When one visits the Racquet Club of Chicago, the phrase “the famous…” is often heard. To wit: the famous Thursday buffet, the famous Friday Stag, the famous Sunday brunch, the famous Raul and Uncle Elmer, and, of course, the famous St. Patrick’s Day green river. It seems only fitting, then, that the famous crowd of rabble rousers known as racquets players should descent upon the RCC on this very weekend.
With many of our UK friends (some with WAGs in tow) staying on the continent from last weekend’s US Open in Philadelphia, the 2018 Western Open in Chicago enjoyed a phenomenal draw of over 60 participants. Once again, fantastic racquets was on order, and once again the tournament delivered.
There is nothing quite like walking into the famous RCC locker room and being greeted by the warm welcome of the famous Raul and Uncle Elmer. Whether you are a member or a guest who has not been there in several years, the smiles are equally bright. Indeed, the entire staff at the Racquet Club of Chicago, led by general manager Richard Duggan, bend over backward to ensure that everyone’s experience is memorable, and certainly keep you wanting to come back to this special place. However, with all due respect to the fantastic food and drink, the lush facilities, the catering to your every need, the true stars of the weekend remain the pro shop. John Cashman, Steve Virgona, and lead organizer and racquets professional Conor Medlow did a masterful job of hosting a great tournament.
As players began to stream into the club for their fist matches on Thursday morning, the energy in the club was palpable. Sounds of rackets smashing the ball into various walls and calls of PLAY! were overshadowed by hearty greetings from friends old and new, and much laughter ensued. Make no mistake about it, however, racquets was still the main event, and come evening the staff politely had to remind spectators that the famous – there’s that word again – Thursday night brunch would soon come to a close, and had to usher them away from the matches to their seats in the dining room. As several miscreants cajoled Dean Pennick into purchasing the wine, plans were made to storm Butch McGuire’s, where it seemed that the entire draw had decided to congregate.
Bleary-eyed contestants returned to the court early Friday morning, spending whatever energy remained following the previous night’s festivities, before settling into the locker room for a steam and breakfast, making way for the “serious” matches to take place later in the day. Constant action on both racquets court were supplemented by a handicap doubles tournament on the real tennis court, ensuring that all were busy throughout the day. Cocktail matches featuring Smith/Jamieson-Black vs Stout/Sacks and Bomford vs Coyne were particularly lively, and set the stage for yet another fantastic stag in the beautiful RCC dining room. Following rousing renditions of the UK, Australian, Canadian, and American anthems, tournament chair Peter Lanctot ably presided over the evening’s ceremonies and ensured a smooth flow to the evening, no small feat with such a boisterous crowd. The meal was customarily splendid for all, including Tom Billings who was served several courses of soup as he was still on a strict liquid diet. Others were a bit luckier, enjoying fresh seafood and delicious steaks.
Club reps introduced their teams to roaring applause, and NARA President Mike McLernon took the opportunity to update attendees on the status of the ball machine, on its way to Chicago to be manned by none other than Uncle Elmer. Fellow Montreal members Charles Vennat and Frank “Bagel Boy” Joyet made their own presentations, with the former appointing himself the new head of NARA Safety Operations, and gifting Tom Billings a hockey goaltender mask and mouth guard for future matches. Joyet, meanwhile, had the crowd in stitches, passing out gifts of bagels to the crowd and presenting the World Champion James Stout with a gift set of his own. As per usual, stories followed, with James Coyne once again obtaining the heartiest laughter of the evening before the men filed out for games of chance and further revelry next door.
On Saturday, with many donning their finest green attire in honour of St Patrick’s Day, play resumed on court with a field pared of its shall we say less capable players. Formidable matches followed on court as Dean Pennick once again gathered oenophiles, this time spared the entirety of the wine bill, as his group enjoyed a wonderful lunch on the terrace which could have been mistaken for the South of France.
The afternoon saw semifinals matches with Alex Duncliffe-Vines at his best against a formidable Stout, the ultimate victor, and also featured a rematch of the previous week’s Will Hopton vs Ben Cawston duel. Cawston, who the week previous had acquitted himself extremely well, continued to impress. It was incredible to watch his maturation before our eyes in such a short span; while the week before he seemed happy to simply be competing against the best, at the Western he definitely knew that he belonged in that category, and he played like it. This is a young man to watch! The doubles semifinals were equally exciting. Ben Bomford, the Queens Club pro, seems to have taken young Cawston under his wing, and they displayed fantastic on-court chemistry, besting ADV and Coyne in a close affair. Later, former Western Champs Zack Sacks and James Stout fell to team Old and New, comprised of former RCC pro Will Hopton and current pro Conor Medlow. With the matches going late, the gallery was treated for a second week in a row to some pizza, allowing them to skip formal dinners and head straight out to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style. Nick “The Mole” James in particular seemed to fit the theme, his glorious ginger beard accentuated by a dollar store green leprechaun hat for the evening.
Finals Sunday began with a familiar clash between two great competitors in Will Hopton and James Stout. Hoppy played a fantastic game, but the Champ yet again prevailed to be crowned the 2018 Western Open Singles Champion. Following the fine culinary display that is the Chicago Sunday Brunch, play resumed for the doubles finals featuring Bomford/Cawston vs Medlow/Hopton. With the “hometown boys” enjoying the full throated support of the crowd, British Invaders Cawston and Bomford continued their stellar play and proved too much to handle for their opponents. Congratulations to the Invaders for being crowned the 2018 Western Open Doubles Champions.
Thank you to all participants for attending, and to the entire staff of the Racquet Club of Chicago for a formidable weekend.