There is a cheerful, yellow sign as you drive into the Lindner Family Tennis Center parking lot in Mason, Ohio that says “Welcome to Tennis Town.” It’s a modest title for a modest place, but this week has been one of unsung heroes, where we saw the community pull together to survive not only torrential rains, but a spate of player withdrawals, to put on this year’s Western and Southern Open.
If there is such a thing as terroir with respect to tennis tournaments, this one has it in spades. It’s not just the cinnamon-y taste of Skyline Chili, or the creaminess of the Graeter’s Ice Cream, but also the uniquely suburban American feel of the tournament. From the fireworks of Kings Island across the street, to the handwritten signs advertising mud free parking, this is very much an event that lives within a community, and it is that community of staff and volunteers and neighbors that worked tirelessly this week to ensure that the tournament ended on time Sunday afternoon, despite hours of rain delays and soggy parking lots that had made this week a bit of a struggle.
One person who really didn’t struggle this week is ladies champion Karolina Pliskova, who defeated Garbine Muguruza, Svetlana Kuznetsova, before dispatching Angelique Kerber in two swift sets, 6-3, 6-1 to win the title. What was most striking about Pliskova’s play in the final was the ease in her game — from the easy power of her groundstrokes, to the confident way she took leads in both sets, and held onto them as Kerber tried to get into the match. As for Kerber, this has to be a disappointing loss, less for the title itself than for the opportunity to overtake Serena Williams for the number one ranking. But, after a summer which has included a Wimbledon final, a semifinal run in Montreal, an Olympic silver medal, and now the Cincinnati final, Kerber simply didn’t have the energy to combat Pliskova’s power. Nevertheless, based on her strong performance in both the Slams and in the WTA tour events, Kerber is still within 100 points of Williams after reaching the final, which adds an additional layer of intrigue to the US Open in two weeks.
But the person who may leave here the happiest is 2016 champion, Marin Cilic, who defeated Andy Murray 6-4, 7-5, and literally packed his celebratory dance with everything from finger guns to jumps for joy. It hasn’t been an easy year for Cilic, from the five set loss to Federer at Wimbledon to a three set loss to a resurgent Gael Monfils in Rio. It may be premature to read too much into Cilic’s win, after all, Murray had just come off of an exhausting run in Rio. But, Cilic has certainly made himself someone to watch in New York –today’s win was only the fourth time that someone outside the Big Four has won a Masters 1000 title in the last five years. Along with an Olympic-rejuvenated Juan Martin del Potro, Cilic stands to be a very unwelcome threat to Murray, Djokovic and Nadal at the U.S. Open.
And so another week of tennis in Mason is in the books, the court cleared less than an hour after Cilic hoisted the trophy, and ads reminding everyone to come back next year. But, we’re left with a number of new possibilities for the rest of the year, and immense gratitude to Tennis Town for letting us swing by.