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Volume 21 No. 39
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Thinking Back, Looking Ahead: Elaine Bruening

From volunteer to CEO, Bruening wins the match

Elaine Bruening started as a volunteer in 1976 at the Cincinnati ATP Tour stop, just a handful of years into the professionalization of tennis. At the time she was a secretary at Procter & Gamble, and her boss, Paul Flory, ran the event in his spare time. She earned a marketing degree at night, and in 1988 when Flory took over the event full time, his first hire was Bruening. Flory passed in 2013, two years after he handed over the reins to Bruening. By then, what is now the Western & Southern Open had become a leading combined ATP/WTA stop that this year will award over $9 million in prize money. Bruening won’t be there to see it, as she retired last month, deciding it was time to take a step back. She spoke with staff writer Daniel Kaplan about her career and future of the tournament.

Waving to the crowd from center court in 2017.
Photo: bob solomon

The biggest change since I got involved is probably the money involved. I think my first tournament that I was involved with only had $100,000 in prize money and now we are over $9 million with a combined event, so I think that the biggest change to me is seeing it evolve into such a big business. When I first became involved, a lot of tournaments had been run in tennis clubs and that kind of thing, and over my career you have seen such major and beautiful tennis facilities and venues built, which really brought tennis up to the level of other major league sports. With all these beautiful facilities and stadiums versus playing it in a club, you can never stop, you keep always having to improve your venue and keep up because competition is so tough.

So many young college kids now are going into sports degrees, which weren’t even offered back when I was in college, and they are majoring in sports management and sports administration. A lot of them probably go into it because they find it appealing, they like the glamour of the sport. But I tell everybody it is a business — make sure you take all of your business courses also because we are doing everything that any other business does. We are doing sales, we are doing marketing, we are doing finance, we are doing human resources. Our product is a tennis tournament, but we are producing a product.

Taking notes in the stands in 1996.
Photo: western & southern open

My favorite player in my time is Roger Federer — how could you not say Roger Federer. On the women’s side, Serena and Venus have done incredible things for the sport. They have elevated women’s tennis beyond anything people could imagine. I have to say I really like Caroline Wozniacki also. Her nickname is “Sunshine,” always smiling, never without a smile.

My least favorite player, umm … he was just ending his career when I was beginning, but Ilie Nastase. He just had all kind of antics going on, and I was just starting my career at that time and wasn’t privy to everything, but I heard a lot of stories.

Bruening with the tournament trophy in 1990.
Photo: western & southern open

One of the players I have really admired over the years is Andre Agassi, and the reason I say that is when he started out as a young player he was a little bit of a rebel, which Canon Camera obviously recognized because he did a Rebel commercial for them, but he is someone who has grown and matured into such a class act. I have been really impressed by him.

In the future we will continue to improve the facility. This year we are doing major construction again, it’s a $25 million expansion and we are building a new south building, which is actually wedged in between the center court and grandstand court, and it would feature all kinds of amenities we haven’t had before. We are venturing into the all-inclusive package now, which when a patron buys a ticket it also includes food and beverage options … in one price and I think that is something that has been growing among other sports and other venues and we are venturing into it for the first time.

Touring the grounds with longtime tournament director Paul Flory in 1992.
Photo: western & southern open

The tournament (which occurs in the Midwest in mid-to-late August) is not too hot. We have lots of shaded areas, we have a lovely food court that has shaded tents in it. This year as part of the new building … are indoor, air-conditioned box seats. It is the first in the world of tennis to have indoor box seats that will be air conditioned.

For me, I am going to take some time to just really enjoy life. I would like to do some traveling, I probably will do some volunteer work. I don’t know which organizations yet, but that is on my list of goals, to do some volunteer work, do some more reading, just start to enjoy life and smell the roses.