Two-time NCAA champion Hanfmann wins "spooky" exhibition in Germany

Two-time NCAA champion Hanfmann wins "spooky" exhibition in Germany

"It's all fun and games," Yannick Hanfmann said of tennis' first live event since mid-March. "But in the end, it's always more fun when you win."

It wasn’t the biggest win of his career, but Yannick Hanfmann’s victory at the Tennis Point Exhibition Series at the Base Tennis club in Höhr-Grenzhausen still has significance.

Hoisting a makeshift toilet-paper trophy in front of a lone chair umpire and several robo-cams is a far cry from his glory days at the University of Southern California, where the bruising 6’4” German led the Trojans to two national championships. But as the first live tennis event in the new “pandemic era”, Hanfmann’s win signifies a new—and hopefully brief—normal in the tennis world. 

“There’s no comparison to winning NCAA’s,” Hanfmann told tennis.com. “But we are glad we were chosen to play. It’s lucky we got the opportunity to do that.”

The tournament, which took place over the course of four days, followed all local COVID-19 restrictions. Players walked onto the court wearing masks. There were no post-match handshakes and no ballpersons. Players handled their own towels and called their own lines. Prior to the competition, each player was quarantined for at least two weeks. 

“It’s such a unique situation,” Hanfmann said. “It was a bit strange and a bit spooky with no spectators. The players were watching and sometimes banging against the windows, so there was at least some sort of atmosphere.”

Yannick Hanfmann hoists his toilet-paper trophy- Getty Images

“You’d eat a lot of things you wouldn’t normally eat if you are really hungry,” Andy Roddick said of the event Monday’s edition of Tennis Channel Live. “The market for players ranked 100-400 in Germany has never been hotter. “Is this a long-term solution? I don’t know. It’s great for now but I feel like it’s kind of a band-aid on surgery solution.”

For Hanfmann and the seven other entrants, the event provided a crucial opportunity for competitive match play while many athletes are still unable to take the court. Although the stakes were low, and the trophy was a roll of toilet paper, the competition remained intense. 

“There were some really tough matches. A lot of the lower ranked guys played amazing tennis, especially Florian Broska,” Hanfmann said. “I didn’t know what to expect before the event but it really felt like a tournament and not an exhibition. We all wanted to get out there and compete, I think that’s what we are missing the most.

“When you get out there you don’t want to lose. It’s all fun and games but in the end it’s always more fun when you win.”

Hanfmann has tasted success at the pro level, climbing inside the Top 100 in 2017, with wins over Andreas Seppi, Feliciano Lopez, Casper Ruud, and Marton Fucsovics. Hanfmann backs up his 130+ m.p.h. serve with crushing groundstrokes from both wings. At his best, the Karlsruhe native looks and plays like the recently retired Tomas Berdych. 

“For me it’s been a process, I had a breakthrough in 2017, but then people began to recognize me and study my game, so I struggled a bit in 2018. It was sort of a natural letdown.”

Currently ranked No. 143 in the world, Hanfmann believes both his body and his game are stronger than in 2017. Though as the highest-ranked player in the field, he isn’t reading too much into his victory. 

“I felt like a better player to start the year than when I was inside the top-100,” he said. “I won a tournament but in the end, I just miss that feeling of competition. I’m looking forward to the next one.”