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Tennis is Served

Every time an announcement comes out that a top-seeded player has withdrawn due to injury, a collective groan circulates throughout the tournament grounds. This year especially, there’s been a lot of groaning at The Western and Southern Open. Even before the start of the ATP Cincinnati tour stop, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka had already shut themselves down for the remainder of the tennis season. Then, defending champion Marin Cilic and two-time winner Andy Murray pulled out a couple of days right before the tournament draw was announced. Kei Nishikori said sayonara after arriving on site as did Gael Monfils and Milos Raonic. Roger Federer’s unexpected announcement that he tweaked his back in Montreal and needed to rest this week capped off the volley of bad news.

So what’s a tennis fan to do, other than stalking Rafael Nadal? The answer is plenty. There’s still loads of great men’s tennis to be viewed—just not a whole lot of big names in circulation. There’s also the entire women’s side of the draw to check out. My brother once said that his interest in women’s tennis rises and falls based entirely upon how good looking the competitors are. Umm, I’ll wisely refrain from responding to that comment.

As I’m strolling the grounds looking for the perfect match to cover, I’m constantly distracted by all the extracurricular activities available to the fans in attendance. The speed serve cage is one of the most popular, where for a mere $5, you get to have three of your serves electronically clocked. Remembering that John Isner hit a 142-mph ace the other night in his opening round match, I reluctantly step up to the service line and clock in at an anemic 68-mph. I glare at the snickering patrons mocking me from behind and mumble something about not having enough time to warm up.

Another distraction is the tournament food court. Hungry fans can chow down on all sorts of ethnic and continental fare. You can purchase Greek gyros, Japanese sushi, and Mexican street tacos combined with hometown Cincinnati favorites such as LaRosa’s Pizza, Skyline Chili, and Montgomery Inn ribs. It’s all a bit overpriced but starving media types receive two-for-one vouchers making the food even more palatable. I’m going back for refills on the crab cake sliders and the Louisiana Cajun gumbo.

Speaking of overpriced, I wander cluelessly into the Midwest Sports Pavilion. It’s a foreign world of tennis apparel consisting of $40 t-shirts and $28 non-slip socks. Who in the world buys this stuff? Evidently rich tennis people, as evidenced by the length of the cash register lines. One item remains constant though. A can of tennis balls can still be had for around two bucks—pretty much the same amount I used to pay over three decades ago. Amazing!

Even with bellies full and wallets empty, it’s now time to relax to the lineup of over 30 original and eclectic bands scheduled to entertain the legion of wandering fans. The musical artists here are surprisingly good and probably worth the price of admission alone. Mix in a little alcohol from the Robert Mondavi Wine Garden, some bubbly spirits from the Moet Champagne Bar, or a couple of cold ones from the Michelob Ultra Legends Bar and one can feel happy the entire week without seeing a single tennis match. I’m sure people come to the tournament for the tennis, but my point is that there’s much more to the tournament than just the tennis.

But I’m not here to play, I’m here to work. In the featured night matchup on Center Court, Madison Keys takes down fellow American and good friend CoCo Vandeweghe 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. The three-setter between the two hard hitting base-liners already runs long, but media members looking for a post-match interview snippet are forced to wait nearly two hours for a short statement from the winner. I ask Madison about her mindset when playing against the strong American contingent of players currently on tour. “It’s definitely difficult,” admitted the 22-year-old from Illinois currently ranked 17th in the world. “But at the end of the day, at least an American gets to advance.”

And just like that, the session is over. I’m learning that press conferences from players at this tournament are few and far between. When they ARE actually scheduled, they’re limited and often accompanied by time changes, weird room assignments, or cancellations. Players speak only IF they want and WHEN they want. I guess If I could hit a tennis ball 142 mph, I’d let my serve do all my talking.

John Huang is a guest columnist for Bluegrass Sports Nation. If you enjoyed this column, please check out the following links to his previous blogs in this tennis series.

#1 Tennis Anyone?

#2 Tennis Fantasyland

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