Famous for their folk-and-fancy-dress player parties as well as their deep commitment to women’s tennis, the organizers of the Upper Austria Ladies Linz surely had something extra special in mind for 2020 – the 30th anniversary staging of the tournament as a WTA Tour event, and tournament director Sandra Reichel’s 20th year in the role. But while the COVID-19 pandemic forced a rethink of celebrations, it couldn’t stop the legends of the WTA from expressing their gratitude in a more virtual way.
Former WTA World No.3 Manuela Maleeva (pictured above), who won the inaugural Linz tournament in 1991 and was victorious again two years later, led a series of heartfelt smartphone tributes. “I am very proud to be your first champion, and I am very happy that you can organize this tournament in this challenging year,” said Maleeva. “I am sure that all players are looking forward to playing in Linz. And I'm looking forward to seeing you on TV!”
Another two-time champion from the 1990s, Belgium’s Sabine Appelmans, also acknowledged the unique circumstances facing Reichel and her team in 2020 as they prepared to host what is considered the country’s leading sports event for women. “First of all, I would like to congratulate you for organizing the tournament this year. It's not easy in these times,” said Appelmans, who was victorious in Austria’s third largest city in 1994 and 1996. “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.”
For Chanda Rubin of the United States, winning Linz at the age of 21 marked an important personal moment: "I still have fantastic memories of my tournament victory in 1997,” said the former World No.6. “It was my first WTA title, and it played a key role in my career.” In her greeting, Rubin, now a respected Tennis Channel commentator and analyst, also highlighted the historical nature 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 event on the WTA calendar [after the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix] – what an unbelievable achievement!”
Grand Slam winners also reflected on the tournament’s special place on the WTA calendar. “You give emotions and you offer the players the opportunity to share their passion with a lot of fans,” said former World No.1 Justine Henin, who was Linz champion in in 2002. Mary Pierce, champion in 1999, expressed a similar sentiment: “Thank you for all these years in which you have supported women's tennis and I wish you continued success! God bless you.”
Ana Ivanovic, a two-time Linz champion, added: “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. Here’s to another 30 years!”
“Linz used to be one of my favorite stops throughout the season,” reflected 2007 winner Daniela Hantuchova. “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. A big thank you and virtual hugs to Sandra and her father Peter-Michael, as well as to tournament ambassador Barbara ‘Babsi’ Schett, for those three people make this tournament so special. They are the names that will always be connected to Linz for me.”
Another Slovak title-winner, Dominika Cibulkova is the tournament’s most recent champion no longer playing on the Tour, having retired at the end of 2019. “Congratulations to Sandra and her entire team!” said Cibulkova, who carried the momentum of her Linz run through to triumph at the WTA Finals in Singapore two weeks later. “I’ve always loved this tournament, and 2016 was a very special year for me – Linz memories always come back as part of that.”
For Reichel, the show of appreciation by WTA Players, past and present, was truly appreciated. “My team gave me great support during this time when the corona pandemic also shook the tennis world and with it the tournament calendar,” she said. “It is a matter close to my heart to organize this anniversary tournament – it is associated with many emotions.”
Check out the official Upper Austria Ladies Linz Instagram page to see all these messages and more.