Roger Federer, Switzerland

Serena Williams, United States

Rafael Nadal, Spain

Simona Halep, Romania

Novak Djokovic, Serbia

Ashleigh Barty, Australia

Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland

Venus Williams, United States

Andy Murray, England

Caroline Wozniacki, Denmark

Alexander Zverev, Germany

Angelique Kerber, Germany

Grigor Dimitrov, Bulgaria

Elina Svitolina, Ukraine

Kevin Anderson, South Africa

Sloane Stephens, United States

John Isner, United States

Madison Keys, United States

Kei Nishikori, Japan

Maria Sharapova, Russia

Milos Raonic, Canada

Alize Cornet, France

Ivo Karlovic, Croatia

Agnieszka Radwanska, Poland

Daniil Medvedev, Russia

Belinda Bencic, Switzerland

Nick Kyrgios, Australia

Alison Riske, United States

Richard Gasquet, France

CoCo Vandeweghe, United States

Dominic Thiem, Austria

Elena Vesnina, Russia

Juan Martin Del Potro, Argentina

Ekaterina Makarova, Russia

Gael Monfils, France

Catherine Bellis, United States

David Goffin, Belgium

Kiki Bertens, Netherlands

David Ferrer, Spain

Petra Kvitova, Czech Republic

Sam Querrey, United States

Lucie Safarova, Czech Republic

Feliciano Lopez, Spain

Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Slovakia

Tomas Berdych, Czech Republic

Flavia Pennetta, Italy

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, France

Christina McHale, United States

09.20/Professional tennis

In a non-pandemic year I’d be in Cincinnati to watch and photograph the tournament. But I’m not in Cincinnati. Then again, neither is the tournament. It’s in New York. It’s been that kind of year.

Sports during a global pandemic have added to the strangeness that defines 2020. Leagues like the NBA and NHL area playing in COVID-free bubbles, with teams isolated in communities separated from the rest of the world. Games in all sports have not allowed spectators. You can watch on TV, but the silence surrounding the action is eerie.

As I’m writing this I’m watching the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament, often referred to as the Cincinnati Masters, on television. 

In a non-pandemic year I’d be in Cincinnati to watch and photograph the tournament. 

But I’m not in Cincinnati.

Then again, neither is the tournament. It’s in New York.

It’s been that kind of year.

Pro tennis tournaments in the U.S. leading up to the Western & Southern Open were canceled because of the pandemic. The 2020 Western & Southern Open in late August marked the return of pro tennis competition in the U.S., but — adding to the bizarreness of 2020 — the Cincinnati tournament was held in New York. The thinking by the United States Tennis Association, which owns both the Cincinnati tournament and the U.S. Open: Having the Western & Southern Open and the U.S. Open back-to-back in New York over a three-week period, without spectators, would eliminate travel requirements for players between tournaments and help create a COVID-free bubble for the competitors.

I hope it works.

Cincinnati has hosted the tennis tournament every year since 1899, except for two years during World War I and one — in 1935 — when the tournament was suspended during the Great Depression. 

Past winners include a who’s who of men’s tennis history. In 2011, a women’s pro tennis tournament in Cincinnati was combined with the men’s tournament, making the Western & Southern Open about as close to a Grand Slam tennis tournament as an event can get. It's one of only nine tournaments in the world where the top men and women play simultaneously at the same site: the four majors (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open), and combined ATP Masters 1000 and WTA Premier events in Rome, Madrid, Miami and Indian Wells, Calif., along with Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati tournament is typically two weeks before the U.S. Open, the final Grand Slam of the year, so all the top players from the ATP and WTA typically flock to Cincinnati to hone their games for New York. But 2020 isn’t a typical year. 

My featured gallery for September includes a number of photos of top players I’ve seen in Cincinnati over the years. And I hope to see them again in 2021.

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Photographs and text: Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp. All rights reserved. Photographs may not be used without permission.

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