First off, I wanted to note that I originally finished writing this after Cincy. The timing never felt right to post it though with what I was going through in my personal life at the end of 2016, which you’ll know about if you follow me on Twitter. Even though it’s late, I’d still like to share the experiences I had while I was there. Hope you enjoy!
One of the best things about live tennis is seeing your faves and being able to spend time watching them play/practice. I wanted to share my experiences with my faves from Cincy this year.
Nole withdrew from the tournament a few days before it began. It sucked that I wouldn’t be able to see him this year, but I was very understanding of it. I knew his wrist had been bothering him and that he needed a break. It’s unfortunate he hadn’t withdrew from a tournament in over a year and then it had to come at the tournament I attend. The tournament he still needs to win to complete the Golden Masters by winning all nine of the Masters 1000 trophies. When he didn’t withdraw from Madrid this year I always knew this could be a possibility, especially given that it was an Olympic summer. The only reason I started buying tickets for the whole tournament is in hopes I’ll one day see him win it. Had Nole won it last year, I probably wouldn’t have gone to Cincy this year because I knew Olympic summers ruin the US Open series tournaments. I can say I’m glad he didn’t because I realized this year just how much Cincy means to me. I know it’s an event I can’t skip in the years to come.
I remember in 2012, the first year I attended Cincy, I was going only to see him. I was so worried he’d withdraw after playing in the Olympics and Toronto the two previous weeks. I was checking Twitter a couple times an hour. It would’ve been devastating not to see him in 2012. Had he withdrawn, maybe I’m not as big of a tennis fan as I am today. I’ll never forget when I saw him for the first time and luckily got an autograph as well. I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea that would even be possible, having been to other sporting events where you can’t get close to players. Seeing him play and win a couple matches was special as well. I didn’t need Nole there this year, but I did need him there in 2012. Given the choice, I’d rather have him miss 2016 over 2012.
This year would be different from the previous three years I’ve seen Sabine in Cincy, as Sabine would be playing in qualifying. Because of this, I had to be there for the first day to make sure I could see her. I would within an hour of entering the grounds. Sabine would practice on Court 16. I was grateful for that. The last couple years she only practiced on Court 14, which has a big fence. Seeing her on Court 16 allowed me to actually watch her in a nice setting. With seats and no fence. I could enjoy seeing her play, which I did.
The first time I saw her was like the very first time I saw her in 2013. It’s like you see her walking to the court and you’re in awe. This is my favorite player that I wake up in the middle of the night to watch. The player I’ll revolve my schedule completely around just to see a match she’s playing in, whatever it takes to watch her. Now she’s right in front of me. It’s so surreal every time. I always kind of shyly look away because I don’t want to stare too much, which is easy to do.
Sabine got to practice early. She sat and watched Dominika Cibulkova finish up her practice before her own. When Domi finished her practice, she came and sat by Sabine. Sabine and Domi had a conversation. Laughs were shared, which was great! I never usually get good pictures of Sabine smiling or laughing and that moment allowed me to get a few! I imagine Sabine asked Domi about her wedding, which happened just a few weeks earlier, but really it could’ve been anything.
Cincy was going to be the first tournament Sabine played since the announcement she and Salvador Navarro parted ways. That was one of the things I was most excited to see at the practice. Who did she have with her? It turns out, Chip Brooks was with her from the IMG Academy.
The practice was only going to be half an hour. I watched, took pictures, and took a few videos. As the minutes passed though, I grew more and more anxious/nervous in hopes of getting an autograph and picture with her. I was a bit worried she may go out the back way with a cart, like she’d been doing the last few years on Court 14. Luckily that wasn’t the case this time.
Sabine finished her practice and headed over to sign some autographs and take pictures. Brooks saw me with my Fed Cup picture of Sabine and some of the other Germans. He told me I was very prepared a few times. Then he looked over to Sabine and said something like “look at this guy and how prepared he is.” He was pointing at me as he looked over to her. He told me it was a nice picture. I’m not sure if he saw my Sabine shirt too or not, but maybe he did and that was also why he was saying those things. I didn’t know who he was at the time, so I didn’t know what to do or say. I wondered if it’d help me have a nice moment with Sabine, but he didn’t stay by me too much longer. Then it happened!
Sabine came over and signed the Fed Cup picture. I asked for a picture with her and as I went to take it, my hand was shaking like crazy. I knew in that moment if I just touched the screen to take the picture, it’d turn out terrible and blurry, so I stopped myself and clicked the volume button. It must’ve taken the longest of anybody who got a picture with her, but I got it and was thrilled! It turned out a lot clearer than last year too. (I should also mention that Sabine later liked my tweet with the picture on Twitter! Hopefully she didn’t remember me shaking trying to take it lol!)
Sabine would play her match on grandstand against Sevastova. I went over early to make sure I got a good seat. I finished watching Davis-Golubic match then it was time for Sabine! Some people moved from the front row right behind the court, so I moved to sit there. I’d been on grandstand many times over the years and wanted to sit behind the court so badly. Finally I got the chance during Sabine’s match!
Sabine started the match well by winning a couple long deuce games then getting a fairly easy hold for 3-0. It got a bit tricky afterwards, but Sabine won the opening set 6-3! The second set was fairly even and then the rain came. It lasted only a few minutes. Enough to soak the court. Someone took my seat when I left to find cover from the rain, so I sat further down the row. It worked out pretty good actually because I had an easier route to the player exit.
As we waited for the courts to dry, I heard people behind me saying they thought Sabine would come out after the rain delay and play well to finish the match, since she started the match strong. I chuckled a bit. They obviously don’t know Sabine. Nothing is that easy with her.
The rain delay came at 5-5. She broke immediately once play resunmed. Maybe that guy was right lol. But he wasn’t. Sabine got broken back serving for the match. It was a bad service game. Broken easily.
I was sitting right behind Sabine for the start of the tiebreak. I heard her tell herself to fight for every point. I was surprised. You don’t really see her talk to herself on TV or say much at all really. It was cool to see. That’s why I like going to tournaments. You see these things you don’t see on TV.
Sabine was in control for most of the tiebreak and won it 7-4. I was so happy to see her win the match. It’s been a tough year. Seeing her win was extra special given her tough year. After the match I went right over to try to get an autograph. I went to a few places first, which were unsuccessful, then I finally got a good spot. She came over and signed the picture I had. I told her she played a good match. She looked me right in the eye and said “thank you so much” with a big smile on her face. I was paralyzed. I didn’t know what to do. I walked away as she moved on to sign for others. I watched at a distance as I tried to comprehend what happened.
It’s one of those experiences you’ll never forget. I can still put myself in that moment and remember every detail about it. It was an unbelievable day she gave me. A win, selfie, two autographs, Twitter like, and a small conversation. The rest of the day was pretty much a bonus. It’s a strange experience being there after something like that happens because nothing can top it. Anything you go to afterwards won’t come close to that. It’s hard to leave the area it happened and go somewhere else.
The next day Sabine was playing on center. I was so mad. I’d only ever watched her from the front row. On center, I couldn’t do that. She was scheduled for the first match, but when she came out, it rained, so it got moved to second after, as there was some first round qualifying matches that hadn’t finished. I was happy about this as it allowed me to watch some of Flink’s match. Flink finished off the first set just as Sabine’s match was about to start. Perfect timing!
I went to my seat and determined it wouldn’t do. I saw the stands were pretty empty, so I moved down a lot closer to the court. I found some German fans, so I sat close to them. Sabine started the match out well. She was hitting winners and playing well. She got up 3-1 before it all started going down hill. She fought hard at the end in a six deuce game, but it wasn’t enough. Zheng won 6-3, 6-2. Sabine signed autographs as she left the court. It may not have ended well, but more happened than I ever could’ve imagined. I was pleased with the win, selfie, and two autographs!
I didn’t get to see Simona as much as I would’ve liked. I only ended up going to one of her practices because they were at bad times. She didn’t sign after that practice because of an autograph session. Luckily I got a ticket, but it’s not the same as a practice when you can get what you want signed and pictures too.
Simona’s first match was on Center vs Beck. I got there a bit late, as I was watching Svitolina practice. After the practice, I went over to Center. I found a seat next to one of my friends from Twitter, Jake, and we watched the match. Simona was playing so well. It was such a joy to watch. I couldn’t believe some of the shots she was hitting and how consistently she was hitting them. It was truly a GOAT performance. Seeing a fave play in person is one thing, but seeing them play at the peak of their abilities is another. I would hope for everyone to get this chance with their fave.
After the match we went over to the TV broadcast area, where Simona was being interviewed. I got the autograph on the picture I wanted! I had a picture of her with the runner up trophy from last year. It was special to see her play that final last year, so it’s something I’ll treasure. To my surprise though, I got nervous as she walked over. I don’t think I ever have that badly before with anyone.
Simona’s second match was against Gavrilova. It was another GOAT performance. I wasn’t really enjoying the match though. It’d been a long week up to that point. I was pretty exhausted and not feeling that great. It was a hot and sunny day too. I didn’t even go down after the match to try to get an autograph at the TV studio. I even stayed on Center to watch a match I hadn’t planned on watching. I just didn’t want to walk around and be in the sun. It was the moment I knew it was going to be my last day in Cincy. It was great to see Simona playing well, but it wasn’t worth staying just for her. Playing the night session in her next match also gave me the chance to get home before the match, so it made too much sense. Simona not winning the tournament was a bit of a relief though, as it would’ve sucked to not have been there for that.
In 2015 she made the semifinals and it was really special to have followed her all the way to the semifinals. In 2014 she made the quarterfinals. She’s played well in Cincy and had some of her biggest wins there. Her draw was pretty good too after Serena withdrew. Elina made the Olympics quarterfinals and beat Serena along the way. It definitely seemed like it had all the makings of another big result for her, but she’s had struggles in the next tournament after good results this year. In one of her practices, she stopped and sat down. It seemed she had an injury and just wasn’t 100%.
Elina played Gavrilova on Court 4. It was originally supposed to be the day before on grandstand, but rain cancelled it. I was a bit late getting to the match. I missed the first game or two. As I watched, my fears were coming true. Elina just didn’t seem right. She was making too many errors. It wasn’t her day. It sucked after having been used to her playing well in Cincy, but since I saw it coming, it wasn’t as tough.
I did end up getting a picture with her after the practice before Simona’s match and wished her luck for the match. I wished her luck a few years ago before she played Suarez Navarro too and she ended up winning that match. I tried, but history didn’t repeat this time.
One thing I want to note is that after the match, Elina was mad at her performance. She ended up walking the grounds to get back to the players lounge and not taking a cart. I saw her stop to allow a fan to get a selfie with her. It probably didn’t turn out great (she probably didn’t smile), but it just shows how nice Elina is to her fans and that’s why I wanted to include it. She’s one of the best with fans and will always sign or take pictures. If she’d stop after a match like that, she’ll always stop.
I’d become a fan of Darya early in the year, so she was one of the highest on my list to see since I hadn’t seen her yet. Things just weren’t happening though in Cincy for me to see her. Rain may’ve played a part, but it seemed every practice I attempted to go to, didn’t happen. She wasn’t even listed on the practice schedule some days too, so I had to check a few times a day to see if that changed.
The first time I saw her was strange. It was raining and I was walking around trying to find some players. I believe I was by the players entrance/exit for a while before deciding to leave there. In this area, patrons can walk through to get to the other side of the grounds easier. As I walked through that area, I looked up and saw her. It was such a weird spot to see her because it’s not like I could really do anything. You can’t stop in the middle of that area. Security will be all over you. It was such a surprise to see her like that though, I don’t think I could’ve asked even if it was in a better spot.
Luckily I got another chance with her just a little while later. She was practicing on Court 9. At first I got the courts mixed up, but I eventually found her. It ended up working out pretty well. A big storm was approaching. The clouds were getting dark. Darya was taking pics of it, but I couldn’t really see how bad it was from where I was. As she exited, a member of her team asked me if I thought it was gonna rain. I told him they’d be playing if it wasn’t. She came out and I got an autograph and a selfie! It turned out pretty good too since she was in a good mood about the weather. It was great to get the autograph because the first time I ever saw all my other faves, I got autographs as well. This was the first time I got a selfie too though.
Unfortunately her match was at the same time as Flink’s match. I determined I needed to go to Flink’s because I felt I made a special connection with her, similar to how I felt I made one with Elina the previous year. It turned out to be a good decision because Darya got crushed by Pironkova. I did end up seeing the end, as I had to try to get Petkovic’s autograph to complete my German Fed Cup picture, and it was close by.
One of the main reasons I decided I could miss Darya’s singles match was she was playing doubles too. I’d get another chance to see her. I may not see Flink again. Darya was playing doubles with Gavrilova. This was actually the match that got me to leave Center, when I mentioned in Simona’s section that I didn’t want to leave. They’d started the previous the day, but because of darkness and no lights on the court, they had to resume it the following day. They had leads, but just couldn’t close it out. It was disappointing given that and it just added to the reasoning for me to leave Cincy. It was the first time I got to watch a fave play doubles, so that part of it was nice. It’s a different setting than I’m used to. I realized how difficult it was to get good pictures in doubles. The players smile more often, but you need to be at just the right angle to get it.
Surprisingly, I saw Darya one last time. She had a practice after the doubles match because she was mad about her performance. I was just walking around and spotted her. She was still in her match outfit. I missed most of the practice then she sat on a table for a while. She came out and some guys got pictures with her. She didn’t smile much. I thought about getting one too since she was still in her match outfit, but I knew she wasn’t in the best of moods and my other one came out really good. I did get an autograph though on the picture I most wanted to get one on. I didn’t use that picture the first time because rain was threatening and I’ve had experiences where it smears. It just shows how she’s nice with fans just like Elina. That’s always great to see as a fan. To know they’re humble and appreciate us.
2016 Cincy wasn’t as kind to me as 2015, but I still had many good experiences with my faves as you’ve seen above. It’s always a great experience when you see a fave in person.
To see my published article about another experience with a player in Cincy, Varvara Flink, go here
I’ll also have at least one more article about my time in Cincy, so stay tuned for that 😉