Every August, the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio, rivals its popular neighbor across I-71. Though Kings Island draws bigger crowds with its thrilling rides and rollercoasters, the Western and Southern Open becomes a mecca for tennis fans and media from around the world for one, hot week. Though a replica of the Eiffel Tower holds court in the center of the amusement park, you’re more likely to meet someone from France sitting courtside or waiting in line for a cold IPA at the Western and Southern Open. Attendees from over 35 countries and all 50 states come together to watch players hailing from 47 countries with an international throng of writers and photographers chronicling and capturing the action. Most stop in for a time before migrating to their next assignment. For one hometown photographer, this historical tournament is an annual opportunity to affirm and celebrate his love for the game.

Deogracias Lerma enjoyed watching the spectacle of the Open as a teenager and now enjoys covering the Open as Polly’s Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and photographer.

“I started playing tennis when I was about ten. I was in a park with my cousins who I was visiting in Louisville. They were all avid tennis players, and I was just this little kid running around. Someone said, ‘Hey, grab the racket’. So I did, and I felt like I had a knack for it. I was able to rally with them, and I’d never picked up a racket before.”

He remembers taking lessons with two of his sisters at Mount Saint Joseph University with his wooden, Wilson Pointmaker tennis racket. By middle school, he was all in. Summers of playing every day at Delhi Park, making the reserve team as a freshman before earning a spot on the Elder Panther’s varsity squad in his sophomore year. Tons of tournaments and practicing with a club pro elevated his game and his love for it.

“As a kid, you know everything about what your favorite player does, what racket he uses, what his strings are strung to, what’s in his bag… all that stuff. So coming here now and being able to see the tennis live, to be on the court to see it, I always say it’s like Christmas for me.”

One of his earliest memories of the Western and Southern, then the Cincinnati Masters, came in 1984 when John McEnroe was upset by Vijay Amritraj. McEnroe sat on the throne at number one while Amritraj, in the twilight of his career, was buried somewhere deep in the rankings.

“I was like fourteen, sitting in the very top row. Mac ended up losing the match. I know a handful of people, even to this day, who are like, ‘I saw you that day when Amritraj beat McEnroe!”

Like Kings Island’s upcoming coaster, Orion, 2019’s play was packed with lots of unexpected twists and turns. Before the tournament even got underway, Spaniard Rafael Nadal withdrew citing fatigue after beating Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in Montreal’s Coupe Rogers. Serena Williams also withdrew just an hour before her first scheduled match in Mason because of a lingering back issue from the same tournament .

As the week progressed and the brackets contracted, top-ranked players were upset in both the men’s and women’s field. Roger Federer (3) was dispatched by Andrey Rublev in the third round and returning champion Novak Djokovic (1) watched his hopes of repeating dashed at the hands of Medvedev (9). Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova bested Czech Karolina Pliskova (3) before upsetting Australian and top seed Ashleigh Barty in the semi-finals.

By the time the dust settled and Sunday’s finals were poised to begin, the four remaining players were not who pundits would have picked with Medvedev the only player with a seed in the top 10. But as competitors, they don’t play to meet anyone’s expectations except their own. Illinois’s Madison Keys (16) clinched her first Western and Southern title and her fifth career title when she defeated wild card Kuznetsova 7-5, 7-6. Medvedev held off David Goffin (16) from Belgium 7-6, 6-4, to capture a victory after three recent finals appearances.

Upsets abounded in a tournament that gave persistent veterans and emerging contenders a chance to shuffle the deck and the rankings. First-time fans and returning devotees also caught a glimpse of all the ups and downs of life on the tour. For Lerma, it brought back fond memories of storied matches he was fortunate to witness and reminded him of why he and over 190,000 fans come back year after year.