A sports vacation to see the world’s best

No Federer, No Murray, no Djokovic? No problem.

Three of the Big Four in men’s professional tennis pulled out of last week’s Western & Southern ATP World Tour Masters 100 tournament in Mason, Ohio, north of Cincinnati, which many top male and female players use as a tune-up for the U.S. Open in New York City early in September.

All three are nursing injuries, Federer his back and Murray his hip. Djokovic’s elbow injury has sidelined him for the remainder of the year.

Even without those three stars, my oldest son and I saw some awesome world-class tennis during the two days (well, one and a half, really) that we attended the tournament.

The fourth of the Big Four, Rafael Nadal, a Spaniard who now is the world’s No. 1 male player, was supposed to play Thursday night and again Friday night (assuming he won Thursday, of course).

We never saw him play on Thursday. Neither did anyone else. The entire nighttime slate got rained out. Even some of the Thursday day matches didn’t get completed.

Rain, rain, go away

As the rain drizzled and sometimes poured down, my son and I hung out underneath the Center Court stands with dozens of others. We met a couple from Louisville who drove up for the Thursday night and Friday day sessions – it’s less than two hours to Mason from their home. They arrived just in time to see rain.

All of us were hoping to see some action on the court. We did see some action, just not from the players.

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As soon as the rain stopped, ball boys and girls came out with squeegees to begin drying off the court. They were followed by their peers and operations staff with huge dryers that made conversation inside the court area difficult. Others grabbed towels and got down on their knees to wipe off the lines, which are slippery when wet.

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Before the job was finished, however, the rain started again. The operations manager in charge of the situation sagged his shoulders and motioned everyone back into hiding.

 

This process was repeated twice more as the rain kept falling, then stopping, then re-starting. Finally, a few minutes after 11 p.m. (the night session was supposed to start at 7 p.m.), the public address announcer informed those of us remaining that the weather was not cooperating, and all matches would be rescheduled for Friday.

The men

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Rafael Nadal. Below left: Grigor Dimitrov. Below right: Nick Kyrgios.

Nadal, like quite a few other players, was forced to play two matches on Friday. He won his afternoon match easily, but got smoked by Nick Kyrgios of Australia – who also had to play two matches on Friday – in the most surprising result of the tournament.

Kyrgios was hitting serves upwards of 140 mph, the fastest serves my son and I saw, and hardly missed a one. He didn’t miss any other shots either. Or so it seemed.

 

After the match, according to The Associated Press, Nadal wore a ribbon honoring the victims of a van attack earlier in the day in Barcelona that left 13 people dead.

“A tragedy,” Nadal said. “The feeling that you’re not safe nowhere – that’s terrible … To all the victims, the families, friends – all my support.”

I’m hoping that didn’t distract him on the court.

In the men’s final, which I watched on TV on Sunday, Kyrgios played Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, a steady, consistent player – the opposite of the emotional, roller coaster ride that Kyrgios takes his fans on. In the Round of 16, we saw Kyrgios hit a shot while running off the court to the right; he kept going and high-fived a half-dozen fans in the first row after winning the point. Earlier, he conceded one point by hitting a ball between his legs that his opponent, Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, hit back for a winner.

Dimitrov won the title, 6-3, 7-5.

The women

For star power, we enjoyed watching the women’s draw. All the top women played in Mason, and most were still around when we showed up for the Round of 16 matches on Thursday. The one disappointment was Venus Williams, who lost her Wednesday match.

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Garbine Muguruza. Below left, Madison Keys. Below right, Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The eventual winner, Garbine Muguruza of Spain, played arguably the two best matches of the tournament – and we saw them both. On Thursday, she defeated American Madison Keys in a three-set thriller. Keys actually had a couple of match points, but Muguruza won those points and then won in a third-set tiebreaker.

On Friday, she defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia in another three-setter that took 2 hours, 45 minutes – the first of six matches in 12 hours played on Center Court on Friday, thanks to Thursday night’s rainouts. Muguruza won 6-2, 5-7, 7-5. Both played at the top of their games.

We saw many of the best players in the world playing their best tennis. What a treat.

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Simona Halep
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Kristina Pliskova

After those two scintillating matches, the semi and final were almost routine for Muguruza, who earlier this summer also won the prestigious Wimbledon championship in Great Britain. In the semi-final, she defeated the female world’s No. 1 player and defending Western & Southern Open champion Kristina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-2, then in the final dispatched Simona Halep of Romania, 6-1, 6-0.

Halep would have taken over the No. 1 spot in the world had she won the tournament. It wasn’t to be.

An event worth repeating

My son and I are turning this into an annual event. We attended the Thursday and Friday sessions last year as well, and enjoyed it so much we went for an encore performance this year.

This time, we stayed at a motel three-quarters of a mile from the tennis center, so we didn’t even have to fight the traffic to get there. We walked. Great exercise as we passed cars trapped in the grassy parking lot waiting to exit (the grassy field was less muddy this year, which means they improved it).

 

During a late-afternoon Thursday rain delay, we left the tennis center to grab dinner at a local restaurant (much cheaper than the food at the center, which wasn’t bad, actually), then returned for the night session that didn’t happen.

It’s an awesome tournament. The grandstand and the side courts are small enough that fans can get close to the players (close enough for a high-five, for those so inclined). We could hear them talk to themselves, and see the expressions on their faces.

Kyrgios was the only player we saw throw a racket in frustration (he didn’t break it).

We saw Nadal’s patented fist pump after he broke Kyrgios’s serve (he only did it the one time).

Tennis is a game of sportsmanship and respect, for the opponents, the judges, the chair umpire and even for the ball boys and ball girls. All the support officials played their roles very well. I enjoyed watching the ball boys and girls roll the balls to the proper side of the court, depending who was serving, quickly, efficiently and unobtrusively.

The players could challenge line judges’ calls, but the original calls were rarely overturned. They have some great eyes to see exactly where a 100-plus mph ball lands.

Tennis does replay right. Fast. They show the evidence to the fans as well as the players. In or out. Play on.

We most likely will be back in 2018. Come join us, if you can. It’s worth the trip – and for those of us in the Midwest, not nearly so far or so crowded (or so expensive) as the U.S. Open in New York City would be. Although I’m sure that’s an experience too.

Professional tennis is a big hit. Even with the rain.

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