While Qualifiers Battle, It’s Rafael Nadal Madness at Cincy Tennis Opening Day
Steve Fogleman in Cincinnati
The fans were parked at the gate for an hour or more before the 9:00 a.m. opening of the 2022 Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio yesterday. When they arrived, they were treated to an epic practice session between Rafael Nadal and Matteo Berrettini on Stadium Court 3 for over two hours. The practice was so intense and the fans so tantalized by every shot, it dawned on me that Rafael Nadal never practices, but rather competes. No ball is ever safe from being pummeled back over the net by the King, and Berrettini held up well to Nadal’s challenge. I worry for Frances Tiafoe, who Berrettini faces in the first round after watching the Italian grind it out with Nadal.
I’m not terribly worried for Nadal, even though security was also in warm-up mode after the player’s practice. Everyone knew that there would be a scrum for the Spaniard after the hit and staff had two hours to get a plan together. Instead, someone tried to place a rope through the crowd after it had already assembled and there was a delay in procuring a second rope to create space for the player. As a result, Nadal was stuck in a standstill traffic jam immediately before the above video was captured. It’s a good thing the man loves his fans, because there were a lot of them in close range today. That brings me to an important detail I should share: Cincinnati fans and Marshalls are exceptionally friendly, so Nadal was never ever in danger. Many fans responded to our twitter account that security had badly failed Nadal yesterday. I don’t believe he felt that way about the interaction. In fact, I posit to you that he enjoyed every minute of that brief fan fest. It’s also worth noting that qualifying weekend is always a chance to work out the wrinkles in every tournament. Look at the photo below. That’s definitely not Mertens nor is it Rybakina out there. It’s Shapolov, and no one complained to the sign board operators. The whole weekend is PRACTICE, unless of course your name is Rafael Nadal.
The fans weren’t the only ones going bananas yesterday in Ohio. American Bradley Klahn buried his face in a towel for several minutes and seemed to bawl after his three set win over Alexei Popyrin , 7-5, 7-6(3). Klahn has been beset by injuries in recent years and was so excited after the win he started handing out his banana allotment, which was quickly accepted by a young fan. I have photographed so many autographs in my life that I was hoping he’d sign the bananas. Luckily, he did not.
Marie Bouzkova was the first winner of the tournament as she breezed past Aleks Krunic yesterday, 6-1, 6-2, and will face Donna Vekic later today. Other WTA qualifying finals set for today are Garcia/Petkovic, Potapova/Kalinskaya, Tomljanovic/Parrizas Diaz, Kalinina/Martic, Kostyuk/Frech and the All-American match up between Taylor Townsend and local talent Peyton Stearns (#364).
Qualifying men’s finals today include Musetti/Lajovic, Laaksonen/Monteiro, Ivashka/Kokkinakis, Tseng/Goffin, Sonego/Klahn, Munar/Johnson and Giron/Fognini.