Friday, August 11, 2000

Storms no match for ATP fans with attendance nearing record




By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — The Tristate's Tennis Masters tournament has seen only a slight drop in attendance so far this year despite two days of rain and the injuries of two top players.

        The Tennis Masters Series runs through Sunday at the ATP Tennis Center in Mason, and it's supposed to be dry from here on out.

        The tournament was headed for a record-busting week, said spokesman Phillip Smith, with new attendance highs set at both Monday sessions.

        And the final four sessions — tonight, Saturday afternoon and night, and Sunday — are sold out.

        But rain and storms drove Tuesday and Wednesday attendance down 3 percent to 6 percent below last year's numbers, Mr. Smith said.

        “Where it hurts us is in the walk-up sales,” he said.

        But the bad weather actually was good for some area businesses, and those who traveled long distances scoffed at the thought that rain could ruin their fun.

        “This is tennis, come on,” said Sondra Cartwright, 58, who drove from Oshkosh, Wis., with her daughter, Kathy Toby.

        A fan of No. 4 seed Gustavo Kuerten even found a silver lining in Wednesday's severe thunderstorms.

        “We were glad it started to rain, because Gustavo looked like he was going to have heat stroke,” said Kimberly Berg, 29, of St. Paul, Minn. “We were like, "Rain, rain!'”

        When the weather obliged, she and brother Erik Hosmann, 24, of Appleton, Wis., left to grab dinner at Applebee's.

        Many Mason restaurants saw their dining rooms fill as the rain fell.

        “It really helped us out,” said Lou Eves Jr., whose family owns the popular Houston Inn. Tournament-related business is up slightly this year, he estimated.

        Business at the center's food court took a hit because of the weather, said Michele Bowcock, manager of Trio's booth. However, many fans stuck it out, huddling under umbrellas to eat their $8.95 salads.

        “I was afraid of a tornado com ing, and they were wondering when tennis would start,” Ms. Bowcock said.

        The moral: Tennis fans are fanatic.

        And that holds true even when their favorite players are gone.

        Ms. Toby, 30, was disappointed that Andre Agassi bowed out because of back spasms, but it didn't ruin the tournament for her.

        “He's my favorite, and I sure don't want to see Pete (Sampras) win,” she said.

        “But there's plenty of other great people here.”

        Said Bill Lyons, 43, of Columbus, “If you're a good tennis fan, you may appreciate some of the lesser-known players.”

        Patrick Rafter missed the tournament — now a required event for ranked players — because of shoulder problems.

        Other top players were knocked off in the opening rounds. Including Mr. Agassi, half the 16 seeded players failed to make the quarterfinals.

        The sun at least put in an appearance Thursday.

        Spectators and players who had endured two days of wet, sticky weather were rewarded with blue skies, temperatures in the low 80s and a breeze.

       



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