MASON — As he sat at a podium in Mason, Andy Murray wasn’t quite sure where his gold medal was. Murray, a week removed from winning the Olympic gold medal for singles in men’s tennis, was in Cincinnati while his prize was far away.
“The medal’s there on top of the cabinet, and I spoke to my girlfriend today and asked what she’s done with it,” Murray said. “She said she left it there. I’ll try to get (it) in a better place when I get back.”
That could be a while. Because of the relentless schedule of professional tennis, even as the world celebrated Murray and the rest of the British Olympic heroes, he had no chance to really celebrate himself. Instead, he moved on to another continent and was in the same place I was during the closing ceremonies for the Olympic Games, here in Cincinnati.
“The night of the match we did a lot of press stuff, got home at like 2:30 that morning, started at 8 the next morning and did two or three hours of press that morning and then in the evening I went out with all my team and had a nice dinner,” Murray said. “Then Tuesday morning we came back to Toronto and that was it. ... It’s a really fun way to celebrate.”
Murray played one match in the Toronto tournament before pulling out with a knee injury and coming to Cincinnati for the Western & Southern Open, one of the tennis world’s biggest non-major tournaments and the last big tournament before the year’s final major, the U.S. Open in New York.
Like Murray, Serena Williams, winner of the Olympic gold in singles and doubles, didn’t have much time to celebrate her two gold medals, either.
“After (winning), I stayed for a day and went to the [Olympic] Village and traded pins — I got some good pins, and then I want training in Paris,” Williams said. “So now I’m here.”
Here, as in Cincinnati (or, more specifically, Mason), is a special place to Williams. It was here in 2006 that she found a renewed confidence after falling as low as No. 139 in the world following six months off due to injury. In her opening round, she faced the second seed in that tournament, Anastasia Myskina and dispatched her easily. Although she didn’t win that tournament — she lost in the semifinals — it was the start of her comeback.
“I came on and I kept going and I kept going and eventually I started winning my grand slams again,” Williams said. “It was a great time for me. I have so much support here in Cincinnati. I’m practicing and, oh my God, today it was so frustrating. Someone was like, ‘It’s OK, Serena. Keep your head up.’ One person said, ‘Get under the ball.’ I’m thinking ... But they were totally right, and that’s why I love this place. You have such great fans here and great people. The Midwest is filled with people with wonderful heart. Yeah, it’s such a great place. There is no reason I shouldn’t be here. If there’s a chance that I’m healthy, then I knew that I had to come to Cincinnati.”
Our Midwestern stopover is one of nine Masters 100 tournaments for the men, and the women’s event is just one of five of the Premier 5 events on the WTA Tour. The men’s event is one of just three of the events held in the United States, and it’s the second-most prestigious level of professional tennis event in the world after the four majors. The women’s tour has six levels of tournaments below the four grand slams, with Cincinnati attracting its fair share of the world’s top players.
While Rafael Nadal pulled out of the tournament, the Western & Southern Open still has most of the world’s best players on the men’s side, including Roger Federer, Wimbledon champion and perhaps the greatest player in the history of the sport. For him to play here every year makes us the center of one of the world’s truly global sports. The press room has reporters from all over the globe, and fans worldwide watch us. It’s perhaps the biggest annual sporting event in this city.
“It’s always been a nice place for me to come to,” Federer said. “I have great fan support here. You feel you’re very close to them. Every practice you go to is packed, every match you play is packed, so it’s a really nice event. They do a great job for the players. OK, it’s maybe not New York or London or Paris, there’s not a big city right next to it, but it works really well for the tennis fans and for the players.”