Sunshine brings out the best in everyone

Sunshine and blue skies.

That’s a big deal.

When you’re attending a professional tennis tournament, rain is Enemy No. 1. A couple of drops and the white lines get slippery, halting play.

The past two years, my oldest son and I saw as much rain as we did good tennis at the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati. Indeed, the Thursday evening session got rained out two years in a row.

Not this year.

We saw just a few white puffy clouds – and lots of sunshine. No raindrops at all.

Wonderful surprise

Best of all, my middle son surprised me by flying in from Denver to join us for the event. He and my oldest son worked out the arrangements shortly after last year’s tournament ended, and kept the surprise until last week.

Both of them played varsity tennis in high school, so that peaked our interest in the sport.

kontaveit-barty 1

This was our fourth year attending the Western & Southern Open, which many of the top men’s and women’s players in the world use as a tune-up for the U.S. Open, a “grand slam” event in early September in New York City.

Cincinnati is a lot closer to our homes than New York is, and a heck of a lot cheaper. We gain close access to the world’s best without spending an arm and a leg to do it.

Cheap probably isn’t the right word, though.

Gotta eat

While the price of admission is much less than for the U.S. Open, the motel we stayed at jacked up the price for the week, because they know they can do that and still sell out. Capitalism at its finest.

And food costs a lot more on the grounds of the Lindner Family Tennis Center than it does outside the venue. We bought four meals there – lunch and dinner on Thursday and Friday (the motel provided breakfast, such as it was). A basic hamburger cost $9. We also got pizza and calzones one time.

The other meals were specialties of the house. Skyline Chili is a Cincinnati thing. It comes three-way, four-way or five-way: spaghetti topped with chili and cheese are the first three items. Four and five are beans and onions, either or both. It’s delicious.

We also ate “brisket mac and cheese.” For 15 bucks, we get a container of macaroni and cheese – the good stuff, not the boxed “dinner” you get at the grocery store for less than a dollar – topped with BBQ-flavored brisket. While expensive, it was very good.

We also bought a 20-ounce soft drink – for $4.50 – and refilled the bottle with water all afternoon and evening. Since the sun shone bright and temperatures reached the 80s both days, we got some sun and stayed as hydrated as we could.

u.s. pta hof induction

We ate one of our meals in Center Court in between matches. We sat in on a U.S. Professional Tennis Association Midwest Division Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Two people were inducted – one of whom, to my surprise, is from Avon Lake, Ohio, near where I live.

Among other things, Mary Herrick “has developed a number of accomplished tennis players including state champions, Division I collegiate athletes, and two National AAU Junior Olympic Gold Medal Teams. She previously served as a coach for nationally ranked players for the United States Tennis Association (USTA).”

https://yellowballtennis.com/tennis-professionals/mary-herrick/

That was cool.

The women

venus 4

Between the white lines, we saw many new players in the two days we attended of the week-long event. We also saw several superstars – including Venus Williams for the first time. Her sister, Serena Williams, dropped out before her first match with back issues. We still haven’t seen her play (but we saw her in the stands watching Venus play; in the photo above, she’s in the corner, first row).

On Thursday, we saw Venus defeat Donna Vekic of Croatia in three sets. Venus struggled early, then kicked it into gear and won the match.

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We saw the No. 1 seed, Ashleigh Barty (left) of Australia, twice – on Thursday and Friday. She didn’t impress us, really. Barty should have lost on Thursday to Anett Kontaveit (right) of Estonia.

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Barty survived 4-6, 7-5, 7-5. On Friday she did a little better, defeating Maria Sakkari of Greece, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0. (She got crushed in the semi-final on Saturday after we left for home.)

The best women’s match we saw, up there with Barty-Kontaveit, was American Madison Keys – who would go on to win the tournament – defeat Simona Halep of Romania in the standing-room-only Grandstand. Keys won 6-1, 3-6, 7-5.

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Halep (left and below, playing Keys), a former world No. 1 player, has a strong following, even playing against an American in Cincinnati. While most of the crowd roared for Keys, we heard chants of “Simona … Simona …” once or twice as well.

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The men

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On the men’s side, the star of the tournament was a young Russian we weren’t familiar with. Andrey Rublev (right), only 21 years old, turned heads by defeating Roger Federer in a jam-packed Center Court, 6-3, 6-4 (the main photo). Federer (below) did not play badly; Rublev just played better.

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That’s what the tournament is all about.

Did we see a coming-out party for the newest star in professional tennis? Time will tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we did.

Rublev lost on Friday to eventual men’s champion Daniil Medvedev, another Russian, who is one of the world’s top 10 players. Medvedev, on Saturday after we left, shocked Novak Djokovic by defeating him in a three-set match.

We saw Djokovic (below), the defending champion, defeat Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain in straight sets on Thursday.

On Friday, in addition to seeing Medvedev defeat Rublev, we saw Richard Gasquet of France defeat Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in three sets.

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Worth the trip

Our local newspaper gave little to no coverage of the Western & Southern Open, so professional tennis must not be very big in Northeast Ohio. The paper covers youth tennis (and other youth sports) extremely well. But this is a football town, and the Browns are in the headlines every day, even though the NFL is still in its preseason.

Even professional golf and motorsports get more ink than professional tennis does.

But there are other ways to enjoy the sport. The best is to see it in person.

With family.

What an awesome two days.

(Madison keys being interviewed after defeating Halep; Medvedev, taken by The Associated Press.)