On a breezy summer day, top-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland captured the individual title Saturday at the 2016 Connecticut Open, hosted at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale.
Currently ranked fourth in the world, Radwanska outlasted Ukraine’s 19th-ranked Elina Svitolina in a tense final, winning 6–1, 7–6 (7–3). The tournament, now in its 19th year in the Elm City, plays an important role both for the New Haven community and for players looking to sharpen their play ahead of one of the biggest weeks in their professional season. Radwanska, speaking to a Women’s Tennis Association reporter after her match, emphasized the importance of the New Haven tournament in the lead up to the 2016 U.S. Open that begins this week.
“[This] kind of title helps a lot,” Radwanska said. “I hope I can keep it up and play the same tennis in New York. That was great preparation.”
In the doubles tournament final, world number one Sania Mirza of India and her partner, No. 15 Romanian Monica Niculescu, dispatched Ukraine’s Kateryna Bondarenko and Taipei’s Chuang Chia-jung in two sets, 7–5, 6–4.
The Connecticut Open has been held in New Haven since 1998. Throughout its nearly two-decadelong history, the tournament has brought the Yale and New Haven communities a taste of the grandeur of professional tennis, drawing in legends like Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams in recent years. The tournament also featured a men’s competition between 2005 and 2010, featuring stars like Croatian Marin Cilic and American Mardy Fish.
“I think it’s such a good opportunity to see high-level tennis up close,” said Yale women’s tennis player Elizabeth Zordani ’18, who was watching her sisters compete at Cullman-Heyman in a U.S. Open qualifier. “We got to interact with the players; we see them all around campus.”
One of the players Zordani met was Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, who toured the Yale campus with Caroline Lynch ’17 in a video posted on the University’s website.
Bouchard, once ranked as high as fifth in the world, reached the finals at Wimbledon in 2014.
“[Bouchard’s] 22, so she’s around my age,” Zordani said. “She was so sweet and approachable, I felt like she could have been in college with me.”
Outside the stadium, booths lined the pathways, peddling everything from United States Tennis Association memberships to life insurance to ice cream. Yale students, New Haven locals and tennis fans from around the Northeast reveled in the lighthearted atmosphere that surrounded the week of action.
Zordani added that the organizers did an excellent job at amplifying the fan experience, with such promotions as Kid’s Day and a Women’s Day.
Beyond meeting some of the competitors, just last year one Bulldog tennis player even played in the tournament. Carol Finke ’18 battled American Louisa Chirico in the first set of qualifiers of the 2015 tournament, before falling to the current No. 76-ranked player.
“It’s an incredibly special feeling of pride to play at Yale where you represent not only yourself, but [also your] family, coaches and school,” Finke said. “I was up 30–0 on the scoreboard, and I motioned to my dad and friends watching to take a picture because it was the only time I would ever be up against a professional player.”
In addition to the tournament itself, the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center also played host to an exhibition tournament featuring male legends of the game. On Thursday night, seven-time Grand Slam champion John McEnroe fell 6–4 to former great and Westport, Connecticut resident James Blake.
On Friday, former U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick was ousted 6–4 to Australian Mark Philippoussis — Philippoussis went on to defeat Blake 6–2 in the exhibition final.
According to McEnroe, the retirees still treated these single-set matches seriously.
“I think [with] any athlete that you speak to, I don’t think the competitive juices ever leave,” McEnroe said during a pre-match press conference. “The cliché ‘one match at a time’ is more irrelevant when you get to be my age. I’m about at the end of my [career] so this could be the final walk off the plank.”
The Connecticut Open was broadcast on ESPN2 and is the final of eight summer tournaments, known collectively as the Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series, linking to the U.S. Open, currently taking place in Flushing, New York.