On Sunday, Sept. 11, Carlos Alcaraz won the U.S. Open in New York and subsequently became the youngest men’s tennis player to reach No. 1 in the world. That name was especially familiar to me. At only 19 years old, Alcaraz has become quite popular among young tennis players. I texted my brother, “didn’t we see him practice?” The answer was yes, we did.
Less than a month earlier, I had gone to the Western & Southern Open, a hard court tournament in Cincinnati just before the start of the U.S. Open. It’s less well known than the grand slam, but all of the major players — both on the men’s and women’s sides — go there every year without fail. It was at this tournament my family and I saw Alcaraz practicing on a court with just three rows of bleachers set up on either side. (There are high schools with more seating room than that.)
I had gone to the Western & Southern nine years ago and hadn’t been back since this August, but it had me thinking: Professional tennis is the best sports experience for fans out of any sport out there. Don’t believe me? Here’s why.
There’s nowhere else you can get closer to athletes
Carlos Alcaraz, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams. One day in Cincinnati gave me and my family the opportunity to see all of these top-ranked players, along with dozens more. We went on one of the qualifying days, where players are competing to make it into the main draw of the tournament. This means the top players are probably not playing actual matches, but that’s even better. Instead of having an assigned seat in a large stadium court setting, you can stake out your favorite players on the practice schedule and attend their 30-minute to two-hour practice sessions.
And most will stay after practice to sign hats and tennis balls for all the fans who stuck around for the entire practice session. When I went to the tournament in 2013, Novak Djokovic stayed for nearly an hour interacting with fans along every inch of the fence.
What other sport has professional practices open to everyone in the venue? The athletes even just walk on their own to the courts, meaning the player casually walking next to you could be No. 1 in the world or someone’s hitting partner. You never know.
And, you have the freedom to choose who you watch. For instance, in the early days of bigger tournaments, you buy your grounds ticket with an assigned seat in the center court stadium. However, you have free reign to any of the practice courts and other matches for the entire day. It’s almost too much freedom as you have to decide which players you want to see the most.
It’s international and year-round
The men’s ATP tour and fellow women’s counterpart WTA tour spans over 30 countries with players of more than 100 nationalities. And while you most likely know of the four grand slams in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York, the tours are hosted in countries and cities all over the world, giving its global fan base a chance to see their favorites anywhere.
Talk to a tennis fan in the U.S., and I would bet there’s a good chance their favorite tennis pro isn’t American. But even though they’re from a different country, they can most likely see them play in person in several cities across the U.S., from Miami to D.C.
And with the four major tournaments spread out from January to September, there’s never a shortage of high-level tennis to watch.
As a disclaimer, I have played tennis my whole life, and it’s sort of a family sport, so I am a bit biased when it comes to rating how enjoyable tennis is to watch. But, there’s nothing tennis fans care about more than seeing good tennis, and it’s easy to get sucked in.
Whether you want to check eating strawberries and cream at Wimbledon off your bucket list or need something to do in Cincinnati for a day, try a tennis tournament. Go to watch tennis, hang out with friends, drink, eat — whatever! I promise it’ll be a grand slam.
Contact Alysa Guffey at email@example.com.
The views in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.