This is a special week for Women’s Tennis Blog, as we’re having a dedicated photographer at the Western & Southern Open, as well as a tennis writer who will share her impressions from the event. Earlier today you’ve seen Omar Boraby’s Tuesday gallery, now enjoy Karen Helf’s report from the spot.
Karen Helf is a tennis travel specialist, tournament volunteer and loyal WTA fan. This week at the Western & Southern Open she is attending her 6th tournament of 2015 as a credentialed journalist. She is excited to share her daily insights.
Arriving at the Western & Southern Open there is an air of simplicity and ease. Instead of country club, the feel is American country fair. The only thing missing is mom’s apple pie. The location is actually suburban Mason Ohio not Cincinnati. The grounds offer all the typical amenities.
Inside there are three stadium courts, practice courts, local eateries, retail shops, regional music and much more. The grounds are spacious. Because of that I never felt crowded in spite of a sold-out day session and record daily attendance of 25,898. A sell out during round one of any event is impressive.
I met a few first-time Cincy visitors, as well as first-time tennis tournament attendees from Texas and Wisconsin. Both shared with me that after just one day at Cincy, they are hooked on live tennis. In addition to fans, the grounds were packed with players.
There were eight match courts in play beginning at 11:00AM with continuous play until about 10:30PM. Practice sessions were star-studded including; Serena Williams, Lucie Safarova, Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova.
Center Court – Bencic Debut
Fresh off her Rogers Cup win, Belinda Bencic cruised into her first-round match against veteran Angelique Kerber. The first set had a rollercoaster edge. Bencic started strong capturing the early break up 2-1. It seemed she would roll through with ease until it came time to serve for the match. Up 5-1, nerves set in.
Bencic double faulted and executed a glaring miss at the net, assisting Kerber in capturing the break. Hard-hitting Kerber took advantage and in short order the score was 5-5. Bencic searched and found her composure to break back to 6-5 and then followed up to close out the set with her next service game, 7-5.
Bencic and Kerber traded heavy blows early in the second set and tied at 3-3. The stalemate held until Kerber’s 4th service game. Angelique missed drop shots and her passing shot sailed long giving Bencic the break. Bencic, clearly fired up, celebrated the point at 4-3.
From that point, Bencic held on despite a messy service game and a Kerber challenge at 5-3. In the final game, Bencic took advantage putting away a low floater from Kerber. Kerber produced a fatal double-fault giving Bencic match point, 7-5, 6-3.
Stadium 3 Highlights
Next up, Stadium 3 hosted Agnieszka Radwanska taking on Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. I arrived at 4-2 in the first set. Fashion note, Aga was stunning in a shimmering dress. Unfortunately her game was not on par with her outfit today. Throughout the match Aga struggled to hold on to service games and luck was not on her side.
Aga’s signature drop shots were landing short and net balls did not go her way. Schmiedlova was impressive finishing off several long rallies with deep passing shots. Schmiedlova delivered her returns with heat. The torque in her groundstrokes created visible speed. Some shots left me wishing for an MPH reading.
As the sun set, night sessions began on an unfortunate note. Venus Williams withdrew due to a virus from her Center Court marquis match against Ana Ivanovic. To close out the day, I returned to Court 3.
Eugenie Bouchard and Kateryna Bondarenko were on deck. I arrived to find Genie behind 5-4 in set one. The set raced to 6-6 and decided by a tiebreak. Bouchard hung tough and captured the first set, 7-6.
The second set ran neck and neck again with both players fielding long rallies. The two traded service breaks returned to the familiar score of 6-6. Bouchard triumphed despite a few visible displays of frustration finishing 7-6, 7-6. The crowd celebrated a positive start for Eugenie Bouchard.
Looking ahead to Wednesday the event is again sold out! Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka and Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens headline the WTA matches. Caroline versus Victoria is my must-see pick.