words TRISH RICHTER  |  photography DEOGRACIAS LERMA

From the sunscreen brigade passing out packets of Blue Lizard sunscreen, to the vendors, to the various activities around the Western & Southern Open, it’s difficult to miss that many of the companies and organizations affiliated with the W&S Open share the common mission of promoting healthy lifestyles and personal wellness, both mental and physical.

As you make your way through the entrance, you find the souvenir shop of the official sponsor and apparel provider, Midwest Sports. They dominate the scene with their Fast Serve Challenge booth and the leader-board which shifted countless times throughout the week as visitors tried their hand at the craft.

Moving through the scene, one of the more prominent participants in the W&S Open makes itself known: the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the national governing body for tennis in the United States. Table tennis courts sit adjacent to the stage, and the Kids Zone, which comes next, sports a line of families drawn in by the mini-tennis courts and the various programmatic pamphlets.

John Kolner, Director of Membership Marketing for the USTA Midwest Section, assists a USTA member.

John Kolner, Director of Membership Marketing for the USTA Midwest Section, assists a USTA member.

USTA
The USTA promotes and develops the growth of tennis from local communities to the professional game. John Kolner, Director of Membership Marketing for the USTA Midwest Section, shared with Polly that the USTA has maintained a presence at the W&S Open for years but became part owner a few years back. “A lot of our staff come here and work the event all week. Our events at the [W&S] Open include wheelchair clinics, an adaptive tennis clinic, member appreciation events, and a junior tennis tournament to name a few. Our association will have our semi-annual meeting here with over 300 volunteers.”

In addition to events of the caliber of the W&S Open, the USTA stays active in public places such as parks, recreation programs, and schools. Tracey Maymon, Communications Coordinator for USTA Midwest Section, said that the USTA is about promoting healthy lifestyles and that promoting the sport of tennis is a good way of doing that.

“In terms of the local community, [the Midwest Section] represents five states, but the USTA has an Ohio Valley district which helps run more local programming at numerous clubs and facilities throughout the community.

Tennis is the sport of a lifetime. Our goal is to get people of all ages active, and our programs give them the opportunity to be involved, ranging from recreational play to tournaments. We cover the gambit. We even offer beginner programs for adults who’ve never played before,” Maymon said.

Cincinnatians might have seen Fountain Square transformed into a series of tennis courts back in June during “Open on the Square,” a USTA kid-friendly event featuring instruction from USTA teaching professionals. This annual pre-Open event is one example of the community-oriented programming of the USTA.

“Our slogan is ‘find yourself in the game.’ We want people to know that regardless of who you are, there’s a place in the game for you, whether you’re a wheelchair player, adaptive player, or new to the game; we spend a lot of time trying to expand who would traditionally play. We [also] work hard to make sure people who are training kids are qualified to do so. Therefore, we do training with physical education teachers trying to get tennis into schools. We touch a lot of what happens locally, pushing people and funding to try to promote local programs,” Kolner said.

The W&S Open slides under the radar to a degree, according to Kolner. “I don’t think a lot of people know that this is only one of five events in the whole world that brings both the men and women pros together at the same time. Aside from one in California, the rest are in Europe.”

Academia Sánchez-Casal, international tennis training program and academy. Pictured left to right: Susana Zaragoza and Simona Sanchez.

Academia Sánchez-Casal, international tennis training program and academy. Pictured left to right: Susana Zaragoza and Simona Sanchez.

And despite the W&S Open’s growth, its roots remain in charity and community, allowing a level of intimacy between players and fans which is unique to the event.

“Every year we have people from all different countries. They come for the players but for many this is their first experience in the US, and they’re in Cincinnati,” Kolner said.

Academia Sanchez-Casal
Next door to the USTA is Academia Sanchez-Casal which was created in 1998 by Emilio Sánchez Vicario and Sergio Casal, both of whom were previously ranked number one in doubles. Academia Sanchez-Casal (SC) is the only high performance tennis program paired with academics which gives the opportunity to practice in both Europe and the USA with annual, monthly, and weekly courses. Students’ academic training is provided by ES International School, located on the Academy’s Sport Campus, and has a special focus on sports sciences including nutrition, sports psychology, physiotherapy and physical training. The curriculum is adapted to specific athletic needs and the competition schedule of each student so as to best prepare them for academic scholarships.

With locations in Naples, Florida; Barcelona, Spain; and Nanjing, China, SC offers a training program that works for all ages, conditions and levels of tennis experience. The academy includes elementary, middle school, high school, and even training for adults and courses for coaches. Utilizing tennis and education as the vehicle for personal development, SC offers training linked closely with academic development with a focus on developing core values of education, competitiveness, enthusiasm, and industriousness to ensure students become good world citizens. SC is known for developing elite players such as Kuznetsova, Murray, Dimitrov, Hantuchova, and Mónaco.

 

Vendors

Other locally-based vendors present at the event include Sweaty Bands, the nonslip headbands company created by Donna and Doug Browning; Apex by Sunglass Hut, the sports performance and active lifestyle line; and Bandi, specializing in active wear headbands and pocketed belts.

Megan Koenig told Polly that the inspiration for Bandi, a Cincinnati-based company with a booth at Findlay Market, sparked when her mother, Beth Koenig, and co-founder, Bev Perea, were out walking and had that oh-so-familiar dilemma of having nowhere to put their cell phones. They are now in their fifth year of business. Megan described Bandi’s belts as a “trendier, sleeker version of the fanny pack.”

Medella Laboratories
Based out of Mason, OH, Heather and Michael Ewers started Medella Laboratories a little over a year ago after leaving corporate American medicine to develop premium products at an affordable price. Medella products include probiotics, vitamins, supplements, skin care products and an all natural (lemongrass scented) insect repellent which was first distributed in Cali, Columbia, in response to the Zika virus. Their products hit the shelves of all 48 Fresh Thyme locations on Monday, August 21.

Curaprox
Despite its more global origins, Curaprox has recently set up shop in Cincinnati. This oral health brand of the Swiss company, Curaden AG, has been developing oral health tools for 45 years. Their edgy advertising depicts their featured products, the charcoal black Black is White toothpaste and hydrosonic toothbrush. Made with activated carbon, this whitening toothpaste launched a little over a year ago and is sold in close to 50 countries. Robin Clark, of dental and pharmacy sales, manages the product’s presence in Cincinnati. “[It is] an experiment that will be the prototype for sales models throughout the rest of the U.S,” Clark said.

 

Jeff Ruby's Carlo & Johnny's  Sausage Hoagie.

Jeff Ruby’s Carlo & Johnny’s Sausage Hoagie.

Our tour of the event extended to the local cuisine as the Cincinnati food vendors welcomed us in Midwest-hospitality fashion.

Jeff Ruby’s Carlo & Johnny
The standing chandeliers made of real crystal and the metallic-silver plasticware set the tone for the carefully prepared dishes of Carlo & Johnny. Having just returned from Jeff Ruby’s newest location in Nashville, TN, Jason Rose, corporate chef of Jeff Ruby’s restaurants, and Carlo & Johnny’s executive chef, Donny Hatton, welcomed us in for samplings of Butter Pie, Sausage Hoagie, Prime Beef Dip, Freddie Salad, Shrimp Cocktail and Beef Tenderloin Skewers. Although the dishes differ from the restaurant’s menu, they use the same beef and same quality product, and it shows. The tenderloin skewers are cooked to perfection, and, at the risk of sounding cliché, the Butter Pie is reminiscent of my mother’s recipes. Jeff Ruby’s crew has set up shop in pop-up restaurant fashion, and yet, the quality remains at that of the brick and mortar restaurant.

Mazunte
With the vision of opening an authentic taquería, for ten months, co-owner, Josh Wamsley, explored the street food, markets, and home-style feasts from the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Puebla and from Mexico City. He learned from grandmothers, students, and street vendors. With co-owner, John Johnston, the two opened the Madisonville-based Mazunte, which specializes in traditional Mexican street food. John Johnston prepared a plate of Mahi Fish Tacos for Polly as bold and colorful as you would expect after hearing the story of their remarkable origin.

J. Gumbo's staff welcomed Polly in with a conversation on various dishes and the recently established Chicken Mac Truck, co-owners Jarod Maier and Casey Theimann's food truck twist on J. Gumbo's Cajun cuisine.

J. Gumbo’s staff welcomed Polly in with a conversation on various dishes and the recently established Chicken Mac Truck, co-owners Jarod Maier and Casey Theimann’s food truck twist on J. Gumbo’s Cajun cuisine.

J. Gumbo’s
From there we move on to the Cajun fare of J Gumbo’s. Two and a half months ago, co-owners Jarod Maier and Casey Theimann took to the streets and opened their food truck, the Chicken Mac Truck, featuring dishes with the diversity expected of J. Gumbo’s. The twist? The dishes are served over macaroni instead of the standard rice.

Baba Budan’s
After their brick and mortar location reopened as Clifton Heights Tavern, Baba Budan’s shifted to exclusively catering with features including quiches, Panini’s, and desserts. Family owned and operated, owner Tony Hamburg’s grandfather developed the coffee bean roast 150 years ago, and this family preserved recipe makes for an incredible blended iced coffee.

As the festivities wrap up and guests head back home, whether by car or by plane, Polly looks ahead to next year for more of the same hospitality and enthusiasm. And although the incredible talent behind the roster draws us in, we leave with pieces and tastes of the culture and community of Cincinnati that lays the foundation for this remarkable, community-driven event. We consider ourselves lucky to take part in such a multi-faceted tournament that highlights the collaborative strengths of our city.