Mason Memories — Interview: Western & Southern Open COO Katie Haas
Happy Tuesday! I’m going to go off the script and make today a little more personal than usual. Yesterday marked the start of the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio. For those you don’t know, I originally moved to Ohio in 2010 and have been attending the tournament every year since except for the…
I’m going to go off the script and make today a little more personal than usual. Yesterday marked the start of the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio. For those you don’t know, I originally moved to Ohio in 2010 and have been attending the tournament every year since except for the 2020 edition held in New York. I’m sad to miss it again this year, but it’s bittersweet as I’ll be heading to Cleveland for a few days to be on-site at Tennis in the Land, a WTA 250 and also be in New York for a few days of the US Open. I figured I would use this week’s Tennis Tuesday as a way to share the gem that is the Western & Southern Open.
I first visited the tournament when it the men played the first week and the women played the following. 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 but most importantly 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.
This Week in Women’s Tennis
Camila Giorgi stunned the tennis world by capturing the biggest title of her career at the Omnium Banque Nationale in Montreal. She knocked out Karolina Pliskova in straight sets to win her third career WTA title. In doubles, Five at the IX alums Gaby Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani won their first title as a pair, knocking out Andreja Klepac and Darija Jurak.
Be sure to take a read at WTA Insider’s Champion’s Corner with Giorgi — who opened up about the importance of variety and how grateful she is to play her potential finally healthy.
Today marks the release of Billie Jean King’s autobiography, All In, which I cannot wait to pry my hands on. I’ll be sure to read and give a review in between manifesting a Five at The IX with the legend herself.
In wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Naomi Osaka pledged all of her Cincinnati prize winnings to the cause. I don’t have any information, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she does more than just that.
David Kane is the go-to for anything WTA Russian-related, like his follow-up with Anastasia Potapova, but he also spoke with Sara Sorribes Tormo, as well as Leylah Fernandez, who are rapidly improving in 2021
Should there even be a WTA Finals, Ons Jabeur and Coco Gauff are zeroing in on their debuts following strong performances in Montreal.
I’m not sure how I feel about this because of how betting and player threats are rampant, but FanDuel and the WTA have announced a partnership, bringing fantasy and legal gaming options for the sport to new heights. The WTA also shared a joint endeavor with the ATP and the mobile game Tennis Clash, which I admittingly play. I’m all for it.
Congratulations to Magda Linette, Shelby Rogers and Nicole Melichar, three of the WTA’s newest college grads through their partnership with Indiana University East:
Coco Gauff has made it very clear of the impact the Williams sisters had on her growing up and she hopes to provide that same adoration for the future generation.
I’ve always been fascinated by the Yonex racquets and was happy to read from Tennis Warehouse how the frames are actually made.
One of the best one-handed backhands of all-time, Justine Henin, dished about her trademark shot becoming extinct on the women’s side and discussed how it’s versatility helped her when everyone suggested going two-handed.
WTA Insider profiled Rebecca Marino, who had an impressive week in Montreal, showing the Top 40 talent she had before her initial retirement to mental health struggles in 2012.
Five at The IX alum Leslie Allen made an appearance on tennis.com’s podcast to discuss where tennis is at, as well as the barrier breaking she did in her playing days.
Genie Bouchard is staying plenty busy as she recovers from shoulder surgery. She took time away from commentating duties to debut her role as an ambassador for the new Canada-based Flair Airlines.
Tweet of the Week
Forever a mood, Serena Williams
Five at The IX: W&S Open COO Katie Haas
Katie Haas is the current Chief Operating Officer at the Western & Southern Open. Be sure to give her a follow on Twitter at @SportsLadyKatie
Joey: Can you tell us about your journey in tennis and how you got to your current role in Cincinnati?
Katie: I’m actually fairly new to tennis specifically – 3 years at the WSO this month – but have worked in sports for over 20 years. Before coming here I was at the Red Sox and Charlotte Bobcats, now known at the Hornets. [Editor note: you can view Katie’s full bio which shows her decades of sporting experience here.]
Joey: The Western & Southern Open is finally returning after a year in the NYC bubble. With 100% fan capacity, what can we expect at this year’s tournament that is different from the past?
Katie: We are attempting to host the most ‘normal’ event that we can provide to both players and fans, with a few exceptions. Due to tour protocols we have to keep the players as segregated from the general as public and require masks to be worn at all times when inside the player ‘bubble’. Other than that, for the general public and fans it is going to be another typical, world class event. Live entertainment, great food from many local restaurants, shopping, and the best tennis in the world. A few operational changes that fans will encounter: all tickets are digital, the venue is completely cashless, and the daily drawsheet/order of play/etc can be found in the WSO App this year.
Joey: I may be a bit biased being from Ohio, but the growth the tournament has done over the last decade is phenomenal. What are some ideas you’d love to implement and what’s already in the pipeline for the tournament following 2021?
Katie: By responding to the ever-changing landscape of sports and entertainment for both players and fans, we will continue to provide an innovative, premium experience. For example, this year for the first time, we have 2 new Porsche Sideline Suites that reside at the epicenter of the facility with an upper level view into court 10. It provides a new premium offering that our fans are looking for. If we continue to follow the trends we are seeing coming out of COVID, which is hopefully soon, is that people are ready and willing to spend money on the best experience that they can and we want to be ready to provide that for them. We continue to upgrade our food offerings, seating experiences every year and that will not change.
Joey: How has being a working mom in sport impacted you personally and professionally? Has it been a hard balancing act to be in a field where you’re on-call 24/7?
Katie: As a smart friend once said “are you living your resume or your eulogy”, I try to do my best as a mom/wife first and foremost, COO second. With a husband who works in MLB and travels 200 days a year, it is definitely a challenge for me but I do try to make it work. I attempt to ‘turn off’ from work when I’m at home, but sometimes I do have to multi-task, take calls while cooking dinner or driving to volleyball practice.
Joey: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Katie?
Katie: I’ve received so many pieces of great advice over the years: be authentic, be truthful, be humble, remain teachable, and you get more flies with honey than vinegar! I’ve worked in sports since I was 18 years old as I knew it was what I wanted to do for my career and has been my passion ever since. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to stay the course and all your dreams will indeed come true.
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
By: Sarah Kellam, @sarahkellam, LPGA.com
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08, NWHL Broadcaster
By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer