Kids Day at the Western & Southern Open felt more like a festival than a tennis tournament. There were crowds of tiny faces painted and transformed into tigers and butterflies smeared with traces of earlier eaten Graeters ice cream cones. Families wandered through the grounds sporting three and four generations of fans traveling by way of ring sling and wheelchair. Fans of all ages meandered along with basketball-sized tennis balls in tow, the surfaces of which were already covered with players’ signatures two hours into the first day – a clear reflection of the intimate nature of this event. Garb ranged from gym clothes to Derby level dresses and suits, and the tournament’s global pull was reflected by the babel of multiple languages. This amazingly diverse demographic is part of the charm that makes this event so remarkable.

When asked about the large crowds pouring in for the qualifiers, John Isner said that he did not expect to see fans everywhere while walking to the practice courts. “That’s one of the things that makes this one of the best tournaments in the world, not just because of the stature of the tournament but because of the support [the] players get.” He said. “It’s very encouraging for us, and it makes days like today so much more fun. I’m out there hitting with Zverev today, he’s one of the best players in the world, and we had a couple hundred fans watching. It’s pretty neat. We don’t get that every week. That’s what makes this one of the best. It’s a great tennis community here.”

IMG_4159editEvents from the first few days of the W&S Open have already toyed with our emotions. There were major pre-tournament withdraws followed by Serena Williams’ entry as a wildcard and subsequent withdraw due to a shoulder injury. Add to that the unpredictable weather of the Ohio River Valley which sent the qualifiers’ schedule askew with rain delays and sent the ball boys into full gear armed with their squeegees.

As tennis fans filter in from all over the globe, the Cincinnati-based restauranteurs and vendors are hard at work dispensing local cuisine and wares.

Polly spoke with one of Graeters’ fourth generation owners, Chip Graeter, who said that this was one of the events of Cincinnati summer. He went on to say that the W&S Open and Graeters go hand in hand. “It enables us to expand our customer base, get out into the community, and try out new products like this year’s strawberry cheesecake,” he said.

Dave Westerbeck, owner of six-year participant, Eli’s Sports Bar and Grill, said that one of their locations, the one two minutes from the event, has had a lot of diners who are staying in nearby hotels stop by after the tournament. “I’ve met people from anywhere from England [to] Japan; people fly in from all over, and they get a little taste of Cincinnati, and I love that.”

Jade Nordness is on her twelfth year setting up shop at the W&S Open. She shared that this event was her first tournament when she opened CuteTennisStuff.com. “Now I participate in seven or eight pro tournaments a year. I’m from Illinois, but I live in Atlanta. So this is kind of like coming home. You can’t beat the Midwest,” she said.

Palomino’s general manager, Janet Armstrong, said the W&S Open differs from other local sporting events. “You could come in and not watch a single [match] and still have a great time because they’ve got music playing and 15 different local food vendors and activities for kids. My crew keeps asking to get their faces painted,” she said.

Revolution, kitchen manager Zachary Hoppes (left) owner Nick Pesola (center)  2016-08-16_11.46.07editThe W&S Open has been quite the undertaking for fledgling Over-the-Rhine restaurant Revolution Rotisserie & Bar. Kitchen manager, Zachary Hoppes, who was running around in a chicken suit and signing fans’ tennis balls on Saturday, welcomed Polly behind the scenes of their pop-up restaurant, which he says is more spacious than their actual kitchen.

“We only run our actual store with three cooks whereas here we’re running with twelve. I think we’ve been making gravy for like two weeks, because everything is made from scratch. We already have a really big mobile presence between Taste of OTR, City Flea in Washington Park, and Fountain Square on Tuesdays, so this was a challenge for us to solidify our brand, get our name out there, and test our skills to see what we can do. Here we are, sandwiched between names like Larosas and Skyline. It’s cool to kind of be on the same level as Cincinnati’s best,” he said.

The comradery of Cincinnati has made itself known amongst the vendors. Hoppes said that Fusian has been a big help in their preparation for the W&S Open as they have shared knowledge and advice gained from their previous experiences.

“Everyone comes together and works together for a common goal. We’ve food-traded with four vendors today already. It’s a welcoming, non-confrontational group to be around. I’ve noticed that with a lot of our mobile events. We’re hoping to be invited back. This has been a great learning experience for us,” he said.

Zach Weprin, co-founder and CEO of Fusian, the locally-owned and locally-based express-sushi restaurant, said that the W&S Open is unlike anything else. The event is intense. They’ve learned a little each time over the past five years of participation, and they are happy to help other vendors adjust.

fusian2“When we started our business, we had never worked in a restaurant, and our peers were very helpful. So, anytime we can share knowledge or information to minimize the mistakes, we’re happy to do so. It’s better for both sides. It definitely feels like a community. We love to see the Subway girls. This is the only time we see each other,” he laughs and adds that they call it Fusian Summer Camp.

Dayton native and avid tennis fan, Weprin said he frequented the W&S Open as a child, so he knew this would be a great partnership to pursue. “We feel as though our product pairs really well with the guests here, and we like to partner and collaborate with best-in-class organizations and people,” he said.

As fans leave with a taste of Cincinnati, the tournament winner will leave with one as well. Rather than a silver plaque, Rookwood Pottery will once again create the trophy for the tournament winner.

“The experience is unique for us because we have the chance to send a piece of pottery with the winner, something as unique to Cincinnati as the event,” said Sandrine Whitecomb, Retail Sales Manager of Rookwood Pottery.

This is only the beginning, there is still more to come this week from the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Stay tuned for more coverage of the week-long event which runs through Sunday, August 21, at www.pollymagazine.com.