Andre Silva serves up world class tennis at the Western & Southern Open

By John Erardi, Contributing Writer
Photos and video by Madison Schmidt

As youngster, Andre Silva once played tennis with countryman Pele -- yes, that Pele, the soccer legend because Silva's tennis coach was himself a former soccer player.

“Maybe that's why I wasn't that good of a tennis player," says Silva, laughing.

It's easy to see why the second-year tournament director of the Western & Southern Open is so popular with the touring tennis pros. Not only was the amiable Brazilian the ATP Chief Player Officer for seven years, he has a delightful sense of humor.

Last year – his first as Western & Southern Open tournament director – was buffeted by a rough patch of weather, not exactly what one would wish on a man who'd been on the job for only three months, making him not only new as director, but new as a director-dad, with a then three-year-old son and three-month-old daughter.

When I asked Silva on Wednesday afternoon at the Lindner Tennis Center in Mason what it is that he enjoys doing in Cincinnati on those days when he is not at the tennis center, his answer doesn't surprise me. He’s a family man through-and-through. His family is wife, LeAnn; son Tristan, the eldest, and Tristan’s sister, Harper.

“I like to take the kids to the zoo, the aquarium and, in general, get them outside,” he says.  “The night-life in Cincinnati, I don’t know about much about – I know much more about the parks.”

We both laugh.

I tell him what I heard Reds announcer Marty Brennaman say unsolicited on the air last Tuesday night while I was on my way home from a family trip, at the wheel of mycar in western New York, picking up the WLW-AM  signal as crisp and powerful as a Roger Federer forehand.

Marty has been "at the wheel" as Reds play-by-play man for as long as Silva's been on the planet -- 44 years. When Marty speaks, people listen. And what Marty said (I'm paraphrasing here), is that the Western & Southern Open is one of the true jewels of southern Ohio sporting events.

I tell Silva this because I figure that as tournament director only a few days away from tournament time, there is no way he would have heard it for himself.

“We’re very proud of what we do here,” Silva responds. “So, what he said is a validation of what we’ve done here, especially the last four or five years. Even though I wasn’t here then, I know there’s been tremendous growth. We need to continue to strive to be a premier event, not only in this area, but in all of the Midwest . . . We want to be the best, not only here, but everywhere.”

Silva is personable and really good at the serve-and-volley of interviews. He’s had plenty of experience at it. He grew up in tennis world, first as a player (Anderson University in South Carolina), then as a staffer (Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida).  Running tournaments is in his blood (two-year director of the ATP World Tour Finals in London).

“It’s still a new position for me here,” he says. “It’s true, I think, what people say about really needing to go through a full year to be able to understand what you’re doing. It’s a very different event and setup than what I had in London. You want to try to create something new that doesn’t go against all the traditions that has been built here.  It’s a balance. You want to continue to innovate, but at the same time respect what’s working.  Because it’s been working.”   

When I ask Silva where he expects the tennis tours to be in three years, he doesn’t answer with a platitude; he cuts to the heart of the matter.

“I’m one of those glass-half-full people,” Silva says. “A lot of people are concerned about Roger, Rafa, Serena, Maria et al. They’re getting older, as we are all. We don’t know how long they’re going to play. They are fantastic ambassadors. But I also think there is an exciting group of people who are (in the shadows) of the great legends of the sport. There are great personalities out there. Nobody goes from 0 to 19 (major championships as Federer has done) overnight.

“It will take time to build some of the stars. We went through the same thing when I was starting at the ATP. Pete (Sampras) and Andre (Agassi) were about to retire. There was a transition period where we had four or five No. 1’s. I like new. Don’t get me wrong, I love Roger and Rafa. But I don’t mind new young stars challenging them.”

One of the truly great features of the W&S Open is the closeness of the players and fans. I’ve always admired that, even though I’ve been largely a baseball writer for much of my professional career. Maybe especially because I’ve been a baseball writer. Most major league baseball teams, including the Reds, don’t have what the Western & Southern has.

“It’s one of our goals – keep the players accessible,” Silva says. “But I have to give the credit to the people who make that happen – the players. We’ve been blessed by an incredible generation of players on the men’s and women’s sides. The last 10 years, probably even more, the top players are leading the charge of being accessible. They’re setting the example.  They understand the importance of the fans. We can do a tremendous job of trying to connect, but if the players don’t connect, don’t have personalities, there’s nothing we can do. But when a young player walks into the locker room and sees how, for example, Roger (Federer) treats people, treats fans, I think that has a huge impact. It happens on both tours, men’s and women’s. They (the leaders) are incredible.”

A special strength of the W&S Open is the autograph sessions – very organized, not at all chaotic – and the players know they are safe, secure and assured of pleasant and relaxed interaction.

Likewise, when I ask Silva what he is most excited about regarding the presentation of this year’s tournament, he doesn’t try to hype yet another sort of polish.  He’s a nuts and bolts guy, but one who is mindful of bells and whistles.

“The parking looks a lot better,” he says. “I like having the new practice court. Last year we had a tough situation with the weather. We want to build the momentum of the new building. And I’m excited to have the digital walls on center court. I believe in entertaining the fans. This will get them more engaged. . . It’s all a lot of work, a lot of money. I realize it’s not all sexy, but there’s a lot going on.”  

The late, great Paul Flory continues to be an influence.

“Paul was a player-friendly tournament director,” Silva says. “He understood that the talent is the driver for the whole event. We can put together a great stadium, a great atmosphere, but ultimately (fans) are here to watch great athletes perform on the tennis courts. We want to athletes to feel ‘at home,’ so they can perform at their best. It’s the same concept Paul created many years ago.”

After his total 14 years with the ATP, Silva did 2 ½ years as an executive at Roger Federer’s Team8 sports agency.

So, oh my yes, does he ever know the players. In fact, he knows them so well, his immersion at tournament time will extend well beyond the Western & Southern Open.

He’s headed to New York and the U.S. Open immediately after the W&S Open tournament concludes, to work on player matters.  No rest for the weary, but it will ensure that player relations are at the forefront of the sport.

It’s what makes the Western & Southern great, and the whole tennis world knows it.

About the Western & Southern Open
The Western & Southern Open will be held August 12-20, 2017 at the Lindner Family Tennis Center, 20 miles north of Cincinnati in Mason, OH. The tournament is one of the prestigious ATP Masters 1000 events on the men’s tour and a Premier 5 event for the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), making it one of only five events in the world outside of the grand slams with events of that caliber occurring during the same week at the same venue. The tournament is also one of the last stops on the Emirates Airline US Open Series before the US Open in New York. Since 1974, the tournament has contributed more than $9 million directly to its beneficiaries: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the Barrett Cancer Center and Tennis for City Youth.

Single session tickets are now available, as are grounds passes for select sessions. For more information, visit www.wsopen.com.

Alex ReillyPROFILES