After a tough week in Landisville, Pennsylvania, I made the decision to fly to Cincinnati for the second premier tournament of the US Open Series. My partner (Kaitlyn) and I, were the second alternates from the initial entry list, and decided to take a leap of faith and head to Ohio. This was a risk, because you never know what can happen during on-site sign in (where singles players can pair up together thus making the cut-off much tougher), but our guts were telling us to take the chance.
This is the tale of a classic cinderella story— we were down and out, quite literally, with a wildcard mishap, and on the third day of first rounds, still the first alternate. Things didn’t look promising with each hour wilting by, and our hopes to even set foot on a match court were slowly diminishing. Suddenly, 3 hours before her scheduled match, Ashleigh Barty withdraws from her doubles match. We felt incredibly lucky and thrilled to even get the opportunity to play. Around 4:30pm, the Players Desk called our names to be escorted onto Showcourt #11. Unknowingly, we stepped foot onto the Western & Southern Open stadium, and commenced a journey that would see us upset two top seeds, a handful of skilled doubles specialists, and reach the semifinals of one of the biggest tournaments of our careers.
To & From
From amish land in Landisville, I hopped on an Amtrak train to Philadelphia where I would spend the night before my 6 a.m. flight to Cincinnati. Because I’m my own travel agent, I was faced with the task of figuring out the best (and cheapest) way to get myself to Cincinnati. The options included: a $140 uber at 2am from Landisville, renting a car and driving 8+ hours to Cincy, renting a car from Landisville to Philly, or a train to Philly and catch a quick 4 hour flight. I chose the latter, which was the most comfortable journey. After scrounging the internet for decent flight deals, the best I could find was on Priceline’s Express Deals. For nearly 40% off, you will get a flight from your origin to your destination— the catch? It is only within specified hours of the day, you don’t know which airline it will be, nor where your layover will be. As long as I left in the morning (which is stated), I had no problem with these caveats. Now that I chose the best travel option, I still needed to find accommodation for 8 hours before my flight. I didn’t want to bother friends for a place to stay since it was such an early wake-up call; instead, I found a sweet deal on the HotelTonight app. Every so often, a surprise deal will spring up on the app, and I knew I had to take it when it was only $75 for the night. At 4am, my hotel room telephone was blaring— it was time to start my travel day!
Although an unnecessary flight from Philly to Washington DC (30 minutes in the air, if that), it was a quick 3-hour hop to Cincinnati, where cheerful volunteers awaited players underneath a huge Western&Southern Open banner in the arrivals area. I had transportation set up to get me from the airport to the tournament site, so that made for one less thing to worry about. I arrived at around 10 am, and we started to get situated. We sorted our player badges, lockers, and felt out the vibes of the tournament venue.
We decided to start our hotel accommodation (which the tournament pays for) on Sunday night, to ensure that we were either in the tournament or at least one of the top alternates (the tournament will still cover hotel expenses for alternates). To avoid paying for a hotel the first night, we stayed with a lovely family that ended up supporting us the entire week! It is truly amazing the sorts of people you meet in this journey of professional tennis, and we were very lucky to have the Dillon family open up their home for us in our moment of uncertainty and stress.
The Good, The Bad, and The Perpetual Wait
On Sunday morning, we drove to the site to sign-in, but knew we would soon be bumped out by a higher ranked team. We had applied for a wildcard, and we thought we might have a good chance of receiving it due to our success as a doubles pair this year. At 11:45am, we were bumped out, but the WTA supervisor had come up to us stating we received a wildcard since we were the next team to get into the draw. We were grateful to have received a wildcard, and immediately called our coaches, went to Player Services to get our proper badges and book a practice court. About 30 minutes later, we received an email that stated there was a communication error, and we in fact did not receive the wildcard. It was a tough situation and a real downer, but there was nothing we could do as the wildcard decisions were already made. We ended the day doubtful as the first on-site alternates. The only upside to this unfortunate day was that our hotel rooms would be covered until Thursday, which was the last possible day that first round matches would be played. Thus, the waiting began.
Monday morning came around, and as the disappointment wore off, I wanted to focus my mind on myself (not the shitty situation) and use the next days to simply get better and perfect my craft. I looked for the bright side: I was at one of the biggest professional tournaments in the U.S., with world class athletes, free meals (practically eating lunch next to Federer!), hotel accommodation, WTA physiotherapists and doctors, and practice courts and facilities all to utilize. While all of this was amazing to have, we still had to wait about 10-12 hours every single day. We arrived at the site at 9:30am (our hotel was about 25 minutes away), and signed the alternates sheet. Hour after hour passed by. and it truly felt like an eternity. There is only so much gym work and practice you can do without knowing if you will have to compete that day, thus I resorted to reading my kindle, Netflix, and naps on the couches in the Player Lounge (don’t judge— days were LONG). I believe the last match on Monday went on at around 6pm, so we were able to practice at that time, but that meant our chances of getting in slowly diminished.
Tuesday morning, we awoke to the same routine. Arrived at the site at 9:45am to sign in as alternates and prepared for the long day ahead. Tuesday was by far the longest day of waiting, due to rain delays and the women who had singles AND doubles to play. The hours dragged on, and as we saw more and more doubles teams get ready for their matches, we knew Tuesday might not be our day. We left at around 8:30pm that night, when finally the last doubles went on for their match. I was glad the day was finally over so I could retreat back to my hotel, but it was unsettling to know we had only one more day to get lucky.
Wednesday morning: the same routine. At 11am, I decided to do some gym work with one of the physios to ensure I’m properly doing the rehab they had assigned to me. After a good session, I grabbed some lunch and lounged with my computer on one of the couches. At around 1pm, the WTA supervisor advised us that there was a withdraw and we would be replacing that team at around 4:30pm. We were PUMPED. We had a couple hours to prepare, which was very helpful. We geared up and headed to the practice court to warm up, received pre-match treatment and taping from the physios, and suited up in our match outfits. We were ready to go. Our opponents were the #8 seeds who probably had no idea who we were, or what we unorthodoxly are capable of. It was a super close match, but we prevailed over our first round opponents. We were thrilled to have come out with the W in our first WTA Premier event (which meant more points… and money!). We retreated back to our hotel cheerfully, while relaxing and resting the body and mind for the days to come.
The Road to the Semifinals
After defeating the #8 seeds, we knew the next opponents we would face in the next round. It was helpful in knowing our opponents before that match, and with a little rain delay help, we were able to prevail yet again in a third set thrilling match. Our next opponents were the #4 seeds, a couple of double specialists who have been around the game for a long time. These guys were true veterans, so we knew we had to bring our A game. That we did! Another W, and we were semifinals bound. Each day seemed like we were getting better and better, but unfortunately on the day of the semifinals, we faced a European duo that played very well together, thus ending our cinderella story.
All was not lost though— we made the semifinals of one of the biggest tournaments in the world and our careers, so it was still an incredible week for us. This week was the definition of “live and learn,” and that’s exactly what we did. Onwards and upwards!