US Western and Southern open 2018

Henri Robbins | Staff Writer

Every August, the top tennis players from around the world come to a small town in southern Ohio to compete in one of the biggest preliminary tournaments of the year. The Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio allows players to prepare for the U.S. Open, a major hard court tournament, in similar conditions and on the same surface of courts, and to size up the competition they will likely be facing during the major tournaments. Along with this, many veterans on the tour have become accustomed to the Cincinnati area over the years.

“I love it here,” Serena Williams, 23-time grand slam winner, said. “I was at practice the other day, and I looked at my coach and I was like, ‘I really love coming here.’ It’s a great city, for my daughter as well. It’s super chill and relaxed. I’m so happy to be out here.”

While she did not make it past the second round this year, having lost to Petra Kvitova (6-3 2-6 6-3), Williams won her first match of the tournament against Daria Gavrilova  (6-1 6-2). Her powerful strokes and fast movement let her easily pin down Gavrilova at the baseline, and seven double-faults on Gavrilova’s part allowed Williams to move on without much resistance.

Many of the players have expressed their love for the city and its hospitality. During his first match, U.S. player Steve “Stevie” Johnson was encouraged by many chants and cheers from the crowd, ranging from “Let’s go, Stevie!” to minute-long anthems. The passion which both the fans and players have for the sport can be seen prominently during the Western and Southern Open.

Some of the biggest names, including former No. 1 and 20-time grand slam winner Roger Federer, hold the tournament as one of their favorites.

“I’ve loved coming here for almost 20 years now, so it’s a lot of fun to be able to come back to another finals after missing the last two due to injury,” Federer said. “I feel like I’m trying to defend my title from way back when.”

 

Finalist Roger Federer hitting a backhand slice against Novak Djokovic.

 

After the first and second rounds of play, the tournament ran into some problems. Due to the near-constant rain in Mason, many matches had to be postponed. Multiple players, including men’s finalist Roger Federer and semi-finalist David Goffin, had to play two matches in the same day.

“At the end of the second match, when I had served two matches and in the end played against Del Potro, I started to feel issues in my arm,” Goffin said. “I think it was too much.”

During the men’s semi-finals, the toll those matches took on players could be seen. In the match between Federer and Goffin (7-6 1-1), Goffin was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to an injured shoulder and elbow. Throughout the match, he kept up his serve and ground strokes, and gave no indication of the injury up until the moment when he walked up to the umpire’s seat. He gave Federer a run for his money in the first set, hitting strong angled shots and keeping Federer on his feet, but ultimately being forced to withdraw due to the upcoming US Open and concern for his health.

“It didn’t make sense to continue,” Goffin said. “I was serving 100mph first serves until I felt my arm and my shoulder, and after I lost the first set I had to serve two more sets to win the match. One week from the US Open, it didn’t make sense.”

In the final, former No. 1 player and 13-time Grand Slam tournament winner Novak Djokovic was Federer’s opponent. Having faced off against each other 45 times before, and with Djokovic leading 23-22, the outcome of their 46th match was up in the air. Both players had been absent from the tour for quite some time due to various injuries, but they came back swinging, with Djokovic claiming Wimbledon earlier in the year.

“I think what’s nice about it is it’s fresh,” Federer said. “It’s not like we’ve played in the last few weeks and everyone knows what to expect. I mean, we know how it could look like, but we’re not quite sure.”

In the past, every time the two faced each other in this tournament, Djokovic had lost to Federer, with a score of (6-1 7-5) in the 2009 final, (6-0 7-6) in the 2012 final, and (7-6 6-3) in 2015’s final.

“Coming into today’s match wasn’t easy psychologically, because I knew that I had lost to him every time I had played him at this court,” Djokovic said. “But at the same time I liked my chances because I felt better and better as the tournament week was progressing.”

Throughout the final, Djokovic and Federer both showed off their skills with powerful, calculated shots and long rallies, but ultimately Djokovic was able to hold out for just a bit longer, often breaking through after a long deuce or pulling in points through simply wearing down Federer with a strong defense. Pushing Federer to the edges of the court, along with taking advantage of Federer’s weaker shots, are what was able to land him his first victory at the Western & Southern with a score of (6-4 6-4).

“Roger obviously wasn’t at his best, he missed a lot of returns and seemed like he was having a difficult time moving,” Djokovic said. “He was not playing as maybe as well as he did in previous matches this week, but at the same time I thought I was solid and I didn’t allow him to come to the net and be aggressive too much, and I tried to kind of hold ground and protect the line, which is much easier said than done when playing Roger.”

Djokovic’s victory was not just another day for him, either. With all of his wins across multiple continents, one might expect him to have done it all, but that was not the case until now. Novak Djokovic is currently the first and only player in tennis history to have won every major tournament: all four Slams and all nine Masters. This is a momentous achievement for the former No. 1 player, and one which has been a coveted achievement in any player’s career.

“(Winning was) definitely one of the most special moments in my career, making the history of the sport that I truly love is a privilege and honor, and something that I’ll be very proud of for the rest of my life.” Djokovic said. “I was saying previously this week that obviously this trophy has been a big motivation for me, but at the same time I tried not to think about the pressure of really making history too much.”

 

Novak Djokovic celebrating his victory over Roger Federer.

 

On the women’s side, No. 1 player Simona Halep lost the final match to Kiki Bertens, the 17th ranking woman on the tour, with a score of (6-2 6-7 2-6). During the first two sets, Halep quickly took the initial set and Bertens won the second in a tiebreaker. Bertens pulled through on the third and took the last set by a large margin, relying on her consistent shots and putting pressure on Halep to bring home the match.

“When we flew into Canada last week, my coach said ‘okay, anything is possible, maybe you play another final here in the states,’” Bertens said. “Hearing that I was just kind of laughing like ‘okay, I don’t know how I’m gonna do that, I need to improve a little bit above my game,’ but last week I played some great matches here also, so I think he was right.”

With Bertens’ history on the tour, holding only 6 WTA tournaments and ranking as 17th in the world, and specializing in clay courts, she was not pegged as a potential winner of the tournament, especially when facing off against one of the most well-known players in the world and top seed of the tournament. The match was one of the most rigorous of Bertens’ career, but her dedication to this match and to the sport brought her through to the other side.

“I think I didn’t have the time to get nervous because I was just so tired,” Bertens said, “I think it was such a tough match, but after winning that second set I knew that anything was possible. It’s for a title, so of course you can always give a little extra and just go for it, and that’s what I did.”

 

Bertens showing off her trophy shortly after winning the final. 

 

Overall, while the Western & Southern Open may not be the most well-known, two players’ histories were made this week, with one winning the first major tournament on her list and the other checking off a final space on his.

“I am very pleased and proud and satisfied, and I am just filled with great emotions. I tried for five times, I didn’t succeed, and I kept on coming here,” Djokovic said. “It was just managing to overcome the last hurdle.”

 

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