By Katie Haas, COO
The cheers have faded, the stands have cleared, and the trophies have been raised. As the Grand Slam season comes to a close with the conclusion of the US Open, I can’t help but reflect back to last month when the world of tennis had its eyes on Cincinnati during the Western & Southern Open.
The 2021 Western & Southern Open needed to happen, and it needed to happen here. After a year away in New York City and ever-changing plans around the status of the event, the tournament’s return to Cincinnati was a testament to the passion of the fans, the strength of the sport, and the revival and renewal of traditions.
For the Fans
We got the green light in May to move forward with the tournament at full capacity, marking the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that a combined tournament of this size would be hosted in front of a full stadium. We happily scrapped months of planning for reduced capacity, and our fans responded overwhelmingly.
The 2021 Western & Southern Open ultimately welcomed nearly 160,000 people for a homecoming that felt long overdue. It’s you, our fans and supporters, who make this tournament what it is, and we were so grateful to have you back for the first time in two years. Together, you watched more than 200 matches that comprised 450 sets and 4,500 games. You enjoyed nearly 20,400 scoops of ice cream, danced along to over 40 hours of musical entertainment, and waved your paddle fans (or in some cases, raised your umbrellas) more times than we can count. Having you here was the highlight of the event.
For the Sport
The energy from the crowds meant the world to the players, too. “It’s been really tough going and playing in empty stadiums,” Jennifer Brady told us. “Seeing there's actually fans in the stands watching, even watching practices out here, it's been awesome.”
While the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams were absent from the tournament for the first time in 20 years, this year’s Western & Southern Open ushered in a new generation of tennis stars. We marveled at the next wave of talent, including Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka along with teenagers Coco Gauff and local favorite Caty McNally on the women’s side and Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas on the men’s. If the results from our tournament and from the US Open are any indication, we’re on the cusp of an exciting talent transition within the sport.
For the Community
The Western & Southern Open is the epitome of global meeting local. On one hand, the tournament welcomed players and fans from 47 countries and across the U.S. to the Cincinnati area and was broadcast to more than 59 million households in over 150 countries worldwide. On the other, we wouldn’t be the tournament we are today without the support and involvement of our Cincinnati community.
It’s the 1,200 volunteers who donated more than 61,000 hours of their time. It’s the generous partners, like Western & Southern Financial Group, whose dedication and support has made them the longest running naming rights partner in all of American tennis. Or UC Health who contributed the resources necessary to provide a safe and healthy environment for all players and fans, and ultimately made our tournament a reality. It’s the more than $11 million that has been donated over the last decade through Tennis for Charity to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, The Barrett Cancer Center and Tennis for City Youth as a result of the tournament’s success. It’s the local businesses, like new food court vendor Bru Brothers, who, thanks to our caffeine loving fans, were able to rebound from the negative business impacts of COVID felt last year.
But most of all, it’s the shared pride in hosting a world-class event in our own backyard.
For the Future
This year’s Western & Southern Open was a collective moment of realization about where we are and where we’re going as a tournament. As we celebrate the tournament’s 122nd birthday this weekend, we’ve gained some perspective on what the Western & Southern Open means and how it will continue to grow, evolve, and improve. While we may not know whether we’ll still be battling this pandemic or whether we’ll see familiar faces or new ones on the court at the 2022 tournament, we do know that the Western & Southern Open will continue to be bigger, better, and bolder. Plans are in the works, even now, to bring more excitement and opportunity to the tournament from August 13-21, 2022. This tournament may be 122 years old, but it’s still just the beginning. There’s much more to come.
Katie Haas is the Chief Operating Officer for the Western & Southern Open, held annually in Mason, Ohio. The week-long tournament is one of the prestigious ATP and WTA Masters 1000 events – making it one of only five tour events in the world with events of that caliber occurring during the same week at the same venue.