Western & Southern Open continues its tradition of accommodating and pampering players

Mason event has become a players' favorite

MASON, Ohio -- The late Paul Flory propelled the Western & Southern Open to its current grandiose state as one of only five events in the world besides Grand Slams featuring elite-level men’s and women’s professional tennis played in the same week at the same venue.

Players love it, too, and not just because of the purses and ranking points on the line, or the event’s proximity to the U.S. Open, or the Lindner Family Tennis Center's fast courts.

Complimentary rental cars are one incentive.

“We started giving every single player a car in 1979 when we moved (the tournament) to Mason,” said W&S Open Chief Executive Officer Elaine Bruening, who joined forces with Flory in 1977 when the event was held at Old Coney. “We were the first tournament to do that, to allow players who had these cars during the tournament.”

Paul Flory, who brought world-class tennis to Cincinnati as chairman of the Western & Southern Open and tournament director for 25 years, died Jan. 31, 2013.

When the tournament returns this weekend, every singles and doubles player in the main draws will receive a car for the duration of their stay. Bruening said that the majority of tennis tournaments furnish rental cars for the tours’ Top 10 ranked players but this, supplying cars en masse, is quite uncommon.

Then again, so is the setting in Mason. Most tournaments transport players because their events are located in larger cities, where it’s easy to walk to restaurants and lodging. The W&S Open partners with hotels in Mason, Deerfield Township and West Chester Township for player accommodations, and some pros prefer to stay Downtown, but trips to the tennis facility necessitate a drive.

And while there is a new ninth practice court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center this year, the volume of entrants in qualifying and the main draws requires some to practice off site at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy or Five Seasons Family Sports Club.

The tournament’s dedication to the player experience extends beyond rental cars. Participants can take advantage of complimentary admission to Kings Island, complimentary golf at the city of Mason Golf Center and tickets to home Reds games and Bengals preseason outings.

Bruening said the goal is to be a concierge for players.

“I think that was always (Flory’s) vision, to make sure that the players were very welcomed here. In the early days when Paul first took over, we were not a mandatory event so the players did not have to play here if they did not want to. That was one of the main reasons he wanted to treat the players so well, to make sure they wanted to come to Cincinnati. And if they came, they wanted to come back,” Bruening said.

Roger Federer holds up the trophy after winning the mens singles final at the 2015 Western & Southern Open. Federer says the Mason area reminds him of the suburbs in his native Switzerland. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The tournament helped start a players’ pension fund in 1983, followed by seven years of contributions, and has devoted decades of efforts to charity. Since 1974 it has contributed more than $10 million to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the Barrett Cancer Center and Tennis for City Youth.

Flory, a retired Procter & Gamble executive and the namesake of the 52,000-square foot Paul Flory Player Center on the tennis grounds, succumbed to complications of Alzheimer’s disease in 2013 at age 90. Since then Bruening has extended his legacy and the tournament’s fixture on the WTA and ATP World Tour schedules.

The tourney is a required Masters 1000 event for top players on the men’s side and a Premier 5 event on the women’s side. Women must compete in four of five Premier 5 tournaments.

With Mason as an annual fixture, some players have found a certain ease in the setting. Seven-time W&S Open champion and World No. 3 Roger Federer usually rents a house near the site so his family can join him. He said at a past tournament that the Mason suburbs remind him of those in Switzerland, and he likes the low-key atmosphere.

World No. 2 Simona Halep likes the court conditions and August heat.

“I think that (the courts) are faster a little bit and the ball is a bit heavier,” Halep said last August. “It’s hot and it’s pretty good because I don’t have back pain. When it’s cold, I have back pain and it’s tough for me to play.”

Simona Halep of Romania likes the hot weather and court surface at the Western & Southern Open. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Some, like John Isner, really like the rental cars. The ATP’s 19th-ranked player once told The New York Times that it’s easy to drive in Mason and it’s a comfortable place to be.

As players flock to the W&S Open once more to compete for $7.8 million in prize money, Bruening said Flory would have loved the way the tournament has flourished. Nearly 1,370 volunteers facilitate its success and the tennis remains top-level.

“I think he would be beaming with pride (if he could see it now),” Bruening said. “I think he would walk around the tournament site just grinning from ear to ear because this truly is what he wanted. He would be so proud.”

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