words DOUG GEYER  |  photography DEOGRACIAS LERMA

Tennis professionals from around the world play on the hardcourts of the Western & Southern Open in the hopes of getting their hands on some clay.

After besting their opponents with their own unique mixture of volley and serve, the winners are rewarded with a trophy that mirrors the tournament’s unique and storied past. Both the victors and the beautiful Rookwood Pottery trophies come together through a combination of art and science, finesse and fire. When held aloft at the end of the week’s competition, they honor a hard-fought victory on the court and yet another successful year for the country’s oldest, original-site tournament.

“We make five trophies,” informed Leanne Cacchiotti, Retail Sales Manager at Rookwood’s Liberty Center location. “Two for the winners, one for Western and Southern Financial, one for Rookwood, and one as a backup.” That backup rests carefully inside their booth at this year’s tournament.

The Western & Southern Open has been a part of the Queen City community since 1899. Rookwood crafted gifts for the winners that first year when the Avondale Athletic Club was the host. Since 1979, the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio, has hosted with ever-evolving facilities to house the growing event. The Who’s Who of tennis have graced its courts for over a century, bringing their own heat to the Midwest summer. Through the years, it has progressed beyond serving up world-class tennis by offering enthusiasts of all ages an experience that satisfies the senses.

New to the W&S Open is vendor Jeffrey Scott Fine Magnetics. Based in Las Vegas, Scott has been a fixture at tournaments nationwide for the last eighteen years. He was happy to accept an invitation to join the Cincinnati tennis community for the first time. Combining high quality materials and therapeutic magnets crafted within aesthetically appealing designs, the pieces also work through a blending of art and science.

“Tennis fans, and players, are a focused group. They are zoomed in on health, longevity. They’re a knowledgeable crowd,” Scott said. He was happy to share photos of top players sporting his bracelets during matches.

Tucked just behind the Retail Plaza, players of the future enjoyed the Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen Family Zone where kids and kids at heart hit spongy balls on blue, miniature courts. A teen “coach” was paired with a young girl sporting twin ponytails; the girl was only slightly bigger than the racket she held. “Good shot!” her coach encouraged. We just might be seeing her on Center Court someday.

Just east of Center Court is the Food Court. Sandwiched between returning, hometown favorites LaRosa’s and Graeter’s is a new offering to sate the hunger of both observer and player alike. Prime Cincinnati made their presence known with a whole new level of flavor and fun. Staff danced around with passing fans while offering samples of dishes that like many in attendance, traveled many miles to be served.

Managing Partner Nelson Castillo unpacked their efforts to bring their best. “Chef Shawn Heine has flown in fresh seafood from Hawaii two times this week,” he smiled while showing a video of blue crab legs being cracked open to create their Crab Cake Slider with lemon-caper tartar. Paired with one of their Paxton PrimeTime Sliders with caramelized onions and basil aioli, the whole concept of sliders was elevated to a sublime vista. The paper serving ‘bowls’ didn’t seem worthy to hold their New England Calamari with peppers, and hoisin-ginger or spicy mayo sauces. The same could be said for the Seafood Chopped Salad with king crab, tiger shrimp, kalamata olives and avocado. Fresh and fantastic!

Since December 2015, Chef Heine has been transforming their various menus while long-term associate Castillo strives to provide diners at their Walnut Street restaurant with an experience of the highest quality and hospitality that makes a return visit inevitable.

With this wide variety of opportunities to explore and experience, it’s almost easy to forget the main attraction, but then a roar goes up – cheers and claps echo through the complex. A point was scored; perhaps a comeback is being staged. The spirit of tennis exerts its presence and eyes everywhere look to screens and scoreboards to see what just transpired.

Those fortunate to be at Center Court on the afternoon of August 16 were treated to a match that marinated in roars, challenges, and a sweet upset.

Frances Tiafoe, a 19-year-old American from Maryland, squared off against Alexander Zverev from Germany who ranked seventh in the world and was the tournament’s fourth seed. Successfully capitalizing on a fatigued and double-faulting Zverev, Tiafoe fed off the support of the crowd to secure the biggest victory of his burgeoning career.

With serves consistently over 125 mph, both men battled the heat and strategic skill of the other while the various umpires and support crew played their parts. The fans watched and waited each time the yellow orb arched into the blue sky before blurring by with a pop. Defying physics, they returned shots with purpose as the match ebbed and flowed. After winning particularly contentious points, Tiafoe would clench his fist with zeal. When he’d secured the three-set victory, Tiafoe pumped both fists as he celebrated with his growing fan base.

Thursday’s match with his friend and nineteenth ranked John Isner proved to be another back and forth battle. At 6’10”, Isner is one of the top servers of the ATP World Tour and used this weapon often to quell Tiafoe’s attempts to gain momentum. Not many have the ability to serve a 130 mph ace on their second serve. Isner scored twenty-five in his 7-6, 7-5 victory.

The drama on the other courts continued to unfold Thursday evening while clouds loomed and a fickle rain seemed unable to decide. Going into the weekend’s matches, everyone is hoping for clear skies. One thing is certain, rain or shine, the shrinking pool of players are all hoping to clutch some clay on Sunday.