Tennis anyone?

Mason’s Western & Southern Open returns

By Sarah Sidlow

Photo: Top men’s player Novak Djokovic signs a player card for a young tennis fan at Mason’s Western & Southern Open tennis tournament; photo: Tony Wagner

“The tennis tourney Tuesday was marked with brilliant and fast playing on the part of the contestants, awakening the greatest interest in what promises to be the most successful tournament ever held in Cincinnati, if not the entire West.” 

So declared the Cincinnati Times Star, September 19, 1899, as it reported on the first ever day of existence of the Cincinnati Open tennis tournament. That’s right, before Flexpoint tech replaced wooden racquets and lightweight moisture-wicking fabric ousted long pants and ankle-length tennis skirts, professional tennis was celebrated in Cincinnati.

Today, that tourney is the Western & Southern Open, and it’s way more than just tennis (but it has great tennis too).

See and be scene

There’s a vibe one strives to achieve when hosting a major tennis tournament. Wimbledon’s green ivy and traditional strawberries and crème set apart this gentleman’s sport as a cultural experience. The event is just that—an event. A gestalt of things not only athletic, but cultural. At the W&S, the allure of ambiance is complemented by Midwestern accessibility.

Around the grounds of the Lindner Family Tennis Center, you’ll quickly find the tournament organizers have thought of everything. Tropical plantings and annuals (more than 25,000 are planted every year) create an escape from all things pedestrian.

“What we really strive to do is create like a vacation atmosphere right at the Midwest,” says Will Sikes, director of marketing and communications. “We’ve all heard from so many people when they’re out on the food court that, ‘I kind of forget I’m half-way between Dayton and Cincinnati.’”

Adding to the ambiance, more than 30 original bands will take the outside stage over the weeklong event—a far cry from canned cover bands and piped-in pop.

“You often hear a stray steel drum just playing around the grounds,” Sikes says. “That’s really like the overall kind of aura that we’re trying to create and that we have created.”

Upscale boutique vendors and athletic outfitters mean you can shop ‘til you drop. Everything from sunglasses and jewelry to tennis apparel and accessories are right here. And if you do play, don’t miss the majorly cool Midwest Sports store—complete with apparel, equipment and gear you never knew you needed.

The “food court” kicks nachos to the curb, providing instead a foodie oasis of locally owned restaurants and James Beard Award-winning chefs. Highlights include Taste of Belgium’s chicken and waffles, and “urban Italian” from Palomino Restaurant and Bar.

Fourteen available food booths mean you can experience all 14 sessions of tennis and never have the same meal twice—a calculated consideration, according to Sikes.

And, of course, the ubiquitous Moet Champagne Bar is here, right where it should be—not to mention a Michelob Ultra Legends Bar, el Arco Tequila Margarita Bar, Robert Mondavi Private Selection Wine Garden and a Svedka Vodka Lounge, because, you know, you’ve been working hard.

But even with all of these attractions, there’s one aspect of the W&S that raises it head and shoulders above other tournaments of this scale: elbow room. While the tourney continues to break attendance numbers each year (last year saw just under 200,000 visitors), organizers are conscious of the way personal space can affect the event experience.

“The last thing we ever want is for our fans to feel like they are stepping over each other to get somewhere,” Sikes says. “We try to preserve the sanctity of making a venue that people can walk around and breathe in where they don’t feel like they’re shoulder to shoulder at all times.”

Have a ball

Don’t be fooled—the off-court experience at the W&S is not provided as a consolation for lack-luster tennis.

The Western and Southern Open is both a Master’s 1000 tournament and a Premier 5 WTA event. This means it’s a mandatory event for the world’s top 44 men and at least seven of the top 10 women. But with an excess of $7 million on the line for the top tourney winners, the crème of the crop always crop up here. Moreover, this is the last major test for these professionals before the final major of the year, the U.S. Open.

“There’s really no reason not to play,” Sikes says, “especially considering we’re in the same climate, time zone and the exact same court surface as the U.S. Open—those are components that are attractive to the players.”

Yet afforded to you at the W&S is a brilliant mix of new and veteran talent, all readily accessible, if you know where you’re going. The stars are all here: Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, femme fatales Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova and sibling sidekicks the Bryan Brothers all make appearances. So too do up-and-comers.

“We look at some of the young guns especially on the men’s side,” Sikes says of surveying the draw. “We like to see who fills up the stadium, who’s got that charisma.”

This year, two electric young Aussies, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis have Sikes’ vote as players-to-watch.

“You know sometimes it’s just not so much what has happened in the past,” he says, “but what’s that potential and when are they truly going to break out in a big event? That’s the question.”

The Western and Southern Open takes place August 15-23 at the Lindner Family Tennis Center, 5460 Courseview Dr. in Mason, Ohio. Grounds passes and single-session or full-series tickets are available. For a complete schedule of events, tickets and more information, please visit wsopen.com.

Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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