Reimagined Citi Open Returns For Its 51st Edition

Mark Ein and Coco Gauff at the Citi Open (photo: Michael Dickens)

WASHINGTON, July 27, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

The Citi Open, which begins Monday at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in northwest Washington, D.C. (and continues through August 4) is entering its 51st edition. It’s one of the oldest open tournaments in the United States and serves as the major kick-off to the North American hard court circuit leading up to the U.S. Open, which begins at the end of August.

The longevity of the Citi Open is a testament to the staying power of tennis in the nation’s capital city and a glance at the names of past men’s champions circling the inside of William R. Morris, Jr. Memorial Stadium court – Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang and Andy Roddick – comprise an elite group of American Hall of Fame talent. The last American to win it was Roddick in 2007.

The Citi Open is under new management this year. Mark Ein, MDE Tennis chairman, took over management rights for the Citi Open earlier this year with a goal of “reimagining” the tournament into a more fan-friendly experience than in the past.

“The reason I love being involved in local sports is it connects our community,” said Ein, who also owns the Washington Kastles of World Team Tennis. “When you walk around the grounds, you see everyone in our region coming together, enjoying an amazing event played by elite athletes. We are absolutely thrilled to introduce this event this year. There are so many who have worked so tireless to help reimagine this event.”

The Citi Open will feature an enhanced fan hospitality experience inside a fully air-conditioned tent adjacent to the Stadium court and open to all ticket holders. Market Square, with front-row views of the practice courts, includes world-class culinary offerings from award-winning Washington, D.C. chefs such as José Andrés; plenty of tables and seating for hundreds, and there’s other new welcoming areas around the grounds, including a beer garden, too.

“The first thing I wanted to address was the food and fan areas,” Ein said during a Friday news conference. Because rain and sweltering heat are summer staples during the tournament, Market Square will provide a comfortable respite from both elements. “I wanted to have the best of Washington food in fun, comfortable areas where fans could gather indoors.”

Something else Ein is proud to boast is the most competitive player field the Citi Open has seen in recent years. Between the men’s and women’s singles fields, it includes four Top 10 players.

Tsitsipas and Stephens lead this year’s field

Today, the Citi Open is the only United States-based ATP 500 level tournament on the 2019 schedule. There is also a concurrent WTA International event, which dates back to 2011, being contested here this week. Ironically, neither of the 2018 singles champions, Alexander Zverev of Germany or Svetlana Kuznetsova from Russia, are here to defend their titles. Zverev, who also won the 2017 men’s title, chose to stay close to home and play at the Hamburg European Open before coming to North America to play in the Masters 1000 Rogers Cup tournament in Montréal. Kuznetsova was a last-minute withdrawal due to visa problems, which prevented her from arriving in Washington in time for the tournament.

Instead, the 2019 edition of the Citi Open is headlined by men’s World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, a semifinalist last year, and women’s World No. 8 Sloane Stephens from the United States, who won the 2015 title. The crowded, 48-player men’s field features six other current Top 20 players besides Tsitsipas: No. 8 Karen Khachanov and No. 9 Daniil Medvedev, both from Russia, who are seeded second and third; No. 11 Kevin Anderson of South Africa, a 2017 finalist who is seeded fourth; No. 14 John Isner of the United States, a three-time Citi Open finalist; No. 17 Marin Cilic of Croatia; and No. 18 David Goffin of Belgium.

Also, No. 21 Milos Raonic and No. 23 Felix Auger-Aliassime, both from Canada; No. 28 Benoit Paire and No. 33 Giles Simon, both from France; No. 34 Alex de Minaur of Australia, last year’s finalist; No. 35 Kyle Edmund of Great Britain and No. 36 Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany. Other Americans include: No. 41 Frances Tiafoe and No. 57 Reilly Opelka. Kei Nishikori of Japan and Gaël Monfils from France, both Top 20 players, were late scratches from the draw as well as Denis Shapovalov of Canada, Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, and Sam Querrey from the United States. Following a first-round bye, Tsitsipas will face either No. 101 Denis Kudla or No. 128 wild card Tommy Paul, both from the United States.

Joining Stephens in the 32-player women’s main draw are fellow Americans Madison Keys, ranked 17th, and No. 30 Sofia Kenin; No. 28 Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan, No. 32 Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, No. 38 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, No. 39 Camila Giorgi of Italy, No. 44 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, and No. 45 Monica Puig from Puerto Rico. Stephens will face 70th-ranked Rebecca Peterson of Sweden in her first match.

Unfortunately, the women’s draw star power was diminished by the late withdrawals of Indian Wells champion Bianca Andreescu from Canada, who is still recovering from a shoulder injury; Top 20 star Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Wimbledon semifinalist Barbora Strycova from the Czech Republic.

Andy Murray returns to Washington

A lot of pre-tournament buzz was generated earlier this week by the announcement that Andy Murray of Great Britain would play doubles with his older brother Jamie, who teamed with Bruno Soares of Brazil to win the 2018 men’s doubles title. Murray, 32, who is playing in just his first hard court and fourth overall event – all doubles – since undergoing hip resurfacing surgery in January, is part of an elite group of doubles teams entered this week. The Top 10 doubles players, headlined by the World No. 1 team of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah from Colombia, will also be joined by the dream duo of Tsitsipas and mercurial Nick Kyrgios of Australia, at the suggestion of Ein, as well as four-time Citi Open winners Bob and Mike Bryan. Tsitsipas and Kyrgios will be featured in Monday’s night session on the Stadium court.

Citi Open welcomes Coco-mania

Breakout star Cori “Coco” Gauff is making her first post-Wimbledon appearance at the Citi Open. The 15-year-old American sensation captured worldwide attention earlier this month when she became the youngest woman in the Open Era to gain a berth in the Wimbledon main draw through qualifying, then beat five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in her very first match. She advanced to the fourth round with two more victories before losing to eventual champion Simona Halep.

Because the Citi Open entry list was finalized prior to Wimbledon, Gauff’s pre-Wimbledon ranking (No. 313) kept her from direct entry into the main draw because she had already used the maximum number of three WTA wild cards allotted to a player her age. (Wild cards are awarded at the discretion of tournament organizers.) However, Gauff’s former ranking was good enough to earn her a place in the qualifying draw tournament. Since Wimbledon, she’s rocketed up the rankings to No. 143 – and it earned her the No. 1 seed in the 16-player qualifying draw tournament.

Gauff will face No. 338 Maegan Manasse of the United States, a former college All-American from the University of California, Berkeley, in the first round of qualifying on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Late Friday morning, Gauff got in a good workout on the practice courts before being introduced during an afternoon press conference by Ein. She said her success at Wimbledon – beating her idol Venus Williams en route to reaching the fourth round – felt, “like a dream” to her.

Now, that she’s had a few weeks to digest it all, Gauff said, “I’m super, super excited to be playing here in D.C. It’s one of my favorite cities.

I’m happy to get on the court. I wasn’t sure if I would get to play.”

Gauff’s weekend will be a busy one. On Sunday, she’ll host the Citi Open Kids’ Day powered by Net Generation and, if she beats Manasse on Saturday, would face either eighth seed Hiroko Kuwata of Japan, ranked No. 265, or No. 327 Quinn Gleason of the United States for a chance at attaining one of the coveted main draw slots.