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Sports

Guffey: Why tennis is the best fan experience in sports

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.

It’s fun

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 aguffey@nd.edu.

The views in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Categories
Sports

Breen: The U.S. Open

The conclusion of the U.S. Open, overshadowed overwhelmingly this year by Serena Williams’ retirement, has had me thinking.

It is difficult for me to parse out my relationship with the sport of tennis. Unlike football, basketball or even baseball, I cannot help but feel a little vulnerable when discussing my memorable life encounters with the tennis court.

Being born on Cuyahoga County soil in September 2001 automatically endowed me with rights as a Cleveland Browns, Indians and Cavaliers fan. No one can or would argue that. But did that birth guarantee me any right to be a tennis fan? I suppose that no circumstance of birth could ever take away one’s right to be a tennis fan. Perhaps the better question is: What circumstances of birth impel one to be more likely to exercise his or her right as a tennis fan? In theory, I am American and should be rooting for American tennis players during the four grand slam tournaments, the U.S. Open most of all. Yet, as I came to notice growing up, in practice most people will not exercise their rights as tennis fans unless they are born in particular areas of that county, Cuyahoga, and its composite suburbs.

As my mental topography of my home suburb of Shaker Heights expanded as I grew up, so did my knowledge of the various tennis courts in the city. What were the circumstances of my birth that allow me to remember right now a certain catalogue of tennis courts dispersed around my hometown?

The only locations of tennis courts that I know in Shaker are located at country clubs or schools. I have noticed some tennis courts in homeowners’ backyards on my summer jogs around the
suburb, but I do not know the names of the homeowners. Tennis is exclusive. All the country clubs cost thousands of dollars to belong to and all the schools but one I can think of are private. The one public location that comes to my mind that is free for anyone to play tennis is located at Shaker Heights High School. I have seen how often those courts get used on the summer nights where I have practiced baseball on the high school’s field right across the street. They get busy. I suppose I have seen the tennis courts at the country clubs or private schools grow crowded from time to time. I do not think I have ever seen someone play tennis on a court in the backyard of someone’s private home.

It has been years since I have played a tennis game. Growing up, I used to participate in tennis camps at a local country club my family belonged to.

I remember one year my brother and I decided to get more into the sport. The club’s tennis pro encouraged us to sign up for a tennis tournament. We showed up in our neon Nike athletic gear like we always had at the camps, and we were the only kids not wearing a suit of white. It was one of the most embarrassing days of my young life. That day I did not belong.

The circumstances of my life have blessed with incredible opportunities like the chance to attend the University of Notre Dame. The circumstances of my life have also allowed me to encounter the sport of tennis within an exclusive level. With the Williams sisters fading out of the sport of tennis, what reason do I have to keep up with the sport? Cool tournament names like the Australian Open surely will not be enough.

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu.

Categories
Scene

Serena Williams finishes legendary tennis career

Serena Williams’ historic tennis career has come to an end, completing the evolution away from tennis she announced in an August op-ed for Vogue. Last Friday Williams played her last game of tennis in the Arthur Ashe Stadium against Ajla Tomljanović.

Any tennis fan or person familiar with the movie “King Richard” probably knows the humble career beginnings of Serena and Venus Williams. The two sisters learned to play tennis on the public courts of Compton, California under the careful instruction of their father, Richard Williams. Beginning her professional career at age 14, Williams won her first major singles title at the 1999 US Open as a 17-year-old. From there: she went on to win at every major tournament multiple times: another five times at the US Open, three times at the French Open, seven times at the Australian Open and seven times at Wimbledon. Altogether she has won a total of 23 major titles, more than any other tennis player in the Open Era – man or woman. 

William’s accolades go beyond those 23 major titles, though. According to ESPN, she has collected 858 tour victories, 73 singles titles, an Olympic gold medal and spent a total of 319 weeks at No. 1 in women’s tennis. With her sister, Williams has also won 14 major women’s double titles and three Olympic gold medals. 

The impact of Williams, along with her sister, goes beyond just their victories. After an injury took Serena out of the competition in 2010, the only Black female player in the US Open women’s single draw was Venus. In the 2020 US Open, the number of Black women playing for the United States increased to 12 out of 32. Many of today’s young Black players credit the Williams sisters for their interest in the predominantly white sport. Such players include Coco Gauff, Taylor Townsend and Frances Tiafoe.

What’s next for Williams? Her attention now turns to the work of her company Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm she started in 2014 that focuses on health, wellness and athletics. Serena Ventures is one of the few venture capital firms owned by a Black women. 

Williams wrote in Vogue that “seventy-eight percent of [Serena Venture’s] portfolio happens to be companies started by women and people of color, because that’s who we are.” She believes that representation matters on and off the court. “It’s important to have women like that who believe in you and push you to think bigger and do bigger,” she said. 

Her other plans include expanding her family with husband Alexis Ohanian. Williams noted that her daughter Olympia’s current wish is to have a baby sister. She “feel[s] that whenever we’re ready, we can add to our family.”

In the end, Williams’ last run at this year’s US Open was a reminder of who she was as a player throughout her phenomenal career — a fighter. The directors of the US open had a magnificent celebration of Williams’ career after her first round, almost as if expecting her to lose. Instead, William fought through the first round and then the second. She fought valiantly — grunting, sweating, swinging — all the way until her final volley sent the ball into the net for the last time.