Past winners send video messages

The Upper Austria Ladies Linz, one of the longest-running women’s tournament, celebrates its 30th anniversary this week and it is like balm for Sandra Reichel's soul when she receives encouraging video messages from former champions of the event. Especially at a time when the tournament director is faced with the great challenge of having to organize the tennis classic without spectators due to the rapidly rising COVID-19 cases in the country.

“It is a matter close to my heart to organize this anniversary tournament, which is associated with many emotions,” Reichel said. “My team gave me great support during this time when the corona pandemic also shook the tennis world and with it the tournament calendar. It goes without saying that we will meet all the requirements of the WTA, which stipulate a strict health protocol. We worked out a precise prevention concept because the health of the players and coaches is just as important to us as the well-being of our employees, partners, sponsors and tennis fans.”

The tournament has been a WTA International Event since 1991. Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere defeated Petra Langrova in the final of the first edition. Past champions of the tournament include former World No. 1s Venus Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Amelie Mauresmo, Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic. More recent winners include Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka, Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova and Dominika Cibulkova. Last year’s champion, Coco Gauff, became the youngest WTA tournament winner in over 15 years.

Past winners send video messages

Twelve former champions sent personally recorded declarations of love to Linz with their own smartphones.

“Linz used to be one of my favourites stops throughout the season. It is one of those events that will stay in my heart forever because of all the team members involved in the tournament and the way in which the players are welcomed,” 2007 champion Daniela Hantuchova said. "A big thank you and virtual hugs to Sandra and her father Peter-Michael, as well as to tournament ambassador 'Babsi' Barbara Schett, for those three people making this tournament so special. The names that will always be connected to Linz for me. Wishing you best of luck for this year.”

The players have always appreciated the familiar atmosphere in Austria’s third-largest city. “I have only good memories; you have done a great job over the past 30 years! You give emotions and you offer the players the opportunity to share their passion with a lot of fans,” said Justine Henin, champion in Linz in 2002.

“Congratulations to Sandra and her entire team! I've always loved this tournament,” explained Dominika Cibulkova, who lifted the trophy here in 2016. Two-time Linz champion Ana Ivanovic said: “30 years - what a fantastic achievement! It was always a great pleasure for me to play there, and of course I have special memories of my title wins in 2008 and 2010. For another 30 years!”

Petra Kvitova said: “It's a great tournament that is very close to my heart. The wonderful memories of my title win will always have a place in my heart.” The two-time Wimbledon champion was victorious in Linz in 2011. One year after her, Victoria Azarenka took the title. "Vika" said in her greeting video: "I can hardly wait to come back and play in Linz. Thank you very much for the great work!"

Commitment to women’s tennis

The Linz legends have great respect for Sandra Reichel for organizing the anniversary tournament in these difficult times. Sabine Appelmans emphasizes: “First of all, I would like to congratulate you for organizing the tournament this year. It's not easy in these times. I hope it will be a successful tournament. And I hope the atmosphere will be as I've always remembered it - very friendly and familiar.” Appelmans clinched the title in 1994 and 1996. Barbora Strycova joined the list of winners in 2017. She said: “Good luck this week because it has been a tough year for everyone. I wish you to be happy and healthy and lots of energy for it. Take care of yourself and have a good one!”

The Upper Austria Ladies Linz has been the country's most important women's sports event for many years. The tournament’s champions appreciate the great commitment of Sandra Reichel and her father Peter-Michael Reichel to women's tennis: “Thank you for all these years in which you have supported women's tennis! God bless you,” said 1999 champion Mary Pierce.

Coco Gauff stated: “I had so much fun at this tournament last year! And I would like to congratulate all the staff and all the workers for having 30 years of great tennis and I hope to see 30 more.”

Maleeva: "I'm proud to be your first champion!”

Gauff captured her first WTA title in Linz as a 15-year-old last year. For her, the Upper Austria Ladies Linz was a career milestone. And not just for her. "I still have fantastic memories of my tournament victory in 1997. It was my first WTA title, and it played a key role in my career," said Chanda Rubin from the United States.

She also highlighted the historical dimension of the Upper Austria Ladies Linz: “I am very happy that I was able to be part of this traditional event. The tournament is the second oldest indoor tournament on the WTA calendar - what an unbelievable achievement!” Only the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart (formerly Filderstadt) is older, celebrating its premiere in 1978.

Manuela Maleeva, champion of the inaugural Linz tournament, sent emotional words to Upper Austria: “I am very proud to be your first champion, and I am very happy that you can organize this tournament in this challenging year. I am sure that all players are looking forward to playing in Linz. And I'm looking forward to seeing you on TV!”