Sasson: I’ve always liked sports. In Hamburg, I used to play basketball with my friends every week, and we continued in Zürich as well. To this very day, I strive to exercise every day. On the organizational side, there were the swimming lessons we organized in our pool for all the children in the Jewish Iranian community of Hamburg, and almost as important — serving as president of Maccabi Germany.
In 1978, having left Hamburg and moved to Zürich, Switzerland, I got acquainted with tennis. Or rather, I fell inﬁnitely in love with the sport. Because I traveled to Russia frequently, the rising career of the “communist” tennis player Andrei Chesnokov, became a favorite conversation topic among my friends and other tennis fans like me. I used to follow the ever-increasing achievements of this champion in the press. Surprisingly, for a foreign businessman who had done everything in his life except tennis, establishing an international tennis tournament in the USSR proved a very difficult task to accomplish. During my monthly trips to Moscow, I felt that tennis was almost an unwanted sport there, because it was considered “capitalistic.” It was also a dangerous time. I’ve witnessed serious changes and states of uncertainty. During 1989–1990, the Soviet Union went through a critical period, which exhausted the nation both politically and economically. No one had any certainty about their own tomorrow. At that time and in that atmosphere, arranging a tournament in Russia seemed impossible. Some call it madness, others call it motivation…
One of the advantages of the Soviet government system, in addition to free education for all, was the good sports facilities it provided for the public. You may remember that until not long ago, the USSR (and later Russian) team would always leave the international Olympic Games with the largest number of medals.
However, the communist system regarded tennis a capitalistic sport, and most tennis clubs were dispersed. Still, tennis players such as Anna Dimitrova and the Georgian Alexander Metreveli reached signiﬁcant achievements in important tournaments like Wimbledon. It was Russia’s greatness, its history and culture, as well as my business collaborations with Russia and watching Andrei Chesnokov’s playing, that gave me the idea of establishing an international tennis tournament in Moscow.
Actually, the person who put this bee into my bonnet was one of my Russian friends, named Bukayev. The newspapers were full of reports about this Russian player, the “communist,” as they liked calling Chesnokov, who appeared in tournaments with very poor equipment — worn out shoes and clothes, old racket — but amazingly, managed to win in German tournaments. One day, when Bukayev and I were enthusiastically discussing this phenomenal player, Bukayev said: “Why don’t you start a tennis tournament in Russia?”
At that time, I didn’t know anything about tennis. I didn’t even know what the Grand Slam was! And of course, I didn’t know its rules and was completely unfamiliar with the regulations. One of the things I was ignorant of, was the need to obtain a license in order to hold a tournament. I thought, if tournaments like this take place in Australia, in major cities in Europe such as Paris (Roland-Garros) and London (Wimbledon), in New York (US Open) etc. — how hard could it be to organize a similar tournament in Moscow, the glorious capital of Russia?
The answer, to which I was completely oblivious, was in one word: very. In order to accomplish this simple (so I thought) task, I found a partner in Switzerland who was even more clueless than I, Pinky (Pinchas) Sussman. We planned a (baseless) budget, and thought that such a tournament could be proﬁtable. After two years of running between Zürich, Moscow, New York and Florida, we realized our plan was all wrong: Soviet law and the contract between us and the Soviet authorities, provided that the Russians, like us, knew everything about everything, except organizing tennis tournaments! In the US, we met with members of the MTC (Men’s Tennis Council), who laughed at our cluelessness for fantasizing about founding a tennis tournament in a country behind an iron curtain.
Gollar: Sasson found Pinchas Sussman in his synagogue, and decided to take him on as a partner in his tennis business. Pinky was a nice person, but not a professional. One Shabbat in the beginning of 1988, he put a contract in front of Sasson to sign. Sasson was never a good contract-reader. I was always the one to read the contracts carefully, and see what’s going on. So I read. The contract had a lot of impossible demands — some of them regarding things we couldn’t be sure would actually happen or not. It was so impossible and negative for us that I said to Sasson, “There’s no way we’re signing such a contract!” I was so furious! It took me the whole weekend to convince Sasson to read the contract again, and not to sign it. At last, Sasson read the whole contract again, and when he realized himself what kinds of demands Pinky had made, we decided not to work with him anymore.
He called Pinky and told him he wouldn’t sign this contract. Pinky answered, “You treat me like Laban” (the Biblical character, Jacob’s uncle, who gave his elder daughter Leah to Jacob as a wife, after Jacob had worked for 7 years for the younger daughter Rachel). And that was the end of this partnership.
Sasson: In February 1989, our dear friend Prof. Branco Weiss asked to come with us on our next trip to Moscow. The Iron Curtain was still in place, and Branco wished to meet some Russian scientists.
Gollar: We met Branco Weiss and his wife Eva when we just moved to Zürich. First I met Eva in one of the cultural events of our Jewish community. We liked each other very much and started meeting for coffee every week. Later on our husbands joined in and became very close friend too. Sasson and I met Branco and Eva regulary and visited each other in our homes for dinner. It was a wonderful friendship. Through Eva, we also became close friends with Eva’s sister Ruth and her brother in law Eduard Kornfeld.
Sasson: Branco Weiss was one of the wisest men I have ever known. I once consulted him about a problem I was having. He took a chalk and drew a few circles one inside the other, on the blackboard in his office. He explained to me: In order to succeed in life, work and other ﬁelds, we must set a goal (tapping the innermost circle). Once we know what our goal is, we should exert all our energy to reach it. Not waste energy here and there, he said while tapping the outer circles. I took this advice for life, and especially for the tennis tournament that I was so determined to produce.
Gollar: Sasson and Branco went to Moscow together for a week. Sasson did his tennis preparations, and Branco looked for contacts. Branco was very enthusiastic about Sasson’s tennis ideas, and advised him to ﬁnd the right people. Simple as this advice may sound, it was this switch, from trying to do everything by himself to looking for the right people, that eventually put Sasson on a winning streak all the way to success.
Sasson: For four years, I ran between the USSR, Europe and the USA in order to establish this tournament. Most of my friends and acquaintances thought I had lost my marbles.
Meeting the former tennis-federation member Boris Fomenko in Moscow, put us on the right track. Starting a collaboration with him was the ﬁrst correct step we took. He introduced us to the managers of the Moscow News organization, Yegor Yakovlev and Alexander (Sasha) Vainstein, and we managed to reach a collaboration agreement, which paved the road for us.
After signing a collaboration agreement with Moscow News, I had the honor of meeting Ivan Silaev, the Russian prime minister. Mr. Silaev agreed to be Chairman of the tournament’s organizing committee, and this solved the majority of visa problems for players, and other bureaucratic issues.
Many of the new “right-people” I met contributed to the successful realization of the crazy idea of a tennis tournament in Moscow. Just to mention a few: Ivan Silaev and his aides; journalist Yegor Yakovlev and his deputy Alexander (Sasha) Vainstein (who later became our partner); Russian ﬁlmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov; Shamil Tarpishchev, chairman of the USSR Tennis Federation and personal coach of Boris Yeltsin, who in turn introduced us to the Yeltsin family; and other contributors such as the Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Sports Institute professor and multiple USSR champion Semyon Belits-Geiman, Viktor Drobinsky, and other Soviet VIPs.
As my luck was taking a positive turn and I was back in the game, Dr. Ian Froman, one of the founders of the Israel Tennis Centers, served me the winning shot.
When I started to look for professionals, I ﬁrst went to meet Froman in Ramat Hasharon. He was introduced to us through our lawyer Joel Katz, who, as a hobby, was one of Israel’s ﬁrst sports reporters. I asked Froman to be our tournament director, but he had a tournament in Ramat Hasharon at the same time as the Kremlin Cup, and was therefore unavailable. Therefore, he introduced us to Gene Scott, publisher of Tennis Week magazine and director of the MTC masters tournament in Madison Square Garden in New York. Luckily for us, that tournament had just become part of the ATP Masters series, and moved to Hamburg and Hannover after 10 years in New York, so he was available to work with us.
I was under tremendous time pressure and wanted to invite Gene to Zürich, but he had just had a hip operation and couldn’t travel. Nevertheless, I was in desperate need of a professional tournament director for the Kremlin Cup. This was before Skype. What could I do?
I took a Concorde ﬂight to New York!
I arrived in the morning and ﬂew back the next day. I told Scott about the idea of organizing the Kremlin Cup, and offered him the role of tournament director. He found it so exciting, he immediately agreed, and we signed a collaboration contract. And when I offered him a certain sum of money for producing the tournament, he asked to be paid less!
Gollar: Gene Scott was known as the top man in the tennis world, and in Moscow they said that now that a professional is involved, everything becomes real and serious. It was game, set and match for Sasson’s vision.