Rune. Of course, I also follow Sascha Zverev. I also enjoy watching unique characters who might not be high in the rankings. I have to work, but I often watch Tennis TV.

Do you still play regularly?

This year, I’ll play in the 2nd Bundesliga for Reutlingen again. At 44, it’s quite a challenge. I’m still the reigning world champion in the over-30 category. I try to play a lot but need to slow down professionally. Tennis is and will remain the best sport.

Last week, the Neckarcup celebrated its 10th edition in Heilbronn. You’re very familiar with its predecessor tournament in Talheim. You won three Challenger titles there. What do you associate with this event?

Talheim was the starting point of my career, helping me gain confidence. I beat some good players there.

Including Jan-Lennard Struff in the 2013 final…

I really brought him down back then (laughs). Talheim was my favorite tournament and a great event for the region. I also have good contacts with the Neckarcup organizers and hear nothing but good things about this tournament. They’ve won the Challenger Award multiple times and do a fantastic job.

Do you still talk to Jan-Lennard about that match?

Of course, we still exchange words about it. We get along very well. He’s also a great person.

Thank you for the conversation.

Interview: Florian Heer