Ein On Citi Open: ‘When You Look Around, You See Our Community’

Mark Ein and Emma Raducanu (photo: Richard Kessler/Citi Open)

WASHINGTON, August 8, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

The 53rd edition of the Citi Open wrapped up at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in northwest Washington, D.C. Sunday night with red, white and blue confetti showering down upon doubles champions Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock.

“I love Washington,” Kyrgios would say a short while later in his final press conference, after he became the first man in the tournament’s history, which goes back to its founding in 1969 by Arthur Ashe, to win both Citi Open singles and doubles titles in the same year.

“It’s always been really good to me. …I want to always remember this place as somewhere that I have achieved some pretty high things and I want to keep it that way.”

It wouldn’t be surprising if some day Washington, D.C. renamed one of the streets surrounding the Citi Open site after Kyrgios, who also won the Citi Open singles title in 2019.

“Well, my home town, Canberra, is basically modeled off the place. It’s the same design, honest, same kind of feel, to be honest, as well,” Krygios remarked.

“When I’m in Washington, I kind of feel like it’s home. It’s not as busy as, say, New York or Atlanta or Miami. It’s a bit more almost timid-like It’s quiet, a lot of greenery. Feels like home.”

Citi Open chairman Mark Ein, for one, would love to keep bringing Kyrgios back to Washington, D.C. because the talented Aussie is very good for box office. All of his singles matches were scheduled for evening prime time on the Stadium court and fans flocked to the practice courts to catch a glimpse of him, too.

“Thursday was our 20th consecutive sold-out session dating back to 2019. There were a few tickets on Friday (day session) and a few on Saturday, but basically the event, we probably sold 81,500 out of 82,500 tickets,” Ein said.

“This is now a coveted ticket. It’s selling out. People are getting them earlier.

“People are really excited and they are loving it and they are coming back,” Ein added. “There is a massive line for people to renew their tickets.”

When Ein, a Washington-based venture capitalist and entrepreneur, and his MDE Tennis organization began managing and operating the tournament in April 2019 under an agreement with the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation (WTEF), the Citi Open tournament’s non-profit owner and beneficiary, he did so with a fan’s perspective after coming to the tournament for many years “and seeing all the things I wished were a certain way.”

“We have worked really hard with an amazing team of people to make them that way,” Ein said.

“We love the fan reaction. I love the player reaction. I have been watching players in press, and I think four or five of them have used words ‘we love the vibe of this tournament’ totally independent.”

Ein admits that he loves that the players love the vibe. “I love that they love our city. That’s really good. Our sponsors are really happy. Endless ones are coming back saying we want to lock in long-term deals with you. So that’s really good,” he said.

This year’s Citi Open line-up, which included Kyrgios, three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray, seven-time major winner Venus Wiliams and reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu, was one of the best in recent years. They represented big names, bold-faced names – even though both Murray and Williams lost in the first round and Raducanu was eliminated in the quarterfinals. Kyrgios proved to be the biggest attraction and them all of his singles matches easily filled the 7,500-seat Stadium court.

The WTEF benefited from the hard work and enthusiasm Ein and his organization showed. Ein gave props to the WTEF, when he spoke with media Sunday afternoon in between the women’s and men’s singles finals. “They do a ton of good work, and we are giving them a lot of resources to continue to do good work,” he said.

“From every metric that I think about or every constituency stakeholder, I think it’s been fantastic. That said, we always look to do certain things better and different next year, but in some, it’s been awesome.”

Among the fan-favorite amenities were: the Market Square food court, where Tennis Channel‘s Prakash Amritraj held daily tennis talks with players and players also held autograph sessions; accessibility to watch players practice and to interact with them around the grounds; general admission seating on all of the outer courts, which offered up-close seating to watch matches.

“We have an amazing tennis community in Washington,” Ein said. “We have a long history. This event has been here 53 years since Donald Dell and John Harris and Arthur Ashe started it.

“They have supported this event for a long time. I honestly think they wanted better, a few years ago, they wanted it, pand everyone did, the players, the tours. I think we are really making a ton of progress and done that and the fans have responded accordingly.”

Before Ein, the tournament organizers focused on bringing in one big star each year. “As soon as we got involved, I sort of asked the question, ‘Why are we doing that? And if we didn’t do that, what could we do?’ It’s like, if you don’t do that, you can do this,” he said.

This year, Ein and the Citi Open went all out and brought in four former World No. 1 players, seven Grand Slam champions, four former Citi Open titlists, four Olympic gold medalists and 10 Top 20 players among the men’s and women’s draws. In addition to Murray, Kyrgios, Williams and Raducanu, Jessica Pegula, Sloane Stephens, Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka dotted the women’s draw and the men’s field also included Andrey Rublev, Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Reilly Opelka. There were also plenty of up-and-comers like Holger Rune, Sebastian Baez, Emil Ruusuvuori, Wang Xiyu, Clara Tauson and Camila Osorio, too.

“To me, that just makes a much better event,” Ein said. “So, our poster, we struggled to figure out the 20 players we were going to put on that long lineup, truly. I forget who the cutoff is, but it’s someone really good that’s probably on a poster somewhere else.

“And, so what it means also – so to me that’s a much better even for everyone. It means that on Monday night you have great players. When you have one great player, especially on the men’s side, they are starting on Wednesday. Monday night, we had Andy (Murray) and Venus (Williams), and Tuesday night, we had Nick (Kyrgios) and Emma (Raducanu), which is extraordinary.

“And then, as players lose, there is just more coming and more coming. It’s not like if you bet it all on one or two players and they lose, they you’re left with nothing. Then, you get strong fields all the way to the end.

“That’s really been intentional on our part.”

Looking forward, Ein indicated it’s MDE Tennis’s choice to not move the tournament out of Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, even though it could probably benefit from a larger footprint than currently exists. “It’s to find a way to keep it here, update it and modernize it,” he said.

“Frankly, we are doing it but we are doing it through temporary facilities. We’d rather have them be more permanent. Obviously, the facility is owned by the National Park Service – they own it, they maintain it. The City of Washington really covets this event, too.

“So, we are all collectively trying to figure out how do we get this to the place we know it should be and needs to be. I think everyone’s choice is for it to be here.

“There is plenty of places and cities who would love to have this tournament, but that’s not at all what we want. If we can find any way of keeping it here, this is a special, historic location that’s accessible to everyone.”

The Citi Open takes place the first week of August and is the kick-off (500 series for men, 250 for women) for both the ATP and the WTA in its North American hard-court swing leading up to the US Open. It’s one of just five combined events held annually in the U.S., which is a matter of prestige for Ein – and it brings out fans from all over the Washington, D.C. area.

“To me, that’s the other big thing,” he said. “You know, when I look around, I just look at the grounds and the fans and the mix of people, and it really represents the melting pot of our community.

“There are a gazillion reasons for that, including the sport itself. One of them is this location is central for everyone, so everyone comes out. When we open the doors at the beginning of qualifying weekend, and people are streaming in, we sold out both qualifying days for the last two years. It’s amazing that that would happen, but people just come and they love this sport. … When you look around, you see our community.”