In a world divided, what difference can a game make?

If that game is played in the form of tennis at the Western and Southern Open, it can make all the difference in the world. As players from 45 nations poured themselves out before nearly 195,000 attendees from diverse demographics, our worries and woes seemed to evaporate along with the stubborn rain. Just beyond the hardcourts, top chefs held court in the Wine Garden sharing recipes which will surely be served at new gatherings. Day and night, an eclectic soundtrack wove the crowds together as some 35 musical acts played along with their tennis counterparts. For a magical week, Mason morphed into the United Nations.

Serbian Novak Djokovic finally bested Swiss Roger Federer after four previous battles and earned his first tournament trophy. The loss was the first for the seven-time victor Federer. Dutch Kiki Bertens experienced her first hard court tournament victory over Romanian Simona Halep. It was also her first win over a top-ranked opponent. The victory made that much sweeter by the fact that Bertens had seriously considered leaving tennis in 2017. Throughout the week’s matches, fans urged on their favorites, chanted names, waved flags, bit nails. After each and all ended, applause arose for the victor – without consideration of where they were from.

Local musical acts played their part enriching the spirit of the tournament. On Friday evening, Jess Lamb and the Factory performed on the Dayton International Airport Stage. Lamb appeared on American Idol in 2015 where she was tickled by the opportunity to tickle the ivories with Harry Connick Jr. Her unique and passionate style resonated with the audience. “It’s inspiring to see how music connects people who may not usually vibe together. Performing at the Open was fulfilling- feeling everyone vibrate together to the beat of the same music is community. It feels great to contribute to those vibrations and connect.”

On Friday evening, Matt the Miller’s Executive Chef Edward Ehlen talked and walked through a recipe for Spicy Tuna Wontons – a tuna tartare with Asian slaw, diced avocado, a wasabi aioli with a Guinness reduction atop crispy wonton chips. The samples were gobbled up and the recipe cards taken.

Saturday evening, Tracy Walker strummed and sang in the Wine Garden. “I love playing at the Western & Southern Tennis Tournament! I am especially fond of playing events where you would not expect live music, or it has not been the tradition to include live music. It adds a few more sensory layers and enhances environments for people to connect.” Walker has been honored with numerous awards and accolades through the years, landing in the top three of CityBeat’s Best Local Musician category for the past ten years.

At the foundation of it all, nearly 1400 volunteers from 28 states donated over 72,000 hours to help pull off the tournament and raise money for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the Barrett Cancer Center, and Tennis for City Youth. In 2017, almost $400,000 was given to support these worthy recipients.

When it comes down to it, tennis is only a game. But in the right hands with the right heart, it’s a game that has the power to bring us together. In that light, the 2019 Western and Southern Open can’t come soon enough.