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The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, August 15, 2023

Howdy, y’all and Happy Tennis Tuesday! The Western & Southern Open is in progress this week, with Venus Williams kicking off the tournament with her first Top 20 win in four years. However, this tournament is perhaps the most personal for me as I’ve gone as a fan, volunteer, intern and WTA employee. At the moment, the tournament’s future is up in the air as Ben Navarro bought the tournament and wants to move it to Charlotte. Also keep in mind that in 2025, the tournament will turn to a two-week tournament to follow the likes of Rome and Madrid — which basically means double potential economic impact.

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The tournament isn’t just a mainstay on the tennis calendar, but it’s rooted in American history as this is technically the 124th edition of the tournament. Fan-friendly doesn’t even begin to cover what the Western & Southern Open is at their core. The Midwest hospitality, combined with the rare delicacies of Skyline Chili and Graeter’s Ice Cream? You really can’t go wrong in good ole’ Mason, Ohio.

That’s why I wanted to bring back my “Mason Memories” column before the 2021 tournament. Tournaments like the Western & Southern Open are the catalyst for future players like Peyton Stearns or people behind the scenes like me. A decision about the tournament’s future should be announced in the next few months, but there honestly shouldn’t even be a discussion. The tournament has continued to upgrade and elevate over the last decade plus and continue to put money behind the event. A mega facility in Charlotte is great, but why not make a new tournament there instead? Cincinnati has the same climate as New York and players don’t have to acclimate to the US Open as hard as they would in the mega-humid and hot North Carolina.

Perhaps I’m overly biased, but there really isn’t anything like the Western & Southern:

I first visited the tournament when the men played the first week and the women played the following week. In 2007, I had never been to a professional tournament except a $25,000 ATP Challenger final the previous year. It was a rainy day for second round singles and first round doubles action. I remember not being sure if play would even happen, but the crew — as always — did an amazing job drying it up. I got to watch Brenda Schultz-McCarthy bomb near-130 mph serves, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Sania Mirza tear up the doubles court and see how badass these female athletes were.

In 2010, the last year it was held separately from the men, a friend I met through tennis hooked me up with a ticket and I got to watch Ana Ivanovic play No. 12 Victoria Azarenka. Ivanovic had dropped to No. 65 and the world had basically written her off. She clawed back from 2-6, 2-5 down to win the second set, 7-6(6) and eventually the third 6-4. She would end up reaching the semifinals, but the match ended up being a catalyst for her rise back up the rankings. That year, I also got to meet one of my tennis idols, Elena Dementieva. I used to have the same serve yips she did and related a lot to her struggles. Little would I know that only a couple of months after our picture was taken, she would retire from the game.

In 2011 and 2012, I volunteered with Transportation as an airport greeter, as well as being an usher in the stands. By that point, I knew I wanted to work in tennis somehow and getting some boots-on-the-ground experience would be beneficial. I remember Serena Williams’ dog Jackie escaping from her car without her knowing and bringing her back to the car only to hear the GOAT scold the dog saying “you scared mommy, don’t you do that!,” sitting next to Maria Sharapova in tournament laundry blinded by the jewelry on her hand and meeting recent Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova.

In 2013 and 2014, I interned in the ticket office, but 2014 was even more special because by that point, I had accepted a full-time internship with the WTA and my eventual boss, WTA Supervisor Melanie Tabb, invited me to watch Sharapova play Simona Halep in Grandstand seats alongside Kerrilyn Cramer and Jenny Zhang, two top WTA umpires. It was surreal to be around important people who are the foundation of the tour, but it was the first time I really paid attention to how incredible the level of WTA play was. Sharapova’s power and Halep’s speed were show-stopping and the match went nearly three hours.

In 2015, I returned as a Digital Coordinator at the WTA, which became my full-circle moment. My career path changed a little bit before I got to return as WTA staff again when I was doing their social media in 2018 and 2019. By far, my favorite memory is creating this content with players and 90s technology. This tournament was the start of a reality for the teen who first visited a town known more for the Kings Island amusement park across the street with dreams of rubbing elbows with the world’s best.

If you ever have a chance to go to the Wester & Southern Open, GO!

The experience gets better with every year. The grounds are getting bigger, the food court is getting wider and the tournament is getting closer to Miami and Indian Wells’ quality, in my opinion. The player fields are nearly identical to the US Open with the proximity in location and calendar placement, but the fan access is, without the hyperbole, 1000x better. Court 10 is perhaps the best hidden gem in all of tennis — a perfect sunken bubble oasis where top memories include watching Hsieh Su-Wei have Naomi Osaka and the crowd in the palm of her hand as well as sitting next to Jelena Jankovic’s team while she was going on one of her iconic rambles. Courtney Nguyen put it best, there’s no place like Mason.

Full circle

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

Jessica Pegula weathered a “Cotton Eye Joe” mishap in her semifinal win over Iga Swiatek and then a tired Liudmila Samsonova to win her second WTA 1000 singles title at the National Bank Open in Montreal. Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara saved two championship points to beat No.5 seeds Desirae Krawczyk and Demi Schuurs for the doubles title.

Dayana Yastremska captured her first WTA-level title in nearly four years at the WTA 125 Polish Open, defeating Greet Minnen in a three-set final. The doubles crown was won by local Katarzyna Kawa, who paired with Elixane Lechemia to defeat Naiktha Bains and Maia Lumsden.

One unfortunate negative from Montreal was the weather that forced Elena Rybakina to finish one match at 3am and Liudmila Samsonova to play a three setter against the Kazakh before having nothing left two hours later against Pegula in the final. Both Rybakina and Swiatek openly criticized the WTA for poor scheduling that hinders player health.

The WTA 125 calendar continues to the Bay Area with the Golden Gate Open at Stanford University, finally returning to the area and hopefully becoming a launchpad for bigger tournaments in the future.

Maryna Zanevska announced that due to chronic back injuries, she will be retiring from tennis at the US Open:

Ons Jabeur looks to overcome her second consecutive Wimbledon heartbreak with a deep hardcourt run with inspiration from Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick.

Caroline Wozniacki returns to the place where she made her WTA debut in 2005 and she continues to inspire different generations of the game:

Tennis fans, lets do better:

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Tweet of the Week

As someone who’s played professional tournaments and hasn’t won a game, please watch:

Five at The IX: National Bank Open

Q. “Cotton Eye Joe” infamously played during the speakers during your match yesterday and once again when you won today. What was your feeling hearing it the second time?

JESSICA PEGULA: Well, I just learned it was his idea when I won to play it again, which is hilarious. I mean, yeah, yesterday I just couldn’t believe it was actually happening. I was, like, where are we right now? Of all songs.

I don’t even think I heard it the whole week, and it just came on in the middle of the match at a really important point. So it was interesting.

I’ve come to learn that I lost a lot of points consecutively after “Cotton Eye Joe” came on, so I’m glad I got over the “Cotton Eye Joe” jinx or whatever you want to call it and was able to overcome that.

So today, yeah, it was just funny after I won because it was almost my downfall yesterday, but not anymore.

Q. Were you really pushing to play that game last night even though the weather was questionable and it might have gone really late instead of playing twice today?

LIUDMILA SAMSONOVA: No, the fact is that everyone saw that the forecast was at 6 p.m. would be raining, so I knew that.

But, of course, it’s strange that the people doesn’t care so much about us, you know, because if you know that you must I think, this is my opinion, to make a schedule where it’s possible to play because we already made two matches in one day.

So you have to try to do the best to don’t play two matches in another day. This is my opinion.

Q. What is it that you expected and that actually happened and something that you didn’t expect that actually happened?

CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: I didn’t really know what to expect, to be honest. You know, you have all these things in your head that this is how you’re supposed to be playing and you’re supposed to be doing this and that, but to be honest, I had no idea what I was going to come up with when I was out on court because I just haven’t played a real match in so long.

For me it was all about not getting down on myself if I made a mistake and not get too excited when I hit a good shot. So it was just kind of evening out those emotions.

You know, I think everything taken into consideration, I’m very happy with how I played today and how I got through. It’s not easy to win a match, and it’s definitely not easy when you haven’t played one in so long.

Q. Did you ever experience such a marathon like Friday and then long matches against Kasatkina previously in your career?

ELENA RYBAKINA: Yeah, it’s the first time when the match went I think that long, and we finished also so late. It’s the first time and hopefully the last time because I think it’s been a little bit unprofessional from the — I cannot say really the tournament because I think that the most important is the WTA here.

Leadership a little bit weak for now, but hopefully something is going to change because this year it was many situations which I cannot really understand.

Q. What was the most difficult moment and the easiest moment during this tournament for you? And what did you find absolutely extraordinary for your first tournament?

VALERIE TETREAULT: The most difficult was yesterday evening. There were many things to take into account. Of course, the last day TV is very important, and the fans were waiting. The players were there. We knew one player had to play two matches on the Finals day, which is quite complicated. So I believe yesterday evening was the most complicated moment.

Also, we had to make sure that all those having tickets understood perfectly well what they were entitled to because we didn’t want to have to manage their frustration today.

The most beautiful moment… there were several of them, but I would say it was Leylah’s match because of the atmosphere on center court. The match ended, and four minutes after the end of the match I had a text from Eugene saying he was happy for me, and this was heartwarming.

We also had the ceremony for Eugene yesterday on center court. There were still people there in spite of the rain, and he shared his testimony, and it was important for us to do that. Of course, I was tired maybe, but I confess, I had some tears on the court then.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon