By JAMES HENRY
CINCINNATI – Thought you knew Cincinnati’s popular Western and Southern Open tennis tournament? Think again.
This year’s event, for the first time, will feature concurrent men’s and women’s competition, as well as numerous enhancements at the Lindner Family Tennis Center.
“This has always been a spectacular place to watch tennis. I think you’re going to find it’s really ramped up from the spectacular place it’s been,” new tournament director Vince Cicero told the large crowd gathered at tonight’s draw ceremony.
Cicero, previously director of corporate sales and marketing for the Cincinnati Bengals football team, touted the center’s $7.5 million, 5.4-acre expansion that includes six new courts, a new ticket office, an entry plaza, landscaping and more. The renovations – especially the new 4,000-seat Court 3 – garnered praise from fans touring the facility after the draw party ended.
Cicero promised even more improvements. He noted the changes are the second part of a three-year, $20 million development that ultimately will expand the grounds by a whopping 40 percent. Last year’s $10 million first phase centered on a 52,000-square-foot player and media center. Next year’s $2.5 million final phase is set to upgrade the food court, retail, and entertainment areas.
No. 13 seed Jelena Janković and wild card Ryan Harrison helped conduct the WTA and ATP World Tour draws, respectively. Harrison, a semifinalist at this summer’s Atlanta Tennis Championships and Los Angeles Farmers Classic, declined to speculate against a possible second-round match with World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. Instead, he said he is focusing on his first match against Juan Ignacio Chela, ranked as high as 15 in 2004 and now at 22. “I know if I play well and put myself in the right position, I have a shot at it,” the young American said.
Americans garnered the loudest applause during the ceremony – particularly James Blake, 2002 doubles champion and 2007 singles runner-up; Andy Roddick, singles champion in 2003 and 2006 and runner-up in 2005; and Serena Williams, competing tomorrow in the semifinals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto as she continues her comeback from injury and illness.
Tennis fans nearly choked on their draw party dinner when it was determined that four-time champion Roger Federer could face Juan Martín del Potro, who defeated him for the U.S. Open title in 2009, in just the second round. Federer claimed the Cincinnati trophy in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010.
Another surprise is the first-round battle between previously Top 10-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who’ll take on Djokovic in one of tomorrow’s Rogers Cup semifinals in Montréal, and Marin Čilić, a semifinalist at the Australian Open in 2010.
The potential second-round clash between unseeded Serena Williams and 2010 French Open finalist Samantha Stosur also drew audible gasps.
Men’s and women’s qualifying begins at 10 a.m. tomorrow. The men’s main draw kicks off at 7 p.m. Sunday, followed by the women at 11 a.m. Monday.
James Henry is a contributing writer for OnTheGoTennis and is currently in Cincinnati covering the tournament. To follow him on Twitter click here.