Summer Recap: Best 2017 Tennis Tournament Improvement Was Rhinegeist Beer Balcony at Cincy Tennis Steve Fogleman, Tennis Atlantic
Now that the hangover from the most interesting US open in years is over, it’s time to reflect on what we did this summer. While some memories are a little fuzzy, one thing is clear: there’s only one thing I love more than tennis and that’s craft beer. Craft beer’s introduction to the sports market has been slow and steady for the most part. Major League Baseball found success in serving local craft beer to baseball fans who then became fans of the suds. Most of the other major sports have followed suit in offering local creations to their fan base, but tennis has been too slow to the craft beer game. I was happy when Holy City Brewing of Charleston brewed a beer for the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, but I’d never seen a full-blown craft beer zone at a tournament until I stumbled into the Rhinegeist Brew Balcony. Alright, I didn’t stumble in.
Marissa Beck is Director of Strategic Partnerships for Rhinegeist Brewing, which means she ensures that Cincy’s biggest craft brewer gets its products in the hands of sport fans and event attendees. “It’s one of those things,” she said. “We really wanted to give tennis fans a place where they can go and try a lot of our really good local beers.” The Truth IPA is their flagship brand, but they had 6 other choices waiting for you. At a tennis tournament!
To drink a Peach Gose at a Masters 1000 was heaven on earth. Among the other fantastic choices, Bubbles Rosé Ale with peaches and cranberries was perfect for the heat and humidity of Cincinnati and the Randy Radler beer mixed with grapefruit juice did the trick as well.
Rhinegeist Brew Balcony
If you wanted to hit some balls at the tournament, you could’ve tried the tennis-themed ping-pong tables. Ping-pong is huge at the mother ship brewery.
“The tournament is known for its food, so we want to make sure we can live up to our Cincinnati standards,” Beck said. “We’re from Cincinnati. This is where our brewery is. And there are so many people who come from out of town, so let’s give them a taste of real Cincy beer.”
Nadal Practices Below the Beer Balcony
The brewery, located downtown in Over-The-Rhine, is a massive facility with a rooftop deck and an impressive view. I visited the brewery on a Saturday night and I can tell you that the view from the Rhinegeist Brew Balcony was even better. It overlooked Practice Court 6 at the Western & Southern Open, better known as the practice “show court”. Rafael Nadal held hits there as well as Dominic Thiem and Sascha Zverev. While hundreds stood by court side or climbed to the top of the grandstand bleachers to catch a glimpse of the action, Rhinegeist visitors got the best view of all without having to leave their table or their brew.
“We’ve got a lot of people who are stopping in here and then going downtown to check out the brewery,” Beck said. “We’re trying to get our delicious suds out any way we can.” Well played, Rheingeist. Well played.
Sitting directly across from King’s Island, made most famous to me by the Brady Bunch episode back in 1973, it’s an awesome childhood-induced feeling to look out on Center Court from the glass-enclosed, air-conditioned Media Center perched atop Center Court and catch a match.
I had no idea, simply no idea, the size of this tournament nor the size of the grounds nor the hordes of teeming fans who trek from Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and more distant places to attend this event every year.
It’s only fitting that the Cincinnati Masters is held with an amusement park in the background, because this is a theme park of all the best of tennis–from the ravenous autograph seekers to the unprecedented access those same fans have to the players. The practice courts are the envy of the nation, as die-hards get a front row view of the world’s top 10 as they warm up every day.
Don’t get me wrong: It still lacks the intimacy of the smaller tournaments on the tour. It will never be Newport or Washington, but it is clearly the Indian Wells of the East.
Maybe even better than Indian Wells itself, because of its immediate relevance to the US Open.
It is not without some problems, most notably the glaring traffic infrastructure failures. It is exceptionally well-attended and there is no such thing as mass transit here, so the only way in and out is by car or hotel shuttle.
There was a four mile backup on Interstate 71 when I drove in Tuesday morning, and it took over an hour to get two miles to a parking space. The Western & Southern Open’s impact on traffic is so pronounced that it actually creates a reverse-commute jam. When day-sessioneers leave the parking lots and head back toward Downtown at 6:00 p.m., it’s madness all the way there heading south, while the northbound lanes heading out of Downtown Cincinnati are relatively empty.
And another thing–people here drive safely. If you’re an I-95er like myself, that can be dangerous. Everyone from the East Coast should be diagnosed with some degree of road rage compared to Buckeye motorists. When Ohioans stop at a stop sign, they really stop. For like 10 seconds. No ‘California Roll’ here. Be advised.
I spoke with many fans this week who drove as many as 18 hours to attend this tournament and have no intention of attending the US Open. Two told me that the expense of traveling to and staying in New York was a big disappointment since they spent more time waiting in lines and looking for celebrities.
It makes sense. For me, the biggest draw of the US Open is its relative proximity to the rest of the Mid-Atlantic, about a 3 1/2 hour drive for me from Baltimore. It’s twice as far to the Western & Southern Open, but instead of the pushiest fans on the continent, everyone is well-behaved, the concessions are more reasonable, and there are a variety of non-frightening lodging choices nearby that deliver a big bang for the buck. Most importantly, there’s no Queens here. Instead of auto body shops, ‘dodgy’ motels and a creaky subway above, there’s a water park, golf courses and the Faux Eiffel Tower of King’s Island overhead.
The New York press grumbled about the lack of high-end dining options all week, as I’m told they always do, but there were more than enough choices, especially for folks who spend 16(!) hours each day at a tennis tournament.
The Food Court options were impressive, with several local restaurants and caterers serving up amazing dishes.
At the Skyline Food Court location on tournament grounds, the same chili, spaghetti and cheddar cheese combo ran me $7.00. Impressively Populist. I love it.
Fan Protip: You can buy a can–a whole can–of used match Penn ATP/WTA tennis balls for $1. That’s right. $.33333 for each match-used ball with the Western & Southern logo stamped thereon. You have to keep asking every day, and it’s one can per person, per day.
Best fandom deal in pro tennis. Cash Only. Ask daily at the tournament’s information booths, because supplies are extremely limited.
And here’s a Fan Protip: If you’re buying upper-level tickets, try the 320s. From there, you can use the restrooms below which are adjacent to the interview rooms used by the players and media. A steady stream of players come and go from there for interviews. If you’re a ticket-holder in the 320s, you’re also entitled to ride the elevator up to your seat. That elevator is often packed with players early in the week. It’s also a gruelingly-slow ride, and it stops at the players lounge, the interview level and the upper deck, giving you plenty of time to chat with players in the elevator.
The list of positives grew even longer when I stopped in at the Great Wolf Lodge to visit my good buddy, @Tennis_Shots, who was the only single guy with no kids to ever check into this indoor water park and wizardry-themed fun fest filled with kids in PJs running with magic wands illuminating crystals all evening throughout the hotel.
That’s when I realized–this is way, way better a family vacation with high-caliber tennis than the US Open will ever be in a million years.
I know I was only here for five days, but this is a drastically better experience than Flushing Meadows for serious tennis fans and families. Let me put it this way. New York is a distraction and a pain when your only objective is to enjoy slam-style matches with your loved ones.
Even a seasoned New York tennis correspondent agreed with my premise off the record: If you want to visit New York, then visit New York. But for all the US Open tennis without the New York Hustle, visit the Western & Southern Open.
And that brings me to Arthur Ashe Kids Day. I don’t think he would even want his name associated with that event at this point because there’s no tennis involved with that particular off-day at the Open. No qualies or anything remotely resembling competitive pro tennis. Just a gaggle of on-court celebs who know very little about the sport. And I should know because I interviewed her on the hallowed Courts of Ashe for two seconds.
You can’t fake family, US Open. The attendees at the Western & Southern Open ARE FAMILY, and you can’t hold a candle to them.
Take notes, USTA. Next year, I think I’ll head out Route 70 and skip the hot mess that you so fancifully hype.
Alright, maybe I’ll go to USO qualies, but that is it. 🙂
(Disclaimer: The USTA owns 80% of the Western & Southern Open. The other 20% is Pure Magic.)
Maria Sharapova Calls a @CincyTennis 3-Way ‘Dodgy’; I Call it ‘Dinner’
Maria Sharapova at 2014 Western & Southern
God Bless Maria Sharapova for turning me on to the 3 way. One of the Big Tennis Press here is fixated on Mason, Ohio food offerings, and every other question at Monday’s pressers was about the (lack of healthy) food choices at the tournament and its surrounding environs. Seriously, it was if Applebee’s had paid for an in-press conference mention at every single presser yesterday. Straight out of Talladega Nights.
When told about the Cincinnati specialty at an interview preceding her press conference at the Western & Southern Open in Mason yesterday, Sharapova derided the idea of a dish named “The 3-way” as “really dodgy”.
“They told us that the famous dish in Cincinnati is called a ‘3 way’. That’s a little dodgy, that’s really dodgy. So when that’s the popular dish, you know there’s not a lot of (healthy) alternatives”, she said.
Western & Southern Official Chili Cincinnati Reds
So what do I do? I immediately go to the nearest place serving 3-way by my hotel. It’s at a fast food chili joint. Not just any fast food chili joint, though, but the Official Chili of the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club. The Pete Rose of Chili Bowls. Booyah.
I ask for the 3-way just like Maria taught me, totally sounding like a local. When the bill comes back for $5.54, I look like an out-of-towner with a bad poker face. $5.54? I can’t go to Maryland and eat the Crab Cakes for $5.54. I can’t go to Miami and eat the Stone Crab Claws for $5.54. Hell, I can’t even go to Atlanta and eat the hideous Brunswick Stew for $5.54. I couldn’t even get into a Cincinnati Reds game and watch Pete Rose play/manage/gamble back in 1985 for $5.54. Wuddaboggin!
Western & Southern 3 Way Unassembled
It arrives as a plate of cinnamon and chocolate-laced chili topping a mound of spaghetti. That part looked good. The rest of the contents in the bag were what alarmed me. Not one but two hefty bags of cheddar. To tops things off (literally) was a packet of Oyster crackers. I ate the whole thing in five minutes, skipping the oyster crackers.
Western & Southern 3 Way Assembled
I could have gone up to 5-way, but I couldn’t imagine what Maria would have thought of that. Definitely obscene.
Maria opens up on Center Court against Madison Keys at 3:00 p.m. today. Hopefully, my cinnamon-flavored burps will have subsided by that time. And if Sharapova wins the Cincy title, she should plunk down the $5.54 and force down a plate of that deliciousness.