In what was a first for us, we took in an ATP world tour tennis final in beautiful Saanenland. Thin air at this altitude supposedly lets balls fly farther and bounce higher. That can make for stunners now and then…
Facing off in the final of the J. Safra Sarasin Swiss Open Gstaad were heavy favorite Fabio Fognini from Italy and, from Germany, up-and-coming qualifier Yannick Hanfmann (ATP singles ranking 126 as of 8/14/2017).
The 25-year old German phenom had bested three tournament favorites in a row, among them last year’s victor, Feliciano Lopez, to earn this spot in his first ATP final. Call it a minor miracle, considering that he only joined the tennis tour 3 months ago!
In the semi-final against two-time Gstaad finalist Robin Haase, Hanfmann fought off no less than four match points before eking out a victory…
But, before the guys take to the court for the final that Sunday morning, first on the schedule is a show by the Swiss Air Force’s aerobatic PC-7 TEAM.
In the wild blue yonder – the PC-7 TEAM
Katja and I are still milling around in the welcome tent when, around 10:50, a mighty thunder rolls across Gstaad’s chalet rooftops as nine red-and-white single-engine prop planes in formation roar past overhead.
Shock #1! Aren’t they just a bit early?
I dash out of the tent and yank my giant telescope lens skyward. Because of the frontlighting and darting planes half the photos are misses. But I shoot as rapid-fire as I can. And as the exposure time allows. In the end, I do manage to get the odd snapshot of the aerobatics squadron in action.
The pilots trace all manner of figures in the sky with their Pilatus PC-7 planes. Coordinating them is the former commander of the PC-7 TEAM Werner “Höffi” Hoffmann, while the TEAM’s PR man Andreas “Lifty” Hebeisen provides the stunt-by-stunt commentary.
As the pilots execute their breakneck maneuvers, the g-forces they incur quadruple their normal body weight. Wonder what it feels like to weigh 300 kilos?
The fliers bid us adieu with a giant heart as they disappear into the Bernese sky. Say, can we make that a kissing emoji next time? I can’t wait to run this super idea by “Lifty.” He’s sure to go for it ;-)
David vs. Goliath – with tennis balls!
With the rolling thunder subsided and the vapor trails that had criss-crossed the sky fading away, we take our seats in the stands with anticipation high, ready for what the posters promise: “Fiery southerner against talented newcomer”…
Fognini starts off on fire: Whether due to Hanfmann’s nerves or the sheer power behind Fognini’s racket, the Italian with the skull on his tennis top quickly takes the lead with two breaks.
The spectators may cheer for the underdog, so that Hanfmann actually manages to recover a break, but Fognini comes back full force to take the first set commandingly.
The young newcomer makes the second match a more even contest. He stays in contention until the last game.
But then — shock #2 — a short match ball by Fognini does not make it back over the net and when Hanfmann leaves the court it is as the runner-up. Fognini is simply too much on his game this day.
Trophies and interviews
As longs as we are here, we will be patient and stay around until after the trophy presentation just to get a closer look at the gentlemen.
Katja is no longer in the seat beside me; instead, there she is, at the front of the line for interviewing the handsome Fabio — and now she stands next to him!
When I try to horn in, I am rejected by security guard Paul: “One at a time!”
After what feels like half an eternity, Katja comes back down to earth and, with my stomach growling, we saunter off to indulge in a comforting restaurant.
The next match we watch from a safe distance again on TV!
Our thanks this time…
… go to Antje Buchs of Gstaad Tourismus for getting us accredited to the J. Safra Sarasin Swiss Open Gstaad. We make full use of the increased “maneuvering room” that comes with the press credential ;-)
Our thanks also go to Colonel Hoffmann and Major Hebeisen for the background on the PC-7 TEAM. Very impressive, what these professional pilots manage to do there in the wild blue yonder!
Here is a little-known fact: you can book the PC-7 TEAM for your own event. Maybe not quite for a garden party, but for a suitably larger occasion. But you need to do it by September for the following year, to give plenty of advance notice for the extensive preparations.