Tennis: Williams sisters iffy for Western & Southern in Mason

Serena Williams, the Women’s Tennis Association No. 1 player and winner of the last two W&S singles titles, was among the absent women, along with her sister, Venus, and 11th-ranked Madison Keyes. All are planning to represent the United States in the Rio De Janeiro Olympic Games, which immediately precedes this year’s tournament, scheduled for Aug. 13-21 at Mason’s Lindner Family Tennis Center.

Andre Silva, who took over as tournament director in May, assured the fans and media gathered in downtown Cincinnati that the Williams sisters and Keyes still could show up in Cincinnati. Their participation could depend on how they fare in Brazil, he said.

“We’ll see how things go in Rio,” he said. “We’ll hold two wild cards back.”

Sixth-ranked Victoria Azarenka, who hasn’t played since injuring her right knee in May at the French Open, also was missing from the women’s field.

The men’s field was not as hampered. The top 43 players in the ATP rankings were listed, led by No. 1 Novak Djokovic, second-ranked Andy Murray — who clinched his second Wimbledon title Sunday — and No. 3 Roger Federer, who’s captured a record seven W&S singles championships, including each of the last two and three of the last four.

Also listed was fourth-ranked Rafael Nadal, who hasn’t played since withdrawing from the French Open with a wrist injury.

“(Nadal) is back hitting balls,” reported ESPN’s Chris Fowler, the veteran commentator who just returned from Wimbledon and was on hand for Thursday’s unveiling.

Serena Williams’ absence would give additional hope to several talented challengers, including second-ranked Angelique Kerber, who beat Williams in the Australian Open final and lost to her in the Wimbledon final, and No 3 Garbine Muguraza, a straight-set winner over Williams in the French Open final. Either could ascend to the No. 1 ranking by winning the title of a Serena-less tournament.

“So many women want that title and will be here,” Fowler said. “Kerber left Wimbledon hot on Serena’s heels, and there are plenty of points to be won here. Muguraza has a tough name to say, but we have to learn it. She has that ‘wow’ factor. I expect big things from her this summer.”

This year’s women’s field has been reduced from 56 players to 48 because of the Olympics, while the men’s field remains at 56. It includes rising stars such as 19-year-old Alexander Zverev, 23-year-old Jack Sock and 21-year-old Nick Kyrgios, the usually controversial Australian.

“Kyrgios can beat anybody,” Fowler said, adding half-jokingly, “He can beat himself. He’s compelling, confusing and interesting.”

Twelve women and seven men will be added to the fields out of the August 13-14 qualifier tournaments. There are four wild cards available for the men’s draw and three for the women.

“(Silva) is going to be very popular this summer,” said media specialist Pete Holtermann, who helped host Thursday’s event.

The notable absences aren’t likely to hurt ticket sales, which W&S Chief Executive Officer Elaine Bruening said are ahead of last year’s pace. Fourteen of last year’s 16 sessions were sold out, leading to record attendance of 199,217.

Bruening also announced the addition of two high-powered sponsors, technology-giant Infosys and French car-maker Peugeot.

“To have such a global sponsor as Peugeot speaks to how important an event we are in the international tennis community,” Bruening said.

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