By Nick McCarvel
It was the first day of qualifying at the Western & Southern Open and the evening light was beginning to fade as group of fans grew larger and larger, making their way across the grounds.
At closer inspection it became more clear: At the front of the pack was Novak Djokovic, the 36-year-old legend, taking a simple stroll to his first practice in Cincinnati.
He was surrounded by security and was all smiles; no one tried to stop him. But still they followed. To be that close to greatness? An unmatched experience.
The week that followed that moment was full of you’ll-never-believe-what-happened moments, from Djokovic’s run to the title to Coco Gauff living a teenage dream to an elevated experience for all who visited the Lindner Family Tennis Center to enjoy world class tennis and entertainment at the heart of tennis.
Here, 10 moments that encapsulate much of the magic from the 2023 Western & Southern Open – one we won’t soon forget.
1. Grounds aglow – The Heart of Tennis
There was something for everyone both on court and off this year, with an elevated experience featuring a new Fan Zone just inside the main gate that included countless activities and a shiny giant video wall for relaxed viewing on cozy Adirondack chairs.
The grounds were brightened with double the number of annual florals planted on site, in addition to the Cincy living wall for the perfect selfie shot and group photos. Countless local food and beverage options were on offer, and improvements around the grounds greeted fans wherever they went.
2. Djokovic saves championship point in Alcaraz classic
There has never been another match in Cincinnati like this year’s men’s final… and perhaps in the whole of the sport. It was a clash of generations featuring the top-ranked players in the world, as Djokovic clawed back from a set and a break down on a blistering hot Sunday afternoon before saving a championship point against the 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz.
In the end, Djokovic survived in the longest match in tournament history, three hours and 49 minutes, winning 5-7, 7-6(7), 7-6(4) in another classic, their rivalry only burgeoning in what was their fourth meeting, their head-to-head now 2-2.
“This rivalry just gets better and better,” Djokovic said after his triumph. “It did feel like a Grand Slam final. Every match we play goes the distance.”
Added the now three-time champion: “This is why I’m pushing myself day in and day out, for moments like this in front of you guys.”
3. Coco Gauff: Wins biggest title of her career
On the women’s side, it had been 55 years since a teenager won the title, with American Linda Tuero capturing the crown at age 17 in 1968. Earlier on Sunday, Coco Gauff stopped that streak with her fifth – and biggest – career trophy, the 19-year-old beating fellow major finalist Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-4 in the championship match.
“This is unbelievable,” Gauff told fans.
Earlier in the summer she had lost in the first round at Wimbledon. Cincy was her second title in three tournaments this month.
“Especially after everything I went through earlier this summer in Europe,” she added. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs the last couple of weeks.”
We’re confident we can call this an “up.”
4. Fan-tastic numbers: Big crowds big energy
From the first early morning practice sessions on opening weekend to the moment Djokovic lifted the Rookwood Cup under the lights Sunday night, Cincy tennis fans once again turned out in force with an unmatched enthusiasm for the chance to see the best players in the world.
Throughout the week, fans migrated around the grounds, providing electric atmospheres on every court, from a full Stadium 3 for practices to standing room only crowds around the top of Grandstand or Porsche Court to finals weekend when the only time you saw an empty seat in Center Court was when its occupier was standing to cheer on the incredible action.
A record 37,868 spectators turned out for opening weekend, setting the stage for attendance to reach over 194,000 for the tournament’s nine days. It was a great scene, and clearly a place to be seen!
5. Venus and the veterans
This week was all about turning back the clock for some of the most recognizable names in the sport, but none more so than 43-year-old Venus Williams, who scored her first top 20 win in four years when she shocked Veronika Kudermetova in the opening round on Center Court.
It wasn’t just Vee, however: Three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, now 38, claimed two match wins, including an electric battle over No.10 Frances Tiafoe on a packed Grandstand court, to make the third round.
Former doubles champion Jamie Murray, now 37, also had a week to remember, making the doubles final alongside partner Michael Venus.
6. A mid-match Novak snap? Yeah, we got that.
The W&S Open was all about the fans – from start to finish. Eventual champion Djokovic proved as much midway through the tournament, agreeing to a fan’s photo request as he waited at the back of Center Court.
There were more fan-tastic moments, including Alcaraz participating in the wave and countless player selfies, autographs and some 300+ autograph tennis balls hit into the crowd after player wins on the three tournament show courts.
7. Doubles trouble: Parks/Townsend, Gonzalez/Molteni claim crowns
Some of the biggest crowds of the week swarmed to the doubles matches around the grounds, and it was two unseeded teams that were able to sneak out respective titles – and both in a match tiebreak.
Perhaps no one thrilled the home crowd as much as the new American pair of Alycia Parks and Taylor Townsend, who upset the No.2, No.3, No.4 and No.5-seeded teams to win the title, beating Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Ellen Perez in the final, 6-7(1), 6-4, 10-6.
They were joined in the winners’ circle by Argetina’s Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni, who beat Murray and Venus in a tight final on Sunday, 3-6, 6-1, 11-9.
8. Practice makes perfect – up close and personal
Stroll the grounds on any morning after the gates have opened at the W&S Open and you’ll find in-the-know fans swarming the practice courts of any number of stars. Court 5 is a favorite, with the likes of Djokovic, Gauff and others making their way there.
It’s a whole different experience than a match: Fans can witness players tinkering with different aspects of their game, laughing with their teams, kicking around a soccer ball. Take a walk through the grounds and ask a fan the best part of their day on site? Most will say practice.
9. Finding a good match – wherever you go
Most of the practice courts soon house matches as the day goes on, and Cincinnati boasts some of the best little big courts in tennis: Grandstand, Stadium 3, Porsche Court and – a new favorite this year – Court 4.
Wawrinka brought both Grandstand and Stadium 3 to life with respective wins there, while Court 4 saw quarterfinalist Max Purcell earn his first-ever top 10 win (over Casper Ruud) as well as a packed house for the dynamic American doubles duo of Chris Eubanks and Ben Shelton.
The sunken bowl Porsche Court was a personal favorite for Muchova, and Parks/Townsend had it buzzing for their semifinal win, too.
10. A sensational championship weekend
There hasn’t been a finale like this one in recent times. It started with Gauff’s semifinal upset of world No.1 Iga Swiatek on Saturday morning from 11am and ended close to 9pm on Sunday at the conclusion of Nole and Carlos.
In between came semifinals wins for Muchova, Alcaraz and Djokovic across a buzzy-as-can-be championship weekend. How do you finish a tournament strong? Like that.
And with it – August 2024 cannot come soon enough! Click here to view ticket options for the 2024 Western & Southern Open and join the waitlists so you are the first to know when tickets are released.