The Western & Southern Open is among the nation’s largest tennis championships, so Cincinnatians are able to watch some of the best and brightest tennis stars compete annually.
This year, players Caty McNally and J.J. Wolf will have the home court advantage as they compete in the very tournament they grew up watching in their hometown.
McNally, who went pro in 2019, travels internationally to compete on the world tennis stage, but she still calls Cincinnati home. “Madeira is a pretty special place to me,” she says. “Once I’m on the road for so long, nothing feels better than going back there.”
She continues to train at the tennis club where she first found her love for tennis, The Club at Harper’s Point, with her mom, Lynn Nabors McNally, as her coach.
“I just fell in love with the game there,” McNally notes. “Whenever I was at the club, I was always trying to find time to hit on the wall or ask someone if they would go out on the court with me and play with me.”
Wolf’s journey was a little different. “I just started playing [tennis] on vacation as a family activity,” says the Loveland native. “Getting to play against my sister really got me excited in the sport.”
After a successful three-year collegiate tennis career at Ohio State University, where he finished his junior year with a 35-2 singles record, Wolf turned pro in 2019. He’s currently coached by David Kass and Patrick Thompson.
With the Western & Southern Open practically in their backyards, both players attended the tournament when they were young.
“It was really big for me to see up close the level of the pros competing in the event,” Wolf says. “It allowed me to get a sense of the level of skill I would need to reach in order to compete against the best.”
McNally attended the open each year with her mom, where she collected autographs and pictures with the players.
“I can still remember just how excited I was on the drives to the courts and just getting to be around all those players knowing that one day I wanted to be exactly like them,” she adds. “It’s pretty cool to actually be around some of those players that I once saw when I was a little girl.”
This year, McNally and Wolf are among the strong competitors at the Western & Southern Open, the kind of players they witnessed at the open as they grew up. McNally will compete in doubles matches with her partner, Cori “Coco” Gauff. Wolf, currently ranked No. 151 in the Association of Tennis Professionals (APT), is set to compete in the singles tournament.
Their performances on the court will be under the watchful eye of their community, where both players feel the warm embrace of support from their Cincinnati fans, family, and friends.
While some athletes may feel the pressure of competing in front of their hometown crowd, McNally and Wolf look forward to the upcoming performance in their Cincinnati tournament.
“I think every single athlete reacts differently to playing at home,” McNally says. “When I was younger, I probably felt a little bit more pressure because all eyes were on me. But over the years, I’ve realized the pressure is a privilege to have, it’s a good thing.”
Wolf agrees. “It’s the tournament I look forward to the most every year,” he notes. “Win or lose, it’s the best place to compete. It’s my favorite thing to do in the world.”