Shannon Russell reports:
After upgrading to a combined event, executing vast facility renovations and cementing its legacy as one of the world’s most prestigious tennis tournaments below Grand Slams, the Western & Southern Open is on the cusp of its finest moment yet.
When the tournament unfolds Aug. 10-18 at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, it will feature the strongest lineup in its 114 years.
“It’s historic,” said Vince Cicero, the W&S Open’s tournament director and chief operating officer. “It’s absolutely what we would hope it to be, and that’s having every single one of the top men and every single one of the top women coming.”
The top 44 ranked men’s players on the ATP World Tour and 35 of the WTA’s top 36 women’s players have committed to the event. A combined 15 Grand Slam champions – and 11 players who have been ranked No. 1 – will compete for ranking points and shares of $6.1 million in prize money.
Defending champions Roger Federer and Li Na headlined Monday’s field announcements at the Horseshoe Casino’s Diamond Lounge, where ESPN and Tennis Channel analyst Jimmy Arias provided commentary on the top entrants.
Both tours’ No. 1s, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, will return to Mason in search of career-first W&S Open titles. Djokovic, a four-time finalist, will have to outlast the likes of five-time champion and World No. 5 Federer, two-time winner and No. 2-ranked Andy Murray, No. 3 David Ferrer and No. 4 Rafael Nadal.
If Djokovic can overcome the runner-up hump, he’ll make ATP history as the first man to win singles titles at all nine Masters 1000 events. He has already won titles at Indian Wells, Madrid, Miami, Monte Carlo, Montreal/Toronto, Paris, Rome and Shanghai.
Williams’ storied tennis career, meanwhile, is missing a berth in the W&S Open title match. The 16-time Grand Slam champion lost to Angelique Kerber in last year’s quarterfinals and pulled out in 2011 with a toe injury.
World No. 2 Maria Sharapova and No. 3 Victoria Azarenka will be major obstacles on the path to the championship as they return to the tournament for the first time since 2011. The last time Sharapova played in the event, she hoisted the champion’s Rookwood Cup.
“The women’s side is obviously more wide open (than the men’s). Having said that, every time Serena Williams loses a match, I’m shocked,” Arias said. “She’s got it all. She’s the most athletic player, the most powerful player.”
Venus Williams garnered a wild card last year but gained direct entry to this year’s field by virtue of her No. 35 ranking. She’s among the bevy of high-profile players in the title hunt, from newly-minted Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli and 2011 Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova to 2011 U.S. Open winner Sam Stosur.
In fact, 10 of the 12 women who have won at least one Grand Slam since 2008 are in this year’s W&S Open.
“It’s the best draw we’ve ever had,” said Elaine Bruening, chief executive officer of Cincinnati Tennis LLC. “I think the players have all come to realize that when you play in the summer, you want to play Cincinnati.”
The 56-player singles fields will be filled out with qualifiers and wild card entries determined closer to the event. Qualifying tournaments are Aug. 10 and 11 in Mason.
While the Lindner Family Tennis Center’s three-year, $22 million facility renovation plan is in the books, there are a few minor additions on tap. Bruening said the food court will include 14 vendors, including newcomers Daveed’s Next and Keystone Bar & Grill, and have more seating.
An expanded Mondavi-sponsored wine garden on the north end of the site will feature celebrity chef demonstrations and wine pairings, while a new deck by Court 15 – the most popular practice court – will better accommodate crowds.
The W&S Open last year attracted 176,000 fans from 19 countries and all 50 states. It sold out 10 of its 16 sessions and generated $62.5 million in economic impact.
What: Western & Southern Open
When: Aug. 10-18
Where: Lindner Family Tennis Center, Mason
What: Players in the 56-person men’s and women’s singles fields will compete in best-of-three matches through the finals. The tournament also features men’s and women’s doubles draws.
Prestige: The W&S Open is in elite company with Rome, Madrid, Indian Wells and Miami as the world’s only tournaments featuring an ATP Masters 1000 event and a top-level WTA Premier 5 event in the same week.
Rewind: Last August, five-time winner Roger Federer defeated four-time finalist Novak Djokovic 6-0, 7-6 (7) in an 80-minute championship before a sellout crowd of 11,435 on Center Court. Li Na ousted Angelique Kerber 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 and became the oldest W&S Open women’s winner at 30.
Western & Southern Open Commitment list for the women’s singles draw
Serena Williams (USA), Victoria Azarenka (BLR), Maria Sharapova (RUS), Agnieszka Radwanska (POL), Sara Errani (ITA), Li Na (CHN), Angelique Kerber (GER), Petra Kvitova (CZE), Caroline Wozniacki (DEN), Maria Kirilenko (RUS), Roberta Vinci (ITA), Ana Ivanovic (SRB), Samantha Stosur (AUS), Jelena Jankovic (SRB), Flavia Pennetta (ITA), Marion Bartoli (FRA), Nadia Petrova (RUS), Sloane Stephens (USA), Kaia Kanepi (EST), Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP), Dominika Cibulkova (SVK), Kirsten Flipkens (BEL), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS), Elena Vesnina (RUS), Sorana Cirstea (ROU), Sabine Lisicki (GER), Alisa Kleybanova (RUS), Jamie Hampton (USA), Shuai Peng (CHN), Ekaterina Makarova (RUS), Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS), Varvara Lepchenko (USA), Lucie Safarova (CZE), Alize Cornet (FRA), Simona Halep (ROU), Mona Barthel (GER), Venus Williams (USA), Julia Goerges (GER), Kristina Mladenovic (FRA).
Commitment list for the men’s singles draw
Novak Djokovic (SRB), Andy Murray (GBR), Roger Federer (SUI), David Ferrer (ESP), Rafael Nadal (ESP), Tomas Berdych (CZE), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA), Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG), Richard Gasquet (FRA), Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI), Kei Nishikori (JPN), Marin Cilic (CRO), Tommy Haas (GER), Janko Tipsarevic (SRB), Milos Raonic (CAN), Nicolas Almagro (ESP), Gilles Simon (FRA), Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER), Sam Querrey (USA), Juan Monaco (ARG), John Isner (USA), Jerzy Janowicz (POL), Kevin Anderson (RSA), Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR), Jeremy Chardy (FRA), Mikhail Youzhny (RUS), Benoit Paire (FRA), Andreas Seppi (ITA), Tommy Robredo (ESP), Fabio Fognini (ITA), Grigor Dmitrov (BUL), Feliciano Lopez (ESP), Julien Benneteau (FRA), Florian Mayer (GER), Lukas Rosol (CZE), Martin Klizan (SVK), Jurgen Melzer (AUT), Jarkko Nieminen (FIN), Ernests Gulbis (LAT), Marcos Baghdatis (CYP), Marcel Granollers (ESP), Nikolay Davydenko (RUS), Mardy Fish (USA), Victor Troicki (SRB).