Tennis pros ❤️ the Western & Southern Open

By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer

The Western & Southern Open tournament has long been a favorite stop for tennis fans across the country and around the world. The access to players, the ease in getting tickets and the venue itself make it a must-see for anyone who follows the ATP and WTA tours.

But it turns out that the Lindner Family Tennis Center is also a favorite of the players themselves, who use the W&S Open as an important hard court tune up as they head to the U.S. Open in two weeks. Coming in the back half of a grueling year-long schedule that takes the pros around the world, the Mason stop gives the players a bit of a respite before they head to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for their final major of the year.

The mutual admiration society starts with defending men’s champion Grigor Dimitrov, ranked fifth in the world heading into Mason. Last year’s Western & Southern championship was his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title. “The tournament does an unbelievable job with the players,” he told the press on Monday media day. “You have your own car and you have that freedom. 

“That freedom is really important for us, because when you come out on the court we’re more like artists, we have the freedom to express ourselves, and I think that also helps us to do better,” he said. “I’m very appreciative of that and as defending champion it’s a special feeling.”

It’s also a favorite stop of #2 ranked Caroline Wozniacki, a former #1 in the world and the winner of the 2018 Australian Open. “I think the fans make this tournament really special,” she said.  “They love tennis, they come and support the tournament every year. And being in this part of the country I think people are so friendly, and so open and so nice, and you really feel it.” 

Alexander Zverev, #4 in the world coming to the Western & Southern Open, likes the smaller-town feel of the Mason tournament. “We’re used to playing in massive cities, and here we are in Mason, Ohio. A lot of people come here from all over the U.S., they stay in the hotels, they stay for the week. The atmosphere’s great, playing here is nice and it’s great preparation for the U.S. Open.”

WTA top ranked player Simona Halep also likes how she plays here. “It’s nice because here I always have great results,” she said, after making it to the finals in 2017 and 2015. “I like the courts, they’re a little bit faster here, I like the atmosphere, everything.”

But the honorary mayor of Mason may be Roger Federer, the winner of the Western & Southern a record seven times. Federer took a pass on the ATP Rogers Cup tournament last week to come to Mason early to prepare, and the tour’s #2 player famously brings the family along on his last stop before the U.S. Open. But as many times as he’s been here, there’s one popular Mason venue that he doesn’t visit. 

“In recent years we’ve gone to parks and playgrounds and things like that with the kiddies,” he said, “But what I don’t do is Kings Island. I don’t go over there, I’m too scared of everything, I barely go on the rides that my four-year-old sons do. I feel like I get embarrassed when I show up there.

“I just like taking it easy, an easy and relaxed week to be honest, going to the bookstore, walking around some shops I usually don’t get a chance to see, maybe going to the movies as well. We saw Mission Impossible this week already. I just like to take it easy because next week at the U.S. Open obviously things are very different so I feel like also it’s a good time of the year to take it easy.” 

Federer has long been a fan favorite here, and, he says, the feeling is mutual. “I definitely feel you have a special connection to a place where you’ve been able to win many, many times. Whenever I got the chance to play Cincy, I’ve played it. 

“I feel like I’m closer to people here in Mason, I feel they are true tennis fans. They come here and it’s not just, ‘oh, there happens to be a tennis tournament here, let me go have a look at what it’s about,’ they really travel here to actually come see tennis. That’s what’s so exciting for us as players, you have true tennis fans in the stadium.” 

Check out the schedules and get tickets for the remaining sessions of the Western & Southern Open at www.wsopen.com. 

Alex ReillyPROFILES