26 August 2015

Thoughts from the 2015 Western and Southern Open

After my second visit to the Western & Southern Open last week, my opinion is reaffirmed that Cincy is my personal favorite of all the combined WTA/ATP events (in the US anyway).

Packed stadium on finals day 2015

I first headed to Mason, Ohio in 2012 and at the time I hadn't been to quite as many tennis tournaments as I have now. Since then I've attended joint events in Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid and I definitely feel that Cincy trumps them all for the tennis fan experience.
Madison Keys

So why is Mason, Ohio of all places home to one of the best tennis tourneys to me? For starters, you essentially get a US Open summer hard court experience much cheaper, with better player access and a lot less hassles getting in and out of the site.

Obviously attending a live tennis tournament provides many experiences: the chance to witness great tennis being played live, chat with other tennis fans, watch players practice and get player autographs. And I believe that Cincy provides one of the best venues for doing all that without paying a fortune to stay near Indian Wells or NYC.

Here's a few notes on why Cincy is so fantastic:

Tickets:
Packages to Cincy are well priced even if you won't be at the event every day. Back in 2012 we paid about $700 per person for the front row of the upper section of Center Court and in speaking with a few friends who went this year that's still a good estimate for mid-level seats. For 9 days of tennis that is a very good deal considering you can access all courts with a package. (I recommend selling any tickets you can't use on Stubhub). I don't think there's a bad seat in the main stadium in Cincy so you won't have to watch on the big screen to see who won points.

Courts:
I don't think there's a bad court onsite in Cincy. My personal favorite is Court 9, and that's the consensus of most fans I spoke with who've attended the event. I also like Grandstand although the speaker noises from the main stadium were really loud this year (many players complained actually). The grounds aren't overwhelmingly big so it doesn't take too long to get from one end to the other. I love that there are two main stadiums plus Courts 3 and 9 that can handle a decent-size crowd.

Court 9, I love thee
Player practices:
Practice courts at Cincy are fantastic. There's really only one court (#14) where you can't see as well  due to a fence but it's not like it's blocked off or anything (Serena only practiced here, and Sharapova here too before she w/d). In general, there's plenty of seating at all the practice courts and the tournaments has a schedule on both the app and website, as well as along the grounds. I am not much of a practice fan in general just because they can be boring and I'd rather watch matches, but I usually do a loop around the grounds to take a few pics and see which players hit with each other. But for fans who don't attend many tourneys, it's a great way to really see players up close. I went to one of Serena's practices and enjoyed hearing fans' excitement as she was driven up to the court. If you want to see the big names practice, you'll want to get to their assigned court early (and be warned practice schedules can and do change).

Serena practice in Cincy
Venue access:
I'll admit I've had very good parking passes both years I've attended Cincy (media this year, and I travelled w/my mom in 2012 and she has a handicap sticker) but having driven by all the parking areas I believe it's much easier to get to the site versus many other tournaments. But not only is parking easier, you're driving in Mason, Ohio, not a big city so traffic to/from the site is pretty tame (of course like any big event if you leave right when a big match is over you'll be stuck leaving). I stayed about 15 minutes' drive from the site and it was so easy to get to the media parking every day. It's so much nicer to arrive at a tennis tournament w/o the hassles of public transport of traffic jams (I see you Key Biscayne) to put you in a mood.

Rafael Nadal
Player entrance:
I can't think of another tournament that makes it so easy for fans to see their fave players coming and going onsite. The player entrance at Cincy is fantastic - a fence separates fans from the pathway (though you can walk through it unless they block it off for the big names). Every day fans wait to get photos, autographs and selfies with the players. It's SUCH a great set-up for fans.

Highlights:
For me this year, a few things stood out that helped make my 9 days in Cincy such a great experience:
  • Meeting Tennis Twitter family members - it's always fun to reconnect w/friends I've made via Twitter and this year was no different. I also got a chance to meet many new fans and tennis writers I hadn't met before. Whether it was watching matches together or hanging out at Applebees I really enjoyed spending time with Tennis Twitter. So thanks to all you fun tweeps I got to chat with this year!
  • Doing my live radio show with co-cost Pete in person together onsite in Cincy. Pete and I started our WTA Passing Shots show earlier this year and we've never been in the same room together doing the show. So this was great - we nicely got to use one of the smaller interview rooms and it was great to share our insights on the first few days of the event. Check us out here.
  • Speaking of live podcasts, I loved being part of the "NCR Live" event with No Challenges Remaining team. Courtney and Ben did a great job securing a spot and special guest Victoria Azarenka and it was fun to be part of their live podcast. I've listened to NCR since its beginnings and think Courtney and Ben do a great job so that was a fun experience.
Vika arriving to NCRLive!

My favorite matches:
Besides the finals, which were both compelling for different reasons, here are some of the matches I most enjoyed this year in Cincy:
  • Simona Halep vs Andrea Petkovic - I had a feeling this match would be good and it was. Great all-court tennis between two fantastic athletes. The rallies were fantastic and left me breathless! Petko's blister issues in the third set led to her to be broken at love and she never recovered. What a battle.
  • Serena Willliams vs Ana Ivanovic - these two find ways to play great, close matches and this one wasn't always the best quality but it had all the drama and a very lively crowd. FUN.
  • Hao-Ching Chan/Yung-Jan Chan vs Flavia Pennetta/Sara Errani - I got into this match after the first set and it was just a normal, entertaining doubles match until things got crazy in the match tiebreak. The match ended with the Chan sisters winning 19-17 after both teams had many match points. The Stadium 3 atmosphere was electric! Loved it!
Buzzkill matches:
Jelena Jankovic
  • Simona Halep/Jelena Jankovic - the repeat of the Indian Wells final was bad. I was really expecting a close match but it was so one-sided. JJ looked gassed and Halep just seemed to be flying around the court. Bummer.
  • Victoria Azarenka/Caroline Wozniacki - these two should just not meet. For the fourth time in 2015, Vika handed Woz a straight-set win and this one included a bagel set. Woz looked nothing like the top 5 player who made the US Open final last year. Yikes.
  • Venus Williams/Ana Ivanovic - well, of course this match didn't happen due to Venus w/d due to a viral illness. What a shame because their match ups always make me remember Venus' headsnap:


So thanks to all of you who followed my tweets from Cincy, and if you have any questions on attending the Western and Southern Open just ask!

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