2017 Cincy: Fave Experiences

Novak Djokovic

For the second consecutive season, Nole withdrew from Cincy. Last year it was just a few days before the tournament. This year it was a few weeks beforehand. One year is okay. You understand. Two years is tougher to take though. It’s the only significant tournament he missed in each of the last two seasons. Only fans in Cincy didn’t get to see him. As tough as it was to not see him for a second straight season, I understood. He has been dealing with this elbow injury for over a year. He should’ve taken the end of 2016 off, but he pushed it and it cost him in 2017. I just want him back healthy. If that meant not seeing him this year, then it’s okay with me.

Nole’s withdrawal opened up opportunities for me, especially since he did so early enough for me to adjust my plans. I was able to sell my semifinal night session tickets! The night session featured one men’s semifinal and a doubles final (which turned out to be the women’s doubles final). Since the only men’s player I wanted to see was Nole, I didn’t need to go to a session featuring a men’s match and no women’s singles matches. I was fortunate Cincy made this change to make both women’s semifinals be in day session. They’ve had different formats each year for semifinals/finals since 2014 I believe, as they try to find the best solution to give players in the final fairer amounts of rest.

Sabine Lisicki

Unlike Nole, I had no idea Sabine wouldn’t be playing in Cincy this year. She was on the qualifying entry list, using a protected ranking to do so. I was thinking about the times I’ve seen her play on the ride to Cincy. Then I saw the draw and her name was absent. She later said she got the flu in Washington and had to withdraw.

My two favorite players withdraw from Cincy. Certainly not ideal, but it opened up opportunities to see other players. There were a few players I really wanted to see, so it was almost perfect Sabine withdrew to let me see them. I was kind of planning on having to miss Sabine to see Schiavone, since this is her final season and I wanted an autograph badly. Sabine withdrawing never made me have to choose!

With faves, it’s almost like you’re required to be present for everything they do when you’re at a tournament. It can take up a lot of your time. Them not being there is kind of refreshing. You can be more flexible with how you spend your time. You can watch other players you usually don’t get to see. You can take more breaks to find some shade and just relax. Nole and Sabine not being in Cincy this year didn’t lessen my trip at all, if anything, it made for a better trip!

Simona Halep

Now we can finally start talking about some actual tennis! Simona didn’t withdraw from Cincy!

The first time I saw Simona this year was on Court 5 on Monday for a practice. Darren helped warm up her hitting partner, as Simona was getting ready. After hitting about two balls, he said “I like these courts already.” Fitting for the week she had.

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Simona usually finds a spot with shade to sit and take breaks during practice. That was on one side. The exit was on the other side. It became a debate about which side to go to. The side she was closest to was less crowded and would be easier to get a selfie with her. I chose the exit though because it was the safer option and I had three photos of her I wanted her to sign. I couldn’t gamble. Sure enough, she went to the other side with less people around. Darren gave a child a racquet Simona broke during the practice. Simona finished on that side and came over to the other side. She was about to leave and handed me the marker she was signing with without signing the photo I had. I asked her to sign it and she did. It was a photo of her and Kasatkina hugging after their Roland Garros match (as seen above). I already got Kasatkina to sign it, so I chose this one to get signed first, so it could be complete. I was also able to get a photo with her before she left. It didn’t turn out the best, but I was very lucky to get anything since she was just about to leave.

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On Tuesday Simona would play her first match on grandstand against Taylor Townsend. The first couple matches scheduled on the court took a while, so it started much later than anticipated. It worked out perfectly for me as there were some other things going on I wanted to go to. Simona didn’t play well against Townsend, but was able to prevail. After the match, she went to do an interview with Tennis Channel. I was able to get a good spot and get another autograph! I completed the photo I had of her and Elina from the Rome final! It was relieving Simona won the match, as I wouldn’t have had a chance to get this photo signed if she lost. I was surprised Cincy scheduled her on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, considering she made Rogers Cup semifinals, whereas other top players were in Cincy earlier.

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The best moment of the tournament for me came on Wednesday. Simona was to practice on Court 15 until 11 AM. I watched her practice then saw a cart was waiting for her. I decided I’d have a better chance going to the players entrance to get the last photo of her signed. It was a photo of her waving to the crowd after a win at Roland Garros. I waited by the players entrance for twenty minutes. Darren came through and took some photos with fans. No sign of Simona. I decided to give up and head back to the practice courts. I saw Frances Tiafoe was about to finish practice on Court 12 and was going to try to get an autograph from him. As I waited by the exit, I looked over and saw Simona walking right towards me. I couldn’t believe it. I quickly took my bag off to get her photo out. As she got closer, she was texting or something. I said her name and she looked up and signed the photo. I asked for a selfie too. I didn’t have time to get my phone out and be prepared, but she waited a few extra seconds and I got the selfie too! I was shaking afterwards. A top player, who’s one of my favorite players, with no security around walking right to me. What an opportunity! It was also about forty minutes after her practice ended. Usually players don’t hang around that long after they finish their practice. It was definitely a unique/unusual occurence. What made it even more special was that by getting the autograph, all three photos of Simona I wanted to get her to sign were now all signed. There was the sense of fulfillment in that moment. I didn’t need anything else from Simona the rest of the tournament. I got even more than I would’ve imagined by also getting a nice selfie with her too.

Simona played her second match on Thursday on grandstand against Anastasia Sevastova. Simona has had no issues with Sevastova in their last few matches, including double bagelling her in the Bucharest final just a year earlier. I expected an easy match, but that’s not what happened. Simona was down 2-4, but turned it around to win the set 6-4. The second set was a little easier, but still not as easy as usual against Sevastova. It was kind of interesting that my faves knocked Sevastova out of the tournament in consecutive seasons on the same court (Sabine beat her last year). Simona wasn’t playing up to the standards she usually does in the first two rounds though. With Konta awaiting in the quarterfinals, I was expecting a loss, and it was going to be my last day in Cincy.

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Simona was to play Konta on center at 7 PM on Friday. Simona arrived to the match in much better form than her previous two matches, but it was a grind. Down an early break to serving for the opening set, only to get broken. Darren came out afterwards and Simona broke to win the opening set 6-4. Second set was very similar. Simona was broken immediately, but then won four straight games. She served for the match, but got broken again. Darren came out on the changeover and I thought it’d be like the first set. Only it wasn’t. Konta held then created some break points for herself. All I was thinking about was the Miami quarterfinal against Konta when Simona was so close to the finish line, having served for the match, but lost. Simona fought strong though and saved the break points to hold then created three more match points by getting a 0-40 with Konta serving for the tiebreak. Konta saved them all though and we did go to the tiebreak. I don’t know how Simona did it, but she played a great tiebreak to win the match. On her sixth match point, Simona closed the deal. I expected her to lose, so I was thrilled both our weeks would continue in Cincy. I had to go down to the TV booth to see her. I even ended up gettng another autograph. It was a great night.

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Simona being interviewed after beating Stephens in semifinals

Simona’s semifinal opponent was Sloane Stephens. Their match was at 4 PM on center court. This was a joy to witness. Simona played her best tennis of the week and only lost a few games in the match. I was so excited to see Simona play in another final (I also went to the 2015 final vs Serena), especially after such a dominating display. Also she would be one win away from the world #1 ranking. Simona was 5 points short of #1. So close, yet so far. I knew Cincy could be the week it happened about a month beforehand, so I was eagerly hoping it would be the case to see it in person. It would be an indescribable feeling to see one of your favorite players become #1 in the world. This was her third time being one match away from #1. The first two times she was very close. A couple games away the first time. A couple points away the second time. I thought maybe it’d be a slow progression to get it and this would be the time. I didn’t know how to read the matchup though as Simona hadn’t played Muguruza recently. I thought Muguruza looked good in her semifinal against Pliskova. I thought we’d have a better chance playing Pliskova, but didn’t want to root either way, while watching the match, knowing we’d have to play one of them.

The final was at 2 PM on Sunday. I was in my seat early and ready to go, listening to the Romanian anthem they played before the match. I could hear a few fans by me singing along. I have a pretty good seat by a couple Simona fans, including a woman, you probably saw on TV, with a Romanina flag and a hat with Romanian colored balls on it. She also added a Simona photo to it during the week. It’s always nice to know you have other fans of your player by you…As for the match, it was ugly. Muguruza was sharp. Inside the baseline hitting aggressive shots. Not missing. Simona wasn’t having a good day herself by committing too many errors. It was over before you knew it. Tough one to swallow, but Muguruza was a deserving winner. It was kind of the same story as what happened in Toronto when Simona only won two games in her semifinal against Svitolina. This time she only won one game. I didn’t think she looked the sharpest in her practice before the final, but wouldn’t have predicted a scoreline like that.

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I wasn’t too disapointed in Simona’s performance. How could I be mad after she made the week so special for me? I’ll never forget the runins I had with her during the week. Without Simona making the final, I would’ve left earler in the week. It was a good experience to go to finals again, after missing them the previous year. Perhaps it was even a good thing Simona lost. If Simona becomes #1, it would be an emotional thing for me. I want it badly for her, given how talented she is. I was a nervous wreck the last time Simona went for #1 at Wimbledon. I don’t know how I would’ve handled being surrounded by thousands of people when such a big achievement took place in Simona’s career. I was trying to guard myself against thinking about it going into the match. I just wanted to focus on the match, so I wouldn’t be nervous, but it never really ever mattered, since it wasn’t close. It was still great to even have had the opportunity to see in person and I’m grateful for that and the week Simona had.

Elina Svitolina

Eli was fresh off winning Toronto and bringing in a 15-0 Premier 5 (P5) record in 2017. Cincy had been her best P5 tournament coming into the year. She made her first P5 quarterfinal here in 2014. She made the semifinals the following season. With all the P5 success this year, going into her best P5 tournament, you’d think it should continue. I wasn’t optimistic though. Rogers Cup/Cincy double is very difficult. It also felt like it was time for the magic to end.

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Eli was supposed to practice on Monday. I saw her by the players entrance waiting for a car. I was waiting there for Simona after her second practice of the day. Some other fans asked her to sign, so she came over and stuck her hand through the gate to sign a few autographs. She came back for a few more and I got one! When I saw her I thought she was arriving for her practice, which was in about two hours, but she was leaving. I think she just did media and left without practicing because she didn’t show up to her practice.

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The following day, Eli practiced. I was able to get an autograph on the photo I had of her with Simona from the Rome final. I also got a selfie! It was great to see she was the same Eli as in years past. She signed for everyone and took photos as usual. I ended up getting another selfie the following day. There wasn’t many people around, so why not?

Eli’s first match was on Stadium 3 at 7 PM on Wednesday against Lesia Tsurenko. It was an all Ukrainian battle. Ukrainain players, Lyuda Kichenok and Alexandr Dolgopolov, were in attendance. I didn’t get as good of a seat as I wanted. It was sunny on one side and the other side was fuller. After the first three games, I decided to move to sit by her team. Me sitting by her team started in 2015 when I sat close to Iain for her first two matches. I love trying to pick up a few things they’re saying and be able to get some good photos of her looking towards her team. I also started doing this because she didn’t have much support and I wanted to be by others cheering for her. So I was back by her team again this year. It was different with no Iain, but great to get back to being in her teams’ corner and see all her new team members. All her team members have beards, so I figure I easily fit right into her team anyway lol

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Sitting by Eli’s team for her match vs Tsurenko

Eli started the match well by winning six straight games to win the first set. Then it became a little tougher. Lightning could be seen and it started raining. They played through it a bit, but it intensified. Eli’s team got up and were about to leave. I kind of got in there way, as I stood by the exit waiting to see if the players would be sent off court. They weren’t and play resumed a few minutes later. The rain picked up again and play was suspended this time. It wasn’t for too long. Maybe an hour or less. Eli’s team came back and I sat by them again. I’m sure they took notice of me sitting by them through the rain delay and going back to sit by them. They were talking about roofs at Roland Garros and US Open. Ascione seemed to lead the discussion and said the most during play as well. Seeing things in Eli’s game and getting feelings about what would happen. I wish I could’ve heard more, but it wasn’t always easy, especially when you’re trying not to be obvious about it. Anyway, when play was resumed, it didn’t come easy for Eli. She ended up saving a break point before serving out the match a few points later.

Eli’s next match was supposed to be the following day on grandstand at 7 PM against Julia Goerges. It got rained out though, so it was to be played on Thursday at 1 PM on Court 10. I got there at the end of the first set. I wanted to see Lucie Safarova become the doubles world #1 then I went to Wozniacki’s practice, as she usually ends them early, and I wanted to get a selfie. I got to Eli’s match just as Ascione left. I sat by her team again. I was actually by Goerges’ team as well. Julia beat Eli in Fed Cup earlier this year, so I figured it would be a tough match. It just wasn’t Eli’s day and she lost in two sets. After the match, Eli’s team congratulated Julia’s team. As Eli left the court, people started applauding her. Not something you usually see on a non stadium court with no emcee encouraging the crowd to do so. It was nice to give Eli some recognition. She had suffered her first P5 defeat of 2017. The run she was on deserved some applause for everything she had done this year. Eli waved in appreciation as she left the court. I was happy she got that moment.

I knew Eli’s P5 success was going to end during the week, but it still sucked. To be her most successful P5 tournament, where she had her first breakthroughs in her career, it’s not easy to see her struggles the past two years. I wonder if Cincy will be similar to Eli the way other tournaments have been to other players. For example, Nole’s first major quarterfinal and semifinal came at Roland Garros. We know what it took for Nole to finish the deal at Roland Garros. I think Agassi had similar experiences at Roland Garros. I hope that doesn’t happen with Eli in Cincy. I want her to win Cincy one day. Now that she’s won other big tournaments and is a top player, winning the tournament seems possible. Hopefully it happens one day.

Darya Kasatkina

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The first time I saw Darya was on Court 15 for a practice with Daria Gavrilova. I was like the only one watching the practice, so it was a bit awkward. The Dasha’s are good friends and were joking around. At one point, Darya even flipped off Daria, jokingly. After practice, I was able to get an autograph from Darya on a photo of her with the Charleston trophy. I also got a selfie!

The following day, she played a practice set on Court 17 with a college player, Jordan Benjamin, who Simona also practiced with a lot. Darya didn’t do that well in the set and wasn’t pleased. After practice, I was fortunate to get an autograph on the photo I had of her hugging Simona after their match at Roland Garros this year!

Darya’s first singles match was against Aliaksandra Sasnovich on Stadium 3. It was a night session match starting at 7 PM. Last year, I had to miss Darya’s singles match due to a schedule conflict. I only saw like the last couple points. This was going to be the first time I watched a full match she played. She played pretty well and was able to win the match in straight sets! It was enjoyable to watch from the front row in a fairly sparse stadium.

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Darya’s next match was against Madison Keys on grandstand at 11 AM. This was when Simona practiced until 11 AM and we ended up running into one another on the practice courts, which I discussed earlier. I checked the score of the match during all that and saw the match was going how I thought it would. Darya got crushed. I didn’t really want to sit in the sun in a probably full stadium with Darya playing an American player, so I never attempted to watch any of it. If the score wasn’t lopsided, I probably would’ve gone over there at some point, but it was probably a good thing it wasn’t because then maybe I’d never have had my most memorable moment of the tournament with Simona.

Darya was in doubles again this year! She partnered up with Gavrilova for the first time in a while! I felt fortunate they decided to renew their partnership in Cincy. They played Nadya Kichenok and Anastasia Rodionova in their first match. Nadya is a fave of mine as well, so it was kind of cool to see them share a court. I expected Nadya and Anastasia to win since they had a good week in Toronto and are doubles players. They didn’t though. The Dasha’s surprised me and ended up taking the match in a super tiebreak. They were pretty lucky considering Nadya/Anastasia served for the first set and bagelled them in the second set. I missed the second set and beginning of the super tiebreak to watch Svitolina practice, but was lucky to even be able to watch any of it with some matches taking a while on grandstand where Simona was playing.

The Dasha’s took on Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty in their next match. I figured it would be tough for them since Casey/Ash are one of the best doubles teams. The Dasha’s would lose in straight sets. It wasn’t too competitive. I wasn’t as disappointed as I was the previous year with their loss. They won one match more than I thought they would and didn’t have the chances against Casey/Ash that they did the previous year. Also, Svitolina was practicing on the court next to them, so I kind of watched both, and wasn’t as into the doubles match.

Petra Martic

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I wanted to include Petra in this post because this was the first time I saw her play in person. I’ve been a fan of Petra since Stuttgart in 2015. She played Sabine in doubles. I liked watching her play the match, even though she beat Sabine. Since then I’ve been hoping her ranking would improve so I could see her in Cincy. Luckily this year she’s had a few good runs at majors and her ranking was good enough to be in Cincy’s qualifying draw!

I didn’t get off to a good start with Petra. The first day of the tournament she was going to practice on Court 5 from 1-1:30. I’d planned to eat lunch between her practice and Sorana Cirstea’s practice, which was from 12-12:30. The problem was Sorana pushed her practice back a half hour and I didn’t make the connection there wouldn’t be any time between. About five minutes before Petra’s practice was going to end, I realized the mistake I made, and quickly went over just before Petra concluded her practice. There was about three or four people waiting for her, but she went out the back gate to get a cart. No one was expecting her to do that and nobody got anything. (Let me just say that I saw like one other non top player take a cart the entire tournament, so Petra doing this was pretty rare).

Petra played on center against McHale later that day. I went to the match after Siniakova’s practice. I believe it was late in the second set when I got there. Center was sparse, so I took a seat in the shade in the 200 level of the stadium. The third set started off with the players splitting a couple long games. Then Martic was able to get on a run to lead 5-1. I was enjoying all the fist pumping Martic was doing as she neared the finish line. Closing became a little tough. It took saving a break point, before finally closing it out on her third match point. I was thrilled I’d have another chance to see her after screwing up earlier in the day.

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The following day I was ready for Petra and was determined not to screw up. She was going to practice on the same court as she did the day before. I was ready for the back exit this time and wouldn’t let what happened the previous day happen again. I went to Petra’s practice about half way through, as I found Cibulkova practicing and had to tell a fan of hers, Haylie, since it wasn’t on the practice schedule. I caught the end of Petra’s practice and this time was able to get an autograph and selfie! She didn’t take a cart this time and came out the exit everyone was expecting her to the previous day. I was so happy, after waiting a couple years to see her, that I didn’t miss out on getting an autograph and selfie.

I watched her match later that day against Cepede Royg on grandstand. It was the first match of the tournament I watched from start to finish. Petra started poorly and lost the first set. The second set was closer. Petra got a pivotal break for a 5-3 lead in a five deuce game then served out the set. It looked like Petra would win and qualify for the main draw, as she got a 5-3 lead in the third set, but was unable to serve the match out. I watched her on the changeover beforehand and got a bad feeling. She was just kind of sitting there. Didn’t look too pumped up or anything. Sure enough, she got broken. Down 5-6, she served to stay in the match. In one of the first points of the game, she took a fall, but continued on. She didn’t look compromised at all in her moevement afterwards, but she lost a few points later. Petra won three points in the last four games after she took the 5-3 lead. It was tough to see after it looked like she was going to win. Petra kind of has a history of choking away leads. You may remember Roland Garros, where she lost a 5-2 lead in the third set to Elina Svitolina.

It sucked to end this way, but I was just happy to have seen Petra. There’s plenty more players I’m hoping to have the chance to see play in Cincy in the future, who currently aren’t in the position rankings wise. Petra gives me hope I will be able to see those players one day, since she was able to improve her ranking. It meant a lot to see her play this year.

 

Hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences with these players this year. I will probably write another post about Cincy, but will wait until after the US Open at least, so watch out for that!

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