Western & Southern Open: Have Plenty Of Popcorn Ready

WASHINGTON, August 21, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

About 10 years ago, former player and coach Brad Gilbert, now an analyst for ESPN, came up with the term “popcorn match,” which he defined on Twitter as “Get out a big bowl of popcorn and enjoy the show – movie style.”

Well, if the Western & Southern Open men’s and women’s singles draws that were revealed during a Facebook watch party Thursday evening are any indication, fans watching at home on TV around the world – in lieu of being able to attend in person where no fans will be allowed – are going to want to have plenty of popcorn at the ready over the next week. That’s because there are lots of blockbuster coming attractions ready for us to watch and enjoy.

The Western & Southern Open main draw begins Saturday and it’s part of what New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey described as “the most ambitious tennis doubleheader since 2012 when the All England Club hosted Wimbledon and the Olympics. But this one is happening under duress and with much more at risk.”

Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the U.S. Tennis Association to think outside of the box, using unconventional solutions, in order to return tennis to the United States. That’s meant moving the Western & Southern Open this year from the Cincinnati suburb of Mason, Ohio, to Flushing Meadows, N.Y., longtime site of the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. The move was designed to cut down on travel and to also to create a quarantine “bubble” for players and their teams. The US Open will follow the Western & Southern Open, which features an ATP Masters 1000 event and a WTA Premier 5 event.

Both are combined (ATP and WTA) tour events but will maintain separate identities. To do that, Arthur Ashe Stadium and Louis Armstrong Stadium, the two largest show courts, will be idle during the Western & Southern Open. The third-largest court, the Grandstand, will be the primary court. Then, it will be dark during the US Open. When the entire NTC facility is in use, there are 17 competition courts and five practice courts.

Back to the draws, and 15 of the Top 20 men are entered in the Western & Southern Open, including World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 Dominic Thiem and last year’s champion, Daniil Medvedev, who is seeded fifth. It will also feature the return of former No. 1 Andy Murray, who received a wild card entry. Meanwhile, the women’s draw includes 12 of the Top 20, led by World No. 3 Karolina Pliskova, No. 4 Sofia Kenin, No. 9 Serena Williams, and defending champion Madison Keys, who is seeded 13th.

A wild card was issued to former No. 1 Kim Clijsters, 37, who drew a challenging first-round opponent in Jennifer Brady, 12 years her junior. Brady won last week’s WTA event in Lexington, Ky., the first WTA tournament on U.S. soil since March. However, on Friday morning, Clijsters withdrew with an abdominal injury.

“I’m grateful to Western & Southern Open for the opportunity to play the tournament once again. I have great memories from playing in Cincinnati and was looking forward to being a part of the event this year. It’s disappointing to have to withdraw but after discussions with medical and my team, I need a little more recovery time,” Clijsters said in a statement.

”I’m grateful to be able to stay in the ‘bubble’ and continue to prepare with my team here at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“I want to thank the Western & Southern Open team, the USTA and WTA for all their efforts in putting these events together – they’ve worked really hard to create a great experience in a safe and healthy space for players.”

So, it’s time to fix a big bowl of popcorn, season it with a little salt and butter, and get ready to enjoy some great first-round matches this weekend.

Among the men’s popcorn matches:

• Andy Murray vs. Frances Tiafoe, Dan Evans vs. Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov vs. Marin Cilic, Benoit Paire vs. Borna Coric, Karen Khachanov vs. Alexander Bublik, John Isner vs. Hubert Hurkacz, Sam Querrey vs. Milos Raonic.

Among the women’s popcorn matches:

• Alison Riske vs. Amanda Anisimova, Venus Williams vs. Dayana Yastremska, Maria Sakkari vs. Coco Gauff, Ekaterina Alexandrova vs. Elena Rybakina, Donna Vekic vs. Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens vs. Caroline Garcia.