Ten of the Best On-Court Moments in Cincinnati History

Jun 25, 2024
1951 tournament finalists

By Phil Smith

For fans of the sport, these important moments have all contributed to the status of the Cincinnati Open as a place where top-notch tennis players make their mark.

1. 1899 – First Champions Are Among Best in the Game

Myrtle McAteer of Pittsburgh beats multiple national singles champion and future Hall of Famer Juliette Atkinson to take the first women’s singles title (and her first of three singles titles in Cincinnati), while Nat Emerson, a nationally ranked player who won important titles into his 40s, wins the first men’s singles title. Having such high-caliber players win the first titles make for an auspicious beginning to the tournament.

2. 1905 – May Sutton Chooses Cincinnati Over US Nationals

When May Sutton of California makes her first appearance in Cincinnati, the crowds rival those anyone has ever seen for a men’s or women’s match. With her appearance in Cincinnati, she also is choosing to play in Cincinnati instead of defending her U.S. National title in Newport, a tremendous stamp of approval for the new tournament.

3. 1926 – Bill Tilden Chooses Cincinnati in a Surprise

Bill Tilden is one of the biggest names in all of sports when he arrives in Cincinnati to play the tournament, and he commits to the tournament at the last moment to the surprise of Cincinnati tournament officials. He reaches the men’s singles final and defeats George Lott, the first match in Cincinnati men’s singles history between two future International Tennis Hall of Famers. Tilden is 33 and Lott is 19, and the match has the biggest age differential in Cincinnati men’s singles final in history until 2023 when Novak Djokovic defeats Carlo Alcaraz.

4. 1945 – Sarah Palfrey Cooke Reaches Men’s Doubles Final With Her Husband

World War II makes fielding the men’s draws difficult and, as a result, future International Tennis Hall of Famer Sarah Palfrey Cooke asks to enter the men’s doubles draw with her husband, Elwood Cooke. The rule book is consulted, and no rule is found that forbids a woman from playing in a men’s draw. Tournament Director Bill Ruxton therefore allows Palfrey Cooke to become the only woman in the history of the tournament to compete in a men’s draw. The pair reaches the final before falling to William Talbert and Hal Surface.

5. 1951 – Trabert Beats Talbert for First Time

Tony Trabert of Cincinnati learns the game of tennis as the protégé of fellow Cincinnatian William Talbert. When Trabert and Talbert square off in the men’s singles final in 1951, Talbert earns his first victory over his mentor. Both would go to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

6. 1973 – Women’s Singles Sets Numerous Records

When the women’s singles semifinals are set in 1973, two of the four players are future Hall of Famers, two are named Evert, one is making her professional debut, one will be the youngest finalist in the Open Era, one will be the youngest Cincinnati women’s singles semifinalist in the Open Era, and one will be the second-youngest Cincinnati women’s singles semifinalist in the Open Era. Chris Evert and her sister Jeanne reach the semifinals on opposite sides of the draw. Chris, a future Hall of Famer, wins her match against Illana Kloss, while Jeanne, who is making her professional debut that week, loses to another future Hall of Famer, Evonne Goolagong. Goolagong collects the title against Chris Evert the following day, and Evert becomes the youngest Cincinnati women’s singles finalist in the Open Era. That Goolagong – Evert final also is the last women’s singles match in Cincinnati for 15 years.

7. 2015 – Federer Wins Seventh Men’s Singles Title

At one point in tournament history, four players had each won four men’s singles in Cincinnati (George Lott, Bobby Riggs, Mats Wilander and Roger Federer) and it appeared as if four was the most anyone would ever win. Then Federer, a certain future International Tennis Hall of Famer, blew past the other three players, all of whom had already been enshrined into the Hall. Now Federer’s record of seven singles titles in Cincinnati is the most of any singles player (male or female) and looks to be unbreakable.

8. 2018 – Kiki Bertens Knocks off Four Top Ten Players to Win Title

In 2018, 17th ranked Kiki Bertens turns in a performance for the ages when she knocks off six players en route to the singles title. What’s remarkable is that four of those six players were ranked in the world’s top 10, a feat unmatched in Cincinnati women’s singles history. Bertens beats Caroline Wozniacki (No. 2) in the round of 32, Elina Svitolina (No. 7) in the quarterfinals, Petra Kvitova (No. 6) in the semifinals, and Simona Halep (No. 1) in the final.

9. 2022 – Borna Coric Breaks a 62-Year-Old Record

Borna Coric reaches a career-high ranking of No. 12 in 2018, but in 2022 his ranking has plummeted as he recovers from injuries. He’s ranked No. 152 when he enters the Cincinnati men’s singles field, and promptly knocks off six players, three of whom are in the world’s top 10 and five of whom are seeded (a Cincinnati Open Era record), to become only the second unseeded men’s champion in Cincinnati history, and the first since 1960.

10. 2023 – Djokovic and Gauff Win Singles Titles

In 2023, Novak Djokovic and Coco Gauff turn in performances in Cincinnati for the record books. Djokovic wins his third Cincinnati singles title, and his finals match with Carlos Alcaraz is the longest match (in terms of time) of any type in Cincinnati since the ATP Tour began keeping the record in 1991. He also becomes the oldest Cincinnati men’s singles champion in the Open Era while Gauff wins the biggest WTA title of her career to date and becomes the youngest Cincinnati women’s singles champion in the Open Era.