WASHINGTON, June 12, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
The Citi Open has been a summer fixture in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital city, for the past 50 years – going all the way back to its founding in 1969 by Donald Dell. It is the longest running pro tennis event in the same location in the United States. Today, the Citi Open is one of the few mixed-player tournaments on the tennis calendar, with both an ATP 500 and WTA International event taking place together at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in northwest Washington.
Since integrating the WTA into the mix in 2012, the Citi Open has become a popular tour destination for both men’s and women’s players and fans. It serves as a good US Open prep for the players and it whets the appetite of fans with its intimate footprint that allows them to easily interact with players.
Now, with all pro tour tennis stopped in its tracks due to the novel coronavirus pandemic – on hold through at least the end of July – the fate of this year’s Citi Open, which is scheduled to begin on August 3, hangs in the balance. It is the next tennis property on a depleted 2020 calendar whose fate will soon be determined – likely next week when the status of the US Open is decided.
During a late-March telephone interview with Tennis TourTalk, Citi Open owner Mark Ein said he was planning for the worst while hoping for the best. “Obviously, no matter what business you’re in – and we’re in the tennis business – coronavirus is impacting everything,” he said. “You have to balance, both moving things forward and planning, but also contingency planning because there’s still so much unknown.”
Ein, a Washington venture capitalist, who acquired management rights of the Citi Open a year ago from the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, is in his second year of operating this US Open Series kickoff event.
“The planning is continuing as if it’s happening,” Ein said in March. “There’s a lot in the works around the Citi Open.”
In normal times, the Citi Open is the first of a trio of North American hard-court tournaments – along with the Rogers Cup in Toronto and Montreal and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio – that typically serve as a warmup for the US Open. Many players says coming to Washington helps them acclimate to the heat and humidity as well as the fast courts that are similar to those found at the US Open in New York, the calendar’s final Grand Slam event.
“I know Mark Ein, the new owner, wants very much to hold the tournament – even without any fans,” Dell, a former U.S. Davis Cup captain and co-founder of the ATP, said Thursday on Tennis Channel Live. “I think it’s problematic. I think it’s only about a 20 percent chance. He wants to do it without fans – he’s willing to go that way. The real problem is flying the players over from Europe, from all over the world.
“The Hall of Fame tournament was cancelled, Atlanta was cancelled. I think (the Citi Open) will be cancelled because I think the players are going to be the bigger problem – not just the fans. So, I think it’s probably 20 percent likely.”
Indeed, the idea of international travel and quarantining isn’t appealing to some players right now and could be problematic. Playing behind closed doors would be an adjustment for the competitors and it would represent a huge loss of revenue for the Citi Open, which drew record crowds last year.
Although Ein hasn’t made any recent public comments, one can’t help but think the Citi Open owner remains optimistic – and motivated – that something can be worked out among the powers who govern the pro tours as well as with the city government leaders of Washington that will allow the Citi Open to happen this summer. For certain, health and safety would be paramount for the players – and for spectators, too, if they are allowed to attend. Everyone is hopeful for a welcoming event to take place.
“I actually think that if we can host the event safely, it’s going to be an incredible celebration for everyone,” Ein said in March. “I believe people are so eager to get back to life as normal, to be outside and to be amongst other people.
“The Citi Open could be the first big event in our community. It could be one of the first big tennis events in the world.
“The players are as eager as anyone to get back on court. It’s what they love to do and it’s how they make a living. They’re incredible eager to get back on tour.”
For now, The Citi Open planning continues until it doesn’t.