Western & Southern Open Back In Familiar Digs

Western & Southern Open (photo: @CincyTennis/Twitter)

MASON, OHIO/WASHINGTON, August 17, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

After a year’s respite in New York due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Western & Southern Open has returned to its familiar digs at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio, near Cincinnati. The players and fans are glad to be back in familiar surroundings for this ATP/WTA 1000 combined event.

Started in 1899, the Western & Southern Open is the oldest tennis tournament in the United States that’s still played in its original city as well as the second largest in the U.S. behind the US Open.

One need only look at the Western & Southern men’s and women’s singles draw sheets to realize that both are packed with stars, which no doubt will attract fans. On the WTA side, there are 16 of the top 17 women competing, led by World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and No. 2 Naomi Osaka. Meanwhile, 16 of the top 20 men are chasing after the last ATP Masters 1000 title before the US Open starts in two weeks.

“Some of the first-round match-ups are incredible,” said Tennis Channel analyst Chanda Rubin, commenting on site during TC’s opening-day broadcast Monday. For instance, in the women’s first round, Montreal champion Camila Giorgi will face Jessica Pegula, whom she beat in the Omnium Banque Nationale semifinals just three days ago. The last champion crowned in Mason, 2019 titlist Madison Keys, is already a casualty as a result of a 7-5, 6-4 loss to two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who finished with nine aces and 28 winners, in their Center Court tussle Monday afternoon.

“Some of the players are having to battle against each other coming out of the gate and have to be ready to go,” Rubin said. “Some have been looking for matches, like Simona Halep, to see where her game continues to go. We’ll see Belinda Bencic, the Olympic gold medalist, who is here.”

The aforementioned Belinda Bencic, seeded tenth, will square off with Olympic silver medalist Marketa Vondrousova, whom she beat in the Tokyo gold medal final two weeks ago, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, in Tuesday’s first round. A possible early-round match could see Osaka going up against Coco Gauff. There’s more than a quarter-of-a-million dollars up for grabs that will go to the women’s winner – and plenty of incentive for everyone entered in the 56-player draw. The same for the men, who will compete for even more prize money – $654,815 goes to the champion.

Meanwhile, the men’s draw is just as rich with intrigue even if none of the Big Three – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic – are playing. For instance, No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas could face NextGenATP rising star Sebastian Korda in the second round, and No. 13 seed Roberto Bautista Agut will play 2017 Cincinnati champion Grigor Dimitrov in an opening-round match. These are the kinds of matches that might be title finals in ATP 250s but not at the Western & Southern Open.

“Everyone is trying to get in matches – it’s a very important week – before the US Open,” Rubin stressed. “Same with the men. It will be interesting to see how Daniil Medvedev comes back after his big win [in Toronto]. Everybody knows it tough. Just to get a place in the main draw was tough. It’s what makes this tournament exciting to watch.”

Indeed, World No. 2 and top seed Daniil Medvedev, who lifted the trophy at the Masters 1000 National Bank Open in Toronto Sunday and won the Cincinnati title in 2019, will face Citi Open runner-up Mackenzie McDonald, who defeated Los Cabos and Atlanta finalist Brandon Nakashima, 7-5, 6-2, in an all-American wild card battle Monday night. Medvedev will be chasing after his fifth Masters 1000 title.

There are plenty of marquee matchups in the coming days. Now, if only the rain will go away, which delayed the start of Monday’s play for nearly two-and-a-half hours and returned four hours later to further delay the opening day’s order of play from being completed before midnight.

Brilliant opening display by Krejcikova

In her first match as a Top 10 player, No. 9 seed Barbora Krejcikova continue her winning ways, with a brilliant 6-3, 6-2 opening-round victory over No. 27 Daria Kasatkina that lasted just 72 minutes to begin play on Center Court Monday afternoon.

The Czech star and Olympic gold medalist in women’s doubles, in her Cincinnati singles main draw debut, advanced with her 37th victory of the season – including 23 of her last 25 – by hitting 32 winners against 21 unforced errors. She converted three of eight break-point opportunities and outpointed Kasatkina 64-44 to reach the second round. Next, she will play the winner between American wild card Caty McNally, ranked 136th, and No. 50 Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine.

Since winning Roland Garros earlier this year, Krejcikova has exuded confidence in her abilities – winning three of her last five tournaments – and just as important, she’s having fun on the court.

“It’s really special to play in front of a crowd,” Krejcikova, beaming a big smile, said during an on-court interview after her win. Thank you so much! You came and watched me. A year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that I would be playing on the center court and having so many people watching me. It’s amazing.

“Every single match on this level is very tough. You have to just perform your best tennis. I think I was serving very well … I just extremely happy my tennis was good.”

Later, during a sit-down interview with Tennis Channel, Krejcikova was asked what’s been most special about her breakout season, which has including winning both singles and doubles titles at Roland Garros as well as an Olympic gold medal in women’s doubles with longtime Czech doubles partner Katerina Siniakova. She said: “I would say all of it. Every tournament is different, very difficult. I’m happy I’m keeping a good level and improving all the time. I’m happy that each time I step on the court I’m trying to be a better player.”

Buon compleanno: Sinner celebrates 20th birthday with win

Recent Citi Open champion Jannik Sinner of Italy was in a good mood to chat. After all, he was celebrating his 20th birthday and he did it in style on the tennis court with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Argentina’s 48th-ranked Federico Delbonis in his Cincinnati debut.

The World No. 15 Sinner, who fired six aces and hit 22 winners, came back in the second set to win three straight games after trailing 4-2 to Delbonis during the one hour and 38 minute first-round match and promptly closed out the victory. He outpointed his opponent 77-62.

Afterward, during a TV interview with Tennis Channel‘s Prakash Amritraj, Sinner said of his birthday triumph: “For me, the biggest present was today playing in front of the crowd … and getting the win makes it perfect. I love playing tennis. Winning is the maybe the cherry on top. … I’m happy with my performance today.

“For me, honestly, a birthday is like a normal day, maybe with a great dinner and some better desserts. The perfect birthday is here and [hopefully] I can have so many years in the U.S. with my birthday.”

Next, Sinner will play either No. 26 John Isner of the United States or No. 31 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain in the second round on Wednesday.

Monday’s Western & Southern results

Tuesday’s Western & Southern order of play

News & noteworthy …

• Women’s No. 2 seed Naomi Osaka, who has pledged to donate her prize money from the Western & Southern Open to relief efforts in Haiti after the country was struck by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake on Saturday, gave her first WTA interview since withdrawing from the French Open to focus on her mental health. It wasn’t without incident.

• Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman celebrated his 29th birthday with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory Dan Evans of Great Britain. The No. 10 seed hit five aces and won 81 percent (39 of 48) of his first-serve points against the No. 28 Evans. Schwartzman outpointed his opponent 82-66.

• There were a total of nine match points exchanged in the final set between No. 31 Paula Badosa of Spain and No. 34 Petra Martic of Croatia during their first-round match on Porsche Court 10. After three hours and seven minutes of play – not to mention various rain interruptions – Badosa prevailed, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (9), to advance against No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

A pre-tournament cap and gown graduation

Remembering Tony Trabert

“Quotable …”

“It’s lot easier to win the tournament when only one of them is playing instead of all three of them. So it’s an opportunity for a lot of those guys who are just behind in the rankings or, you know, haven’t won these sorts of events before, gives them a bit more of an opportunity. Yeah, it’s a different landscape, I think. It’s felt anyway when I come to these sorts of tournaments and buildup to the US Open, for all of, almost all of my career those guys have been there and competing to win.”

Andy Murray, during his Western & Southern Open pre-tournament media interview on the absence of the Big Three of men’s tennis, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, from this year’s Western & Southern Open draw.

“I never thought I would have this moment in this career. You need to appreciate a lot in art, as in life. Mom taught me that at a young age it’s important to have this variety. It’s very healthy.

“My mom is amazing She follows sport, but she was a teacher in contemporary art and now has this amazing brand that I’m wearing, Giomila. She always put me in fashion since I was young. My dad was sport, my mom was art. We were going to shops and museums.

“So my life was very complete always, so I didn’t have any discouragement in my life. Because tennis, I believe it’s just my work. It can happen one day you have a bad day, but then you have other things in life. You have friends and. You can go out. There are many interests. I love to read, to. I would love one day to be a writer. I would love to do that.

“So, I think there are many interests. So, it’s not good to be down with just a tennis match.”

Camila Giorgi, 29, newly-crowned Omnium Banque Nationale champion, as told to WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen, on why tennis isn’t everything in her life.