Andre Silva immediately admitted that, when it came to revealing anything new about this year’s Western & Southern Open, he had nothing literally or figuratively as big as the opening last year of the Lindner Family Tennis Center’s massive South Tower.
“The South Building was an easy talking point,” he said on Wednesday during what was billed as a media roundtable at a restaurant on the first floor of the Great American Tower.
Silva, who’s approaching his fourth W&S as tournament director, and chief operating officer Katie Haas hosted the event less than two months before the annual event scheduled for August 10-18 in Mason.
Men’s champion Novak Djokovic and women’s titlist Kiki Bertens are expected to return to defend their titles.
Five more developments that came out of Wednesday’s session:
Ticket time: Silva is hoping a new ticketing procedure will help improve attendance. Last year’s pricing produced sellout crowds in 14 of the 16 sessions and a total attendance of 194,000, the fourth time in five years that attendance has surpassed 190,000. The tournament has expanded pricing options, he pointed out, to the level that fans who paid $92 to attend last season’s Saturday night semifinal to can see this year’s for $56.
“We’d like to do one more sellout, but 16 of 16 would be nice, too,” he said. “The challenge is not only to repeat, but to do a little better.”
Silva continues to be amazed by how much the area embraces the event. It draws fans from all 50 states and volunteers from 28, one from as far away as Seattle;
“Other events, which I won’t name, are successful, but you don’t feel that passion,” he said.
Get the kids to play: The tournament is launching Play Tennis Cincinnati, which will give local youth an opportunity to participate in free tennis lessons taught by local and United States Tennis Association pros. Clinics are scheduled at the tennis center Aug. 5-8, and Silva said a seven-week series of clinics is set for the fall.
“We’ll have 275 kids at the courts the week before the tournament,” he said. “They’ll be divided into grades one through three and four through six.”
Participants will receive a tennis racquet, a t-shirt and two tickets to the Aug. 10th session, including admission to the Kids Day event.
The ice baths cometh: While spending time recruiting players at Miami and Indian Wells in California and Miami, Silva kept asking what the W&S could do to enhance their experience. The most prevalent idea? More ice baths, such as at Wimbledon, which helps players’ bodies regenerate after matches and practice sessions.
“So now we have more ice baths – like Wimbledon,” Silva said. “Now we’re the Wimbledon of the Midwest.”
New sponsors: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Porsche have been added to the list of corporate sponsors for this year’s event. Western & Southern has been the naming sponsor of the event since 2002. Another new sponsor announcement is coming, Silva promised.
New faces: The influx of talented younger players, especially on the women’s side, is leading to tantalizing early matches involving highly recognizable names. Media-relations specialist Pete Holtermann, who as president of HolterMedia is deeply involved in coordinating W&S coverage, pointed out that Serena Williams would have to play a first-round match in Mason if she remains out of the top eight in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings.
A prime example is this year’s French Open final between Australian Ashleigh Barty and Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, won by Barty in straight sets.
“That was a first-round match here last year,” Holtermann said.
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