9 things to know about the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament in Mason

Qualifying this weekend; main draw starts Monday

Injuries have taken a toll on the field for the Western & Southern Open, but most of tennis' biggest names and best players will still be in Mason next week.

Seven-time champion Roger Federer, ranked No. 3, and 2013 champ Rafael Nadal, ranked No. 2,  headline the ATP field of the top 44 ranked men's players - minus four injured Top 10 stars.

Missing are two-time winner and No. 1 Andy Murray, No. 4 Stan Wawrinka, five-time finalist and No. 5 Novak Djokovic, and No. 6 Marin Cilic, last year's W&S Open champion. Cilic was the latest to withdraw, citing an adductor injury that has sidelined him since Wimbledon.

Defending champion and No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, No. 3 Angelique Kerber and No. 9 Venus Williams are among 39 of the WTA's 43 highest-ranked players set to compete Aug. 12-20 at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason. Victoria Azarenka, the 2013 champion here, recently withdrew because of a nasty custody battle over her 8-month-old son.

The prestigious Masters 1000 event on the ATP World Tour and a Premier 5 event on the Women's Tennis Association circuit remains a rare tournament outside Grand Slams with elite-caliber events from both tours played in the same week at the same venue.

Here's what you should know about the tournament.

MOVIN' ON UP: First, the big news. The W&S Open announced plans to build a $25 million, five-story South Building that will replace the current structure between Center and Grandstand courts. Crews break ground just two days after the close of this year's tournament, and the building is expected to be finished in July of 2018. Renovations are nothing new for this tourney, which underwent $23 million in upgrades from 2010-12, but this is as grand scale a project as the event has done.

A rendering of the new structure.

South Building plans have been four years in the making. Said CEO Elaine Bruening: "We thought that the current South Building needed a renovation. It was built in 1985, and we haven't really done much with it since then. The interiors are dated, the box seats on the outside were getting run down…and then the broadcast booths on the top were just really bad. Literally, they were leaking. It was time."

The new 40,000-square foot South Building, funded by Cincinnati Tennis LLC, will feature air-conditioned box seats -- thought to be the first in professional tennis -- as well as suites and broadcast space. See for yourself.

MORE IMPROVEMENTS: Fans can bask in additional close proximity to players via a new ninth practice court on tournament grounds, and all eight competition courts for the first time will have lights. Courts Seven and Eight are the recipients of new fixtures that will allow night matches to play well beyond sunset if needed. The most notable improvement, though, is parking. Last year's deluge turned grassy parking lots into mud soup and left many vehicles sputtering in the muck, but the closing of a Par 3 golf course behind the tennis center has afforded more space for gravel lanes and paved roads.

The tournament implemented $5 million in improvements to make the site more accessible.

GUESS WHO'S BACK: Yep, we're talking about Federer. The Swiss star is a fan favorite in Mason, where he likes to spend time outside the limelight with his wife and children.

He also has done what no other player has in tournament annals by winning it seven times. Federer hoisted the Rookwood Cup as champion as recently as 2014 and 2015 but missed the 2016 tournament during an extensive absence dedicated to rehabbing a knee injury.

World No. 3 Federer has won two majors (Wimbledon and the Australian Open) this year, proving that he's still a major contender at 35. He has a chance to extend his W&S Open legacy by claiming an unprecedented eighth title, but it will be no easy feat.

HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE MARIA: Pregnant Serena Williams will not compete in this year's tourney (her second straight W&S Open absence following an early withdrawal in 2016 due to a shoulder injury), but 2011 winner Maria Sharapova will be there after being offered a wild card.

Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova, the five-time Grand Slam champ, returned in April after a 15-month doping ban. She entered Wimbledon qualifying only to pull out with an injury. She has a 13-3 lifetime record at Mason.

Azarenka, two-time Australian Open champ, had also accepted a wild card. She won three titles early in 2016 before stepping away from the game and giving birth to her son, Leo, in December. She returned in June for the grass court season, and advanced to the Round of 16 at Wimbledon.  

DEFENDING CHAMP: The Rio Olympics affected the W&S Open draws last season, as some players opted to use the week for rest and others nursed injuries, but nobody in Mason stood in the way of Pliskova.

Pliskova, who took over No. 1 in the WTA rankings this summer, is the first Czech player to achieve the feat since computer rankings started in 1975.

Cilic has tied his highest-ever ranking (No. 6) and reached his first Wimbledon final before losing to Federer. He said he suffered his adductor injury at Wimbledon.

AMERICAN PIE: The original W&S Open entry list featured 12 Americans: Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Coco Vandegwhe, Lauren Davis, Catherine Bellis, Sloane Stephens, Jack Sock, John Isner, Sam Querrey, Steve Johnson, Ryan Harrison and Donald Young. In addition, four 20-and-under Americans were awarded wild card entries into the men’s field: Tommy Paul (20), Jared Donaldson (20) Stefan Kozlov (19) and Frances Tiafoe (19).

The last time an American male won a W&S Open title was 2006 (Andy Roddick) and Serena Williams was the most recent American woman (2015). Americans, though, are making some serious noise.

Querrey unseated Murray for a place in the Wimbledon semifinals -- the first such feat by a U.S. player since Roddick in 2009 -- and Venus Williams, 37, finished runner-up at Wimbledon. Hard-serving Isner tends to play well in Mason, thickening the plot.

IF YOU HAVEN'T BEEN: The W&S Open is one of the top tennis events in the world below Grand Slams. The competition is elite, the ranking points are robust and the draws are less than half the size of Slams, setting up frequent marquee match-ups.

Fans can watch players on practice courts (and many players sign autographs going to and from their sessions). Early in the week, there's competition on every court as well as live entertainment, shopping, food and drink. An international cast of players brings an international media contingent and international fans. It's unlike any other sporting event in the region. Visit WSOpen.com for info.

WRITE THIS DOWN: The tournament draw is Aug. 11, the day preceding qualifying. Event tickets may be purchased online at WSOpen.com or Ticketmaster, or by calling the W&S Open at 513-651-0303.

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