Sunday, August 3, 2003

Masters Tennis buildup begins


Seniors doubles event, qualifying tournament begin this week

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Though still a warmup act, this first week of the Western & Southern Financial Masters is an intriguing preliminary to the main event.

AT A GLANCE
What: Western & Southern Financial Masters.
When: Aug. 7-17 (Seniors tournament Aug. 7-9, qualifier Aug. 9-10, main draw Aug. 11-17).
Where: Lindner Family Tennis Center, Mason.
Purse: $2.45 million.
Tickets: 513-651-0303.
Seniors schedule: Thursday, 7 p.m. ($10); Friday, 7 p.m. ($10), Saturday, 7 p.m. ($15).
Qualifier schedule: Saturday, 10 a.m. ($10, kids 14 and under free); Sunday, 10 a.m. ($10, kids 14 and under free).
Main draw sessions: Aug. 11-13, 11 a.m., 7 p.m. ($22 per session); Aug. 14, 11 a.m., 7 p.m. ($24); Aug. 15, 10:30 a.m., 7 p.m. ($28); Aug. 16, noon, 7 p.m. ($34); Aug. 17, 1 p.m. doubles final, followed by 4 p.m. singles final ($40).
The Seniors mixed doubles event, which begins Thursday, has been known for its familiar names; add doubles legend Mark Woodforde and wacky Luke Jensen to that list this year. But the qualifying tournament next Saturday and Sunday has gained renown in its own right. In fact, the quality of play is approaching that of the main draw, which begins Aug. 7.

"A lot of people don't understand the level of qualifying here," tournament director Bruce Flory said. "A lot of regular tournaments on tour don't have the strength of our qualifier."

Look back at last year's qualifier.

It included Martin Verkerk and Mark Philippoussis, who reached the finals this year at the French Open and Wimbledon, respectively. It had Guillermo Coria, who is currently ranked No. 7 in the world, and Paradorn Srichaphan, who's No. 11.

This year the qualifier includes Jonas Bjorkman and Alexander Popp, who each reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals last month. Nicolas Kiefer, Alberto Martin and Hicham Arazi all have reached the round of 16 here. The field also includes Stefan Koubek, Julien Boutter, Nicolas Massu and Hyung-Taik Lee, who have all won ATP events this year, and rising Americans such as Brian Vahaly, Bob Bryan and Robert Kendrick.

Thirty-two players will compete in the qualifier for eight main-draw berths.

The qualifier is a great place to spot future stars. Four winners of this tournament - Pat Rafter, Stefan Edberg, Guy Forget and Peter Fleming - played here as qualifiers.

Children 14 and under get in free for the qualifier; adult tickets are $10. Plus, most main-draw players can be seen practicing Saturday and Sunday.

"It's great to watch these guys fight like crazy (in the qualifier), then go over and watch an (Andre) Agassi practice," Flory said.

The Seniors tournament features mixed-doubles play; the draw for teams is Wednesday.

E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




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