WASHINGTON, August 6, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
When Nick Kyrgios lifted the Donald Dell Trophy after winning the Citi Open men’s singles title Sunday evening, it culminated a record-setting week to a reimagined tennis classic.
As confetti rang down upon Kyrgios during the celebration that followed his double tie-break victory over Daniil Medvedev, it provided a fitting coda for the conclusion of the first Citi Open under the management of MDE Chairman Mark Ein, a Washington, D.C. philanthropist and tennis fan who owns the Washington Kastles of World Team Tennis.
The Citi Open, a combination ATP 500 and WTA International event with draws in both men’s and and women’s singles and doubles, is one of the oldest open tournaments in the United States. It serves as the major kick-off to the North American hard court circuit leading up to the U.S. Open. Now in its 51st year overall, Washington’s summer tennis tradition at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center shattered box office and attendance records. Seven of the 11 sessions sold out – including the final day of qualifying, which featured American teen sensation Coco Gauff on the main stadium court.
According to figures released by the Citi Open, ticket revenue increased by 20 percent and hospitality and merchandise sales were up by over 100 percent from 2018. The tournament presented a $50,000 check to the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation from funds raised on the grounds during the 2019 Citi Open tournament.
With the unexpected triumph by Kyrgios, the heightened interest in Gauff (who won the women’s doubles with Catherine McNally) and the showcasing of men’s doubles on the main stadium court, plus many compelling matches throughout the week – not to mention near-perfect weather conditions – it added up to a winning week for tennis entrepreneur Ein.
“We set lofty goals, and it exceeded even our wildest dreams. It’s a real tribute to this tennis community,” Ein said during a news conference held Sunday afternoon between the women’s and men’s singles finals. “I’ve always believed we have one of the best tennis communities in America, and this had the foundation to be one of the great tennis events in America. But it just needed to be elevated in every respect.”
Among the Citi Open’s biggest and most visible improvements was Market Square, an enhanced fan hospitality experience inside a fully air-conditioned tent that was open to all ticket holders. With front-row views of the practice courts and world-class culinary offerings from award-winning Washington, D.C. chefs like José Andrés – plus nightly tennis conversations hosted by former Grand Slam doubles champion Rennae Stubbs – it became a hub for fans to enjoy great food and engage with other tennis fans.
“People responded. We sold out five of the nine main draw session, the food and beverages was double before. We broke the all-time ticket sales record on Tuesday,” said Ein. “That’s just a tribute to this tennis community. They love this sport. If you give them a good product, they’re going to come out.”
Despite 2018 men’s singles champion Alexander Zverev not returning to defend his title, Ein focused on going after a much bigger group of star-studded players – including seven Top 20 men’s players – coupled with many up-and-comers, especially in the women’s singles draw like Gauff, McNally and local talent Hailey Baptiste, rather than focusing on garnering the commitment of one player and “it paid off great.”
Ein added: “I’m a big believer in the next generation players on both the male and female side. I think it’s a generation of players who are exciting. They’re great personalities. People are drawn to them.
“We got lucky that Coco (Gauff) came, and every day there was star power … and every session there was star power,” he said.
The dream doubles team of Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas were showcased in the main stadium on opening night. It began the nightly showcasing of Kyrgios, who had one of the best tournaments of his life. Known for both his eye-catching athleticism, trick shots, and flair for the dramatic, Kyrgios was ever the entertainer and the 7,500-seat main stadium court was his performance stage. Fans flocked to his matches never quite knowing what to expect from the 24-year-old mercurial Aussie. But they always left feeling satisfied night after night – and he enjoyed interacting with fans.
Asked by Tennis TourTalk how he envisions the Citi Open’s future, Ein said, “The long-term vision is I want this to be America’s summer tennis tradition. I want it to be the place that people from around the United States come if they want to come with their families to watch professional tennis. … As much as it grew and improved this year, there’s so much growth in front of us.”