August 20, 2021
Lindner Family Tennis Center (Capacity: 11,435)
Felix Auger-Aliassime vs Stefanos Tsitsipas
Final Score: 2-6, 7-5, 1-6
One of the best fan experiences to watch tennis comes at the Western & Southern Open each year as this tournament has so much going for it. As part of the main tour calendar for a long time, this tournament even predates the Open Era. Currently, it is an elite Masters 1000 event on the ATP Tour and it is in that same high category (just one notch below the majors) for the women as well. The singles draw features 56 players and past winners include all the big names: Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Agassi, Sampras, Lendl, McEnroe, Connors. Even though the W&S Open is billed as Cincinnati, the location is actually 30 minutes outside of the city, in the distant suburb of Mason (population: 30,000). The Lindner Family Tennis Center is quite a huge facility as there are 17 outdoor courts and four show courts. Having been completed in 1981, the showpiece Center Court has been modified multiple times and now has a capacity of 11,435. On the last day of our vacation, I attended a Friday Night session that included a Men’s Quarterfinal.
Prestige Ranking: 4.5 out of 5
Location and Accessibility / Parking
Mason is nearly halfway between Cincinnati and Dayton and while you’ll find things to do in each city, neither have anything super impressive. Mason itself is most known as being home to the popular Kings Island amusement park. This is actually located right across from the Tennis Center, on the other side of I-71. That major Ohio interstate is what is used to reach the complex and it is super easy to reach. Parking is just as easy as signs / attendants direct you where to park. The public spots are on grassy areas separated by strips of gravel. Not the cleanest or smoothest for sure, but at least the process is simple. Traffic also was not an issue in and around the area.
Location Ranking: 4 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking: 7 out of 8
The outside of the Center Court structure isn’t seen that well from the main entrance and even from inside the grounds, it feels a bit hidden and unpromoted. Once you reach it, the primary look is a circular wall with blue panels. There are concession insets as well. The best feature is the large yellow draw board, which shows the progress of each bracket.
Exterior Ranking: 2.5 out of 10
The Grounds are beautifully adorned with flowers, gardens and occasional trees making for a lovely stroll as you enter or wander from match to match. Even though it can get crowded, there is enough space to maneuver. The central seating area has a ton of tables (either covered by an umbrella or shade tree) and a stage with live music to add to the ambiance. If those are full, keep walking around as there are plenty of nooks and crannies to find a spot to relax. Each area is unique too as you could grab a seat at a bar or a lounge chair in front of multiple video screens that are showing different action. The only thing that was underdone was the bathroom and it was a little tough to find where they were located. As for the main stadium, ground level is generally the “concourse”, however there is a balcony section that is open to all. Again, this features all the comforts and it’s easy to see why those who come for a day or night session hang around for more than one match.
Concourse Ranking: 4.5 out of 5
The food quality and quantity matched expectations as a wall of temporary tent-like facilities housed a plethora of local eateries. Greek, Sushi, BBQ, Tex-Mex, Fish and some legit burgers were just some of the tough decisions I had to ponder while figuring out what to get for dinner. Plus, we had local favorite, Skyline Chili available in case anyone wanted a 3-way or cheese coney to precede the inevitable 15 minutes in the bathroom after consumption. On the more appetizing side of things is another local favorite, Graeter’s Ice Cream. It’s really good stuff and make sure to try the Black Raspberry Chip. When it comes to alcohol, if you want it, they got it. Beer (including locally made), Wine, Hard Liquor, Mixed Drinks, even Champagne. It will cost a pretty penny, but it’s all there.
Food Ranking: 8 out of 8
Center Court has been modified multiple times through the years as additional luxury seating has been added. Normally I’m not a fan of that, but it seemed to add some character here. There’s a lot of blue and it’s a decent color to go with as the stadium generally looks appealing. Seats are pretty close to the court as the shape in the letter “O” makes for a good design and the angles to the court are adequate. Heads only slightly get in the way of your view and the stadium height gets better further way (sides seats have a gentler slope). Even though there is only one deck, there are three “levels” of seats, each separated by a walkway. Both the Box Level (1st) and Loge Level (2nd) have individual chairs with cupholders. These are slightly roomier than the Terrace Level which unfortunately are bleachers with backs. If possible, many people put their feet over the bleacher back in front of them for a more comfortable experience. As for specialty seating, the South End has the most striking appearance with a three-tiered set of alternating enclosed and outdoor seating/luxury space. It’s topped by a concave glass press box and an overhang that sticks out a good distance. The opposite end is more built into the bowl as the upper seats are shaded and have a terrace to themselves behind the seats. Traditional suites can be found in the southwest corner, while the upper west side features a deck of special seats topped by suites. The catering to the exclusive and corporate is more than I’d like to see at a stadium, but the built-up-ness does help provide extra shade in spots, a necessity during what is usually a hot time of year in Southwest Ohio. Also, note you’re seat number and section because for a few seats right next to each structure may come with an obstruction.
Interior Ranking: 10 out of 14
Towards the top of each sideline is a video board. Even though the clarity is super high-def, the size of each board is quite small. Making out the ball took a little strain, but close call replays were adequate. Live video and replay frequency were sufficient. At the bottom of each board was the score for the match. I would’ve like to have seen scores from other matches too.
Scoreboard Ranking: 3 out of 4
The main entry features a grand introduction as the classy “Champions Garden” does very well to honor and display all of this tournament’s past champions. On the opposite side is a great gesture as there is also a “Volunteer Garden” as those special unpaid volunteers are recognized. Men and Women who have provided 20+ years of service get a plaque in for their service as well. Walk further and you’ll see a statue in memory of longtime tournament director Paul Flory. What caught me off guard was the Tournament Museum. Out by Court 11, this little one-room building (with air conditioning!) featured memorabilia and a written history of the event. Very cool!
Displays Ranking: 6 out of 6
Single session tickets begin in the $20 – $40 range for a few of the early round night sessions. As the tournament goes on, Friday through Sunday action begins at $65 – $85 and that doesn’t include the absurd $16 fee. The secondary market is a gamble worth taking if you are smart in terms of accounting for the weather forecast and who may be playing during your session. I was able to succeed by paying $54 (total) for my session, which was running $91 through the tourney website. Overall, tickets are similar, if not a bit cheaper, when compared to other Masters 1000 events in North America. Food prices are expectedly expensive ($10 for a burger, $7 for fries), as were drinks ($8-$12 for a beer, $5 for a water). On the plus side, parking was free!
Cost Ranking: 6.5 out of 8
This Friday Night Quarterfinal featured a decent crowd, but nothing near full-capacity. I would say at peak, the stadium was about 70% full. This is a bit of a drop-off comparing what things looked like 2 years ago and that could be blamed on both the pandemic and the Big 3 not playing this year. I’ve been watching this tournament annually and have noted that it is well-supported with good attendance for night sessions. However, there’s been many times I’ve seen a lot of fans leave before a 3rd set, no matter how exciting the match. Plus, the Final on Sunday is almost never a full house. There was no early exit for our match that went the limit, but it was also the early match and quick on time.
Fan Support Ranking: 6 out of 8
It was a pretty chill crowd and with most not having an allegiance to a player, it took a while to get behind someone. Long rallies late in the match were met with extended applause and fans gave good claps after each point. I watched the riveting Zverev-Tsitsipas semifinal the next night and while there were loud cheers and handfuls that stood, I thought the energy should’ve been better for what the match was.
Atmosphere Ranking: 7.5 out of 14
This Tournament is known around Tour circles as being one of the most fan-friendly events and I concur after one visit. In addition, they do a lot of charity work as well and that adds up to this being a special event…..Very little of the stadium is available for a single-session ticket as just Terrace level seating above Row 6 is open to the public. It’s quite annoying, but an understandable supply-and-demand thing because there wasn’t much issue buying a seat…..The Tennis Center is named after Carl Lindner, a tournament sponsor and benefactor…..The main stadium is open 30 minutes before the first match, but the entire tennis center is open earlier than that for each session…..Check out the Rockwood Pottery trophy.
The 2nd seeded Tsitsipas was flawless in a first set that took only a half-hour as he looked on his way to victory. However, there were hiccups in the second set and FAA got a late break, which he held on to and took the second set. Then, Tsitsipas took his now obligatory suspect “bathroom break” (with his bag and phone) after losing the set and came back to win the third in dominant fashion again.