Sunday, August 25, 2013

Blazing Serves and Fresh Lemonade

Dear George,
Thanks to gifts of tickets from our tennis-loving friends, Paula D., Frank C., and Tom J., Katja and I spent three afternoons at the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament in nearby Mason last week.  This world-class event just gets bigger every year.  It’s one of nine elite Masters 1000 tournaments on the men’s ATP World Tour and one of five Premier 5 tournaments on the women’s WTA Tour.   This year the draws included the top 44 men in the world and 44 of the top 46 women.  After a six-month injury layoff preceding this summer Rafael Nadal won the men’s title (prize money, $583,800), and second seed Victoria Azarenko was the woman’s champion ($426,000). 

Also known as the Cincinnati Masters, this is the oldest tennis tournament in the country that has been continually played in its original city.  It began in 1899 as the Cincinnati Open, held on the clay courts of the Avondale Athletic Club (now on the site of Xavier University’s campus).  In 1903 the tournament (subsequently named the Tri-State, the Western, and the ATP Championships) was moved to the Cincinnati Tennis Club and continued there until 1972.  After stints at the Cincinnati Convention Center and the Coney Island Amusement Park, a new tennis center was built in suburban Mason, and the tournament moved there in 1979.  The Lindner Family Tennis Center now has four permanent stadiums, the only tennis facility in the world, aside from the four grand slams, to have more than two stadiums.

I’ve been going to the Cincinnati tournament since the late 1960’s when my friend Clyde M. would organize pro tennis outings of grad students and faculty.  In those early days tournament winners included Ken Rosewall, Stan Smith, Jimmy Connors, and Ilie Nastase.  A daytime pass for the entire week in 1970 cost $10, about the price I paid for an order of fish and chips last week.  When our son J started playing in Cincinnati junior tennis tournaments in 1980, we became tournament regulars at Mason as did other local tennis families, cheering for John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Mats Wilander, and Stefan Edberg.  Since the tournament’s beginning in 1899 Roger Federer has won the most singles titles (5); Cincinnati’s Bill Talbert appeared in the most singles finals (7); and Bobby Riggs is one of the very few players who won three consecutive singles titles. 

We saw some wonderful players this year: Venus and Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Tomas Berdytch, Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Richard Gasquet.  John Isner, a 6-foot 10-inch American ranked No. 22 in the world, was the story of the tournament.  Isner, who’s currently the highest ranking American on the ATP tour, defeated No. 1 seed (Djokovic), No. 7 seed (Del Potro), 8th seed (Gasquet), and 11th seed  (Milos Raonic), before falling in the finals to Rafael Nadal, 7-6, 7-6.  Isner has a gigantic serve, the most powerful on the tour, and Nadal eked out a narrow victory without breaking Isner’s serve a single time.  We watched the men’s and women’s finals on TV, and both were tight, tense matches.  Azarenko won a close match against Serena Williams in three sets, decided by one or two points here and there.

Our weather was perfect, mostly highs in the mid-seventies.  We feasted on pretzels, fresh-squeezed lemonade, and spicy vegetarian wraps.  The crowd was festive and ritzier than our neighborhood grocery store or the public park down the street – leaner, blonder, more athletic looking, younger, and fashionably dressed.  Lots of tennis-playing teenagers with their team affiliations proudly displayed.  Katja bought us Western & Southern Open T-shirts, as well as a black Roger Federer cap for herself.  You’d have to say we look like tennis aficionados.  The legend on one woman’s hat proclaimed, “Life is Good!”  That pretty much sums up the scene.  Now we’re getting geared up for the U.S. Open which starts on TV tomorrow.  In the meantime, here are a few pics from the Western & Southern.  

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