On Wednesday, August 14th, 2019, we woke up early in the morning to make our way up to the Cincinnati, Ohio area for the annual Western & Southern Open. It is a professional tennis tournament that draws the top tennis players in the world. In fact, the top 30 or so professional tennis players in the world, both men and women, are required to be at the Cincinnati Masters Tournament as it is one of the nine ATP Masters 1000 tournaments. ATP tournaments are set at different levels of importance/prestige/payout with 250 being the lowest, the next being 500 level, and then the 1000 Master level tournaments. The only tournaments in professional tennis that are of a higher level than the 1000’s are the four ‘Majors’ of the Grand Slam: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. So, needless to say, it is quite special that Cincinnati is able to host something of this level every year.
Now, normally Andrea is not much of a sports fan, but she has come to enjoy soccer and, especially, tennis. The first time we went to a tennis tournament (and my first time going to one too) was shortly after we were married in 2016. We went to the finals of the Cincinnati Masters that year and was able to see one of the “Big Four” in men’s tennis, as they are called, Andy Murray, lose to Marin Cilic. Andy Murray was considered to be one of the “Big Four” due to him winning Wimbledon multiple times, along with the U.S. Open once, and he was just coming off of a gold medal performance in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which was his second straight gold medal.
In 2018, we also went to this tournament, again on a Wednesday. Andrea’s work schedule at the time was a bit odd, so we had to sneak in some tennis time when we could. But it is also somewhat of a blessing to be able to go to a tennis tournament early in the week. There is so much going on, so many matches to choose from, that it is kind of nice to be able to hop around the venue from court to court to check out so many of the world’s best players in just one day.
Now, the appeal of sports does not lie in just the competition. Yes, it is true that the players and the effort of the players drives the interest and can help determine the level of enthusiasm of the crowd. There is always crowd noise, the oooh’s, aaaah’s, and shouts that can help the participants become more determined to compete harder which in turn revs up the crowd even more. By contrast, if the crowd is sparse and the players disinterested then there is less appeal to watch that particular match. The players showing respect, and sometimes (as you will see later) disrespect, towards each other, the fans, and the on-court officials can also affect the feel and even the outcome of a sporting event too. Maybe this is why so many people like sports?
Enough talk, it’s time to get so some of the action!
Our first match of the day was between two fellow countrymen from Japan, Yoshihito Nishioka and Kei Nishikori. Nishikori is quite popular in Japan and has been a mainstay in the top-10 rankings for the men’s tour despite never winning a major and only making the final of one major, the U.S. Open, once. I was rooting heavily for Nishikori during the match as I have watched him on tv multiple times. Unfortunately, Nishikori ended up losing in straight sets to the younger, less experienced Nishioka, 7-6, 6-4. It was Nishioka’s first win over a top 10 player so I’m sure he was extremely excited for the win especially with it being over someone he may look up to.
Here are some photos from the match from the Grandstand.
After the match we decided to get some lunch really quick as it was just past noon. The Lindner Family Tennis Center always has a nice array of food available. From burgers, to tacos, seafood, Greek, Asian fusion, and more along with some local Cincinnati favorites in Graeter’s Ice Cream and LaRosa’s pizza. I think we went with burgers this time. While we ate a cover band played some tunes.
Our next match of note was in the main arena between the women’s number 1 seed in the tournament, Ashleigh Barty, from Australia, and a previous multi-grand slam champion, Maria Sharapova, from Russia (but lives in the U.S.). Barty, just a few months before, had won the French Open. Sharapova, though, is a member of the illustrious and small group of people, both men and women, that have won the career grand slam, meaning all four grand slam tournaments, with the French Open twice and the others once, for a total of five grand slam wins.
During the first set the match was tight. Sharapova kept it close with her precision serves and volleys. But, in the end, Barty was just too powerful for Sharapova and Barty won 6-4, 6-1. Despite the end result, it was still cool to watch Sharapova finally, especially since she recently retired.
After this match we made our way back to the Grandstand to watch the end of a match already in progress between Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany and Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, the number five seed in the tournament. Tsitsipas had gained some recent attention and popularity due to some deep runs in recent tournaments and his flare on the court. Despite that, he still lost in three sets to Struff, but it was close, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6, with the last two sets going to a tiebreaker. So far, everyone I had rooted for had lost too. Oh well. Tsitsipas is in the red shirt below.
Our next match just so happened to be the one following this one on the Grandstand. It was between the newly crowned women’s world number 1 Naomi Osaka of Japan and Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus. Naomi Osaka seemingly came out of nowhere over the past year. When we were at the Cincinnati Masters tournament in 2018, Osaka was there too, but we had not heard of her as of yet since she was not performing well and actually lost in the first round of this tournament in 2018. But after that she went on to win the U.S. Open and then the Australian Open at the beginning of 2019. She quickly became popular on the tour with her personality which, to me, seems to be a mix of shy/silly/sweet/and humble, and her on-court presence with the ability to just dominate a match if she wants to. After winning the first set we thought Osaka would dominate the rest of the match and went to go watch some other matches. This one ended up going to the full three sets, but Osaka still pulled it out in the end. Osaka, below, is wearing the yellowish skirt.
Another cool feature of the venue is this. It has huge screens on three sides of it so that the people wandering around or eating can keep up with the matches that are going on.
We made our way to a doubles match between two teams of women from Europe. During the past few summers I have been playing in a doubles league here in Louisville and thought it might be a good idea to get some pointers on this variety of tennis. The match, to me, featured Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia who won the French Open a few years ago, but has not done much since then. During the match, Ostapenko’s partner wasn’t too much help and she ended up having to get the majority of the points they won on her own. The other team was so dominate during the first set that we decided to move on to another match.
We tried to watch a few more double matches, but the courts were small and there wasn’t any decent viewing options left that we could find so we wandered around the venue a little bit more until the start of the next match between Francis Tiafoe, an American, and Roberto Bautista-Agut of Spain. It was a fun and entertaining match where neither one of the players wanted to give in. Just check out this shot from Tiafoe!
Despite the hard effort brought forth by Tiafoe, he still lost the match 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to Bautista-Agut. The first two sets seemed closer than the score was though.
After this match we had to make our way into the main stadium for the final match of the night. It was also our most anticipated match of the day too since we were not able to see the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, or Venus Williams as they all played the day before. Anyway, the final match of the day was between two men, Karen Khachanov of Russia and Nick Kyrgios of Australia. This was our highlight match of the night due to Khachanov. When we went to the tournament the previous year in 2018 we sat down for a match between Khachanov and an American, Sam Querrey. Before the match we had never heard of Khachanov, but we quickly grew to like him and started to follow him after that.
The match with Kyrgios had some potential to be even more memorable too as Kyrgios is something of an emotional player, sometimes overly emotional, and his level of play can tend to go on a roller coaster ride due to his handling of his emotions. Also, both men have a huge serve. Kyrgios hit over 150 mph multiples time during the match and Khachanov went over 140 mph a lot too. Here is a short look at their serves.
As you can see, both of them are wearing the same outfit. That was because both are sponsored by Nike and I guess they were rolling out a new product line that week. There were a few other men who wore the same outfit, a white shirt with gold shorts all week too.
The match started off, if I remember correctly, with both men just pounding their serve. I think each of them won their serve each time during the first set which led to a tie break won by Kyrgios.
The second set, I believe, did actually have some back-and-forth action with at least one break of serve each. Khachanov ended up winning the second set in a tie break.
At some point during the match, Kyrgios became irritated by the chair umpire/official though and was noticeably talking to himself. During one court change break, both myself and Andrea noticed him making many gestures and moving his head around. We were too far up into the stands to hear what he was saying so we thought that maybe he was just having an argument with himself (it’s not beyond him) or talking to his coaches. We later found the highlights on the internet and, suffice to say, after you watch this, you will understand why there was some backlash afterwards.
I think sometime during the second set he was warned about taking too long on his serve. He then became upset with the ref and may have talked about how Rafael Nadal always takes a long time but he never gets called for a time violation, ever. After this, despite being in the match and playing really well to this point, Kyrgios just eventually decided to let the match go. After getting down by just a little bit in the third set he stopped trying, even just soft lobbing some serves, I think. By the end Kyrgios was getting boo’s from some people. Oh well. It definitely made for an entertaining and memorable match. And our guy won in the end. Here are some photos from the match.