Around the grounds: Tradition, selfies and an elevated experience

Aug 13, 2023

By Nick McCarvel

Anitra Allen and her daughter Sofia make the trip every year: They drive less than an hour from their home in Northern Kentucky for an evening at the Western & Southern Open.

There outing is highlighted by matching t-shirts.

“It’s tradition,” said Anitra, explaining this is their seventh year making the mother-daughter trek.

They love seeing player practices up close – Frances Tiafoe and Felix Auger-Aliassime are must-sees for them – while also enjoying champagne (for Anitra), Skyline chili (for Sofia) and Graeter’s ice creams (for them both).

The duo is also experiencing a new and elevated W&S Open experience: A new Fan Zone with an 80-foot video wall; a doubling in annual florals planted around the grounds; live performers at the Fan Zone stage; and much, much more.

“My favorite part is getting close to the players,” agreed Lauren McHaffie of Cincinnati.

Earlier in the day, she and her husband Lawrence had taken in countless practices, including those of Venus Williams, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and others.

Lawrence said this was their fourth trip and the food was better than ever before, but for 10-year-old Anya Jare of St. Louis, the day was all about the autograph seeking.

Not only did she get signatures from Andrey Rublev and Djokovic, she got a selfie with none other than Ons Jabeur.

“It’s our first time here,” said a beaming Jare, who is a tennis player herself.

Earlier, at the Western & Southern Experience Booth, world No.1 and Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz signed autographs for a swelling line of fans, one of many chances to meet the stars up close and personal.

Ahead of Sunday’s evening session featuring Tiafoe, the grounds buzzed with action: Fans snapped selfies in front of the new Cincy-branded living wall, while most palms were occupied with a drink of choice. Music bounced from the food court, and many youngsters tried out the mini courts and serve speed challenge.

There was a rush to Court 5 for more practice: But was it Djokovic or Coco Gauff due on court? One group of women wasn’t sure, but they were headed there anyway.

Randyll Brooks and his wife Jennifer had spent the day in the 1899 Room inside Center Court watching Chris Eubanks and Ben Shelton do battle. They enjoyed the air conditioning inside before heading out the practice courts.

“We were cheering for Eubanks,” admitted Randyll, a tennis teaching pro himself.

Chris Jones has been coming for at least six years and has tickets to several sessions this week. While the tennis itself is a must for him, he appreciates the overall experience as a fan: “The service here is exceptional,” Jones said.

As Jones made his way to Court 5 with a growing number of people, a few did a double-take at a sunglass-wearing woman strolling the grounds among them: Yep, it was 2004 champion Lindsay Davenport, the former world No.1.

Further proof you never know what’s happening next in the heart of tennis.