Friday, September 24, 2021

Western and Southern Open, Day 1

[Composed 8/19/2021]

Last year's US Open was cancelled. To make up for missing the tournament, we decided we'd double up this year: taking in the Western and Southern Open *and* the US Open.

The Western and Southern Open turns out to be a pretty big deal. Not only is it a Masters 1000 Event, putting it one notch below the 4 Grand Slam Events, but it's "the nation's oldest professional tennis tournament played in its city of origin." Looking at the draw, nearly all the top tennis players in the world were planning to attend, which they use as warm up for the US Open.

While the tournament is hyped as a Cincinnati event, so far, we've yet to see any sign of the city itself. Due to traffic congestion, Google routed us around the city when we made our way from the airport to our hotel last night. On the plus side, I did get to be welcomed to Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio on our drive, so that was fun. I'm sure Cincinnati is great, but this trip is all about making up for missing a year of tennis.

We started the day watching Medvedev take on Dimitrov. Medvedev is number two in the world and ever since his rise in the 2019 US Open, we've been fans. He had no problem beating Dimitrov and he showed off his impressive court coverage skills that I find so impressive. At one point, he took a tumble and Dimitrov came to the other side of the net to help him up. It was a fun reminder that as competitive as these guys are, even they know they're just playing a game.

The day had started with some showers and overcast skies. But that quickly gave way to a mix of sunshine, humidity and heat that's pretty unbearable. Yuck.

Next up we watched Barty take on Azarenka. Oy, it was a blood bath as Barty crushed her 6-0, 6-2. I wonder what goes through Azarenka's mind when she suffers this kind of loss? Was she having a bad day? Was Barty playing next level tennis? Does she question her career choices? Or, like Dimitrov coming over the net to help Medvedev up, does she remember, it's just a game?

After watching these first matches in the main stadium, we made our way to Grandstand, the second tier side court where we watched Monfils vs Rublev. Monfils always brings the entertainment and drama, and this match was no different. After showing signs of knee trouble and getting a medical timeout, Monfils finished a rally by running off court and disappearing behind a waist high barrier. It took a few minutes to figure out what happened, but apparently he had hurled into a garbage can back there.

Monfils took some time to compose himself and come back to the court, which obviously frustrated Rublev. Finally, Monfils approached the net and talked it out with Rublev, getting him to come to the net to do a quick handshake and resume play. I'm not sure Rublev was in the mood to make up and play nice, but sportsmanship ultimately won the day. Don't feel too bad for Rublev, he ultimately took the match.

Next up on Grandstand was Ruud vs. Schwartzman. I convinced Shira to move down to the second row of the stadium, way too close for her preference, to watch the match. It blows my mind that we can watch two top 15 players in the world battle it out from the same vantage point I'd have in a high school tennis match.

After this match we made our way to the food court area where I splurged on a Cookie Monster Sundae from the Graeter's Ice Cream stand. Between the heat and the tennis overload, it was absolutely heavenly. Should I have consumed what felt like a half gallon of ice cream? Uh, yes, yes I should have. I'd earned it.

By now, you must be thinking: that's enough tennis for one day. But wait, there's more! After my ice cream sugar rush we headed over to watch Ram / Salisbury vs Monroe / Tiafoe on an even smaller side court. Tiafoe is from the DC area, so it's a treat whenever we get to cheer him on. This was our first double's match of the tournament, and I forgot how much fun these guys like to have. We were close enough to hear the players banter between each other. Standing at the net, Tiafoe would use the hand behind his back to flash various signs to Monroe who was serving. "Here?" he'd ask. "How about here?" By now I'd had more than my fill of tennis for the day, but even I had to appreciate the energy these guys were bringing to the court.

After doubles, we made our way back to center court where we watched Tsitsipas take on Sonega. Tsitsipas, number three in the world, is a top player who can lose a first set comfortably, knowing that he can prevail in the end. And that's exactly what he did this match. To see the number two and three players in the world play on the same day is really one heck of a treat.

And finally we closed out the night watching Berrettini vs Auger-Aliassime. In a nod to just how relaxed a tennis tournament the Western and Southern open is, nobody checked to see if we'd purchased night match tickets, much less if we were sitting in our correct seats. The match was pretty one sided with FAA showing impressive dominance. That kid is going places.

As we headed back to our car, I couldn't help but feel as though I'd made up for missing the US Open and then some all in one day. And yet, we'd be back tomorrow for more! At least I had ice cream in my   future, that much I could depend on.

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