“It was never just the car”

Today is the final of the 40th Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. Dr Wolfgang Porsche is regarded as the patron of the tournament. Involved right from the very beginning, he has always championed the Grand Prix and has seen a lot. No wonder that his story about the relationship between Porsche and women’s tennis is a very personal one ...

Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, Works one, the Porsche control centre: if the great tradition of the company is tangible anywhere, then in the office of Dr Wolfgang Porsche. The Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Porsche AG is sitting at his desk studying photos from the 40 years of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. Wonderful snapshots: a young girl, Martina Hingis, sits smiling at a table. Next to her Wolfgang Porsche. His small son is sitting on his lap. It looks like a family get-together. A long, long time ago...


Dr Wolfgang Porsche: There next to Martina Navratilova, that’s me, could I have a copy please?

You’re very welcome to keep the photo.

Thanks very much. But that’s Gabriela Sabatini! Looking at the photos, isn’t it incredible how things have changed? The tennis fashion alone, even the men’s. Recently on television, I watched Roger Federer in the final of the Australian Open against Rafael Nadal. A fantastic match. Federer wore red shoes.

The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix is also very colourful. You’ll be there again, won’t you? An obligatory appointment or not?

A nice must for me. For years now, I’ve watched the semi-finals and final. I live in Salzburg so I unfortunately can’t get along more often. But I always keep the finals weekend free.

What goes through your mind these days when you today visit the tournament in the Porsche Arena that has become a top high-tech event?

The atmosphere in the Porsche Arena is unique. It’s the quite special moments that give me goose bumps. The sporting passion of the players and the unbroken enthusiasm of the spectators – the combination makes the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix one of the best-loved tournaments. The special thing for me is however the history behind the tournament and the solidarity shown by the players. It makes me a little bit proud when one remembers how we started all those years ago.

Back then everything was somewhat smaller ...

In Filderstadt everything began very modestly. At the time, nobody thought we’d one day look back on four decades. We simply got started.

What does “simply got started” mean?

The impulse came from our head of press, Manfred Jantke, in 1978. He was an amateur sportsman, liked women’s tennis and knew Dieter Fischer, the promotor in Filderstadt. Everything evolved from there. Our family lived at the time in Killesberg, and the Weißenhof tournament took place just around the corner. And when the men played there, there were so many spectators that it was difficult for us to drive into our garage. We were smaller in Filderstadt – but have pretty much caught up.

The world’s best tennis women quickly became loyal regulars...

A lot is down to Dieter Fischer. Let’s be honest, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Pam Shriver, Hana Mandlikova, Martina Navratilova and however the big personalities were all called, they could at all times have said, what on earth are we doing here at this little tournament? But Dieter Fischer was so clever, he handed out bedtime treats to the players, he gave them mascots as presents. Obviously, the chance to win a Porsche was a big incentive. But it was never just the car. The players really liked coming here. Everything fitted together nicely. In Klaus von Maur’s restaurant, we sat together with the players and there was a lovely friendly and familiar atmosphere.

The sponsor Porsche turned into the organiser Porsche, why?

When Dieter Fischer stepped down for reasons of age, we said, if the tournament is to carry on as we imagine then we have to organise it ourselves. One has to say a big thank-you to Dieter Fischer, he did a fantastic job and we couldn’t and didn’t want to copy it. We’ve continued the work in the Porsche style, given it a little bit more structure and relied on such competent experts like Markus Günthardt and Anke Huber. The two of them have done an excellent job developing the tournament.

Before the move to the Porsche Arena, did you have any worries about the tournament?

The road was basically already mapped out. My father Ferry Porsche intentionally had the Stuttgart horse integrated into the Porsche crest because we have very close links to the city of Stuttgart. This bond is something we have demonstrated right up to the present day by our wide-ranging societal engagement within the region. It also includes the Porsche Arena. It was logical that at some stage the lovely tournament would take place in this wonderful indoor arena. The tournament was well-established but nevertheless we knew that we’d need significantly more spectators to fill the big arena. We didn’t have any worries, but we did have respect.

Was it certain that the players would also come to the arena?

Good point. A couple of years previously, the WTA reorganised their tournament schedule to reduce the amount of travelling for the players. We were rescheduled from October to April, therefore a totally different phase in the season. The change could have cost us the participation of some of the stars. The danger that some of the top players would no longer come because they felt they couldn’t prepare properly for the upcoming clay court highlight, the French Open in Paris, on an indoor court was something we envisaged. So every year we lay a very modern clay court in the arena which in Filderstadt would not have been possible. The event is more attractive than ever. The top players come every year and regularly vote us as their favourite tournament.

Ferry Porsche, the young Martina Hingis and Dr Wolfgang Porsche and son (l-r)

Your father is to be seen again and again on the old photos. Did you also talk to him back then about the Grand Prix?

We didn’t speak about it, we always sat together in the stands. As I said, we lived in Stuttgart at the time and were basically every day in Filderstadt. And we were always of the opinion that the Grand Prix belongs to Porsche.

It’s said that the future of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix was in question in difficult times?

Every now and again, the question crops up as to whether Porsche needs the Grand Prix? I say, we won’t sell more or less cars if we organise the Grand Prix or not. But the people in Stuttgart, the surrounding region and the whole state of Baden Württemberg look forward to the attractive event where they can watch world class tennis from close up. That’s why we do it.

How do you assess Porsche’s, in the meantime, wide-reaching engagement for German women’s tennis?

I find the engagement fantastic. As a result of the excellent performances of our Brand Ambassador Angelique Kerber, the interest in women’s tennis in Germany really has come alive again. With our support for the top and young players, we show just how close the sport is to our hearts. As it always has been, Porsche and tennis are a good match.

What do you wish the “birthday child”, the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix for the future?

Birthday child sounds a bit too much and it isn’t at all in keeping with or tournament. Just like Porsche, the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix stands for tradition and innovation. I hope the wonderful event stays like our company itself – dynamic, efficient, youthful, of a high quality and aware of values.


Text first published in Porsche Tennis Magazine 2017.

Interview by Reiner Schloz // Photos by Victor Jon Goico

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