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German Tennis Federation Suing to Prevent "Dead Tournament"

Plans by the Association of Tennis Professionals to change its tournament schedule could mean the end for Hamburg's French Open tune-up. But Germany is trying to rally back in an American court.

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The final of the 2008 Hamburg Masters in Hamburg was a thrilling three-setter that saw the king of clay Rafael Nadal beat world number one Roger Federer. But it may also be the last time players of that caliber meet on the red sands of the northern German city.

That's because the ATP wants to revise its schedule, moving the Hamburg event from May to July and stripping it of its status as a preliminary to the French Open. Since the top pros spend the late summer focusing on the US Open, Hamburg would likely attract only second-rate clay-court specialists.

That would mean a "dead tournament," the Head of the German Tennis Federation (DTB), Georg von Waldenfels, told a court in Wilmington, Delaware.

The DTB has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the Association of Tennis Professionals in an attempt to save the Hamburg event, one of Germany's few prominent tennis competitions.

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German interest in tennis has waned dramatically since the heydays of the 1980s and 1990s when Steffi Graf and Boris Becker were at the top of their games. The ATP wants to replace Hamburg in its nine-part Masters Series with a tournament in Shanghai, China.

The DTB says that the ATP is contractually obliged to award Hamburg its top-tier status until the end of 2009 and says the decision to favor shanghai is the result of improper back-room wheeling and dealing.

"We do not agree with the Brave New World," Waldenfels told the Delaware Court. "I'm not willing to be part of any cartel in which all competition is thrown away."

The ATP's lawyer, Brad Ruskin, argued that in selling a quarter of its interest in the Hamburg event to the Qatar Tennis Federation in 2005, the DTB explicitly acknowledged the authority of the ATP to reschedule and reclassify tournaments.

Ruskin also argued that the DTB never asserted its interest in remaining a top-tier tournament in 2009, something Waldenfels says he didn't realize he was required to do since he received no official notification from the ATP.

But amidst all the bickering, Waldenfels still managed to keep a sense of humor when the topic turned to northern Germany's often unsettled weather.

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

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