Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Tennis event important to local image


When the billboards along Interstate 71 begin sporting the big smiling faces of your favorite tennis stars, it can only mean one thing - the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters Tennis Series has arrived. Through Aug. 8, Greater Cincinnati is hosting some tennis drama and a lot of fun as one of the area's most popular events heats up the tennis courts in Mason.

The tournament's importance is not just because it is one of the top 13 men's tournaments in the world, but because it brings to Cincinnati some of the biggest names in the game. Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Michael Chang have played their way to the top over the past decade. This summer it's the young stars such as Roger Federer and Andy Roddick who are shining.

Every summer since 1899, the world's best players have come to Cincinnati to compete for one of the oldest and most prestigious titles in the sport. We want it to stay that way.

In 2002, the ATP Tennis Center, as it was called then, ran into some financial difficulties when it needed to buy the Lindner Family Tennis Center, its site of two decades. American Financial Group, which owned the facility, wanted the $16.5 million, twice the appraised value, for the 90-acre center. Had the tournament not been able to scrape the funds together to pay for the location, the event probably would have moved out of the Tristate, Chairman Paul Flory told the Enquirer. This effort to keep the tournament in Cincinnati despite a tight budget shows a dedication to both the community and the fans.

Though the location is now secure, stretching the funds has put a block on any immediate plans to expand or improve the facility, said tournament director Bruce Flory. But one big improvement has been made - Cincinnati will host a women's tournament Aug. 14-22, for the first time since 1988.

The excitement of both tournaments is enough to keep Flory optimistic. "The site is doing great and looks prettier than ever. It's been wonderful," he said. This is the kind of optimism we need to keep bringing the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters home.

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