Women at Citi Open, Not Prime Time in D. C. 

By Jane Voigt

August 2, 2013 (Washington D. C.) -- Citi Open is a combined tournament with both women and men competing. But you'd be hard pressed to know it. The men are definitely in charge.

Only two women's singles matches have been on Stadium Court. That was on Monday. Since, every singles and doubles match has been relegated to the smaller side courts. 

This isn't a bad thing. Smaller courts are more intimate. The action is, well, in your face. The crack of a tennis ball against polyester strings reminds every club player in the stands just how far they would have to climb to come within a net cord of their performance; and that would be in their dreams. 

Some players even like the cozy courts. 

"I actually love the smaller courts," Andrea Petkovic said, smiling, after her quarterfinal win. "They are not really small; there are a lot of people there. I like when it's closer. I feel the energy on court. Yeah, I love to be close to the people."

Petkovic's opinion about the combined format was straight forward. "I love having them around … eye candy," she said, laughing and turning a touch red in the face. "I don't think they feel the same."

There is logic behind court assignments. The men's draw is bigger, therefore more matches to get through. It has 64 berths with 16 byes in the first round for seeded players. That's 48 active players on day one of the tournament. 

On the women's side, 32 go through the gate on day one. No byes. 

The ATP tournament is a '500-level,' which is moderately serious from a player's perspective when considering the 'food' for their existence -- ranking points. 

Grand Slams earn players the most ranking points, then Masters 1000, 500, and 250. Over a year, each pro has to enter four '500-level' events. The money that's budgeted is fixed. Here in D. C. the prize money is $1.3 million, which does not include appearance fees.

The ATP can pay handsome appearance fees when it wants to entice the cream of its crop to '500-level' tournaments. This normally refers to the Big Four: Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer. Each man commands $1 million USD, usually.

In contrast, the WTA tournament here at Citi Open is an "International." It is the lowest on the tournament scale. Total prize money is $235,000. Additionally, the WTA rules state that only one top-ten player can participate at an International event. This week, Angelique Kerber fits that bill. 

Petkovic couldn't care less what level Citi Open occupies on the totem pole of tournament hierarchy. Injuries interrupted her career in 2011; her perspective has changed since then. Back then she played the semifinal in Cincinnati and quarterfinal at U. S. Open, but never felt satisfied. 

"I didn't even take the time to be happy about them," Petkovic said. 

Now, after months of rehabilitation and hour upon hour of quad reps, she swings her racquet to a different beat.

"I'm so happy just to be back on court," she said. "I'm grateful that I can do what I love. I take it as a second chance and try to make the best of out it as I can."

The doubles team of Eugenie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend didn't seem to mind their court assignment this afternoon, either. They had a blast and why wouldn't they. Bouchard is 19, ranked No. 58 in singles, has no career titles, and has earned about $300,00. Taylor Townsend is even younger -- 17. She's ranked 338 in singles and has earned a whopping $51,000. But, hey, that's not bad for the 2013 ITF Junior Player of The Year. 

The two earned their way to the finals in women's doubles, defeating Irina Falconi and Eva Hrdinova, 64 62. Although Hrdinova's strong serve won them points, the teens were much more willing to change things up, as they smiled their way through the match. 

Townsend's twist-o-flex lefty serve stretched Falconi, who is only five-four, to the limits of her returning reach. Error after error flew off her racquet. 

The teens on-court relationship was absorbing for fans, too. When Bouchard did a good job, Townsend was quick to tell her, "nice." When Bouchard messed up, Townsend gave out nothing but support, "you tried," she said, bumping knuckles with the young Canadian. Bouchard was less animated, but supplied plenty of great returns and serves.

Even though the ATP side of things at Citi Open seems to have more clout, women can be thanked for sparking changes at the tournament. 

Two years ago the WTA staged a small event in College Park, Maryland. The next year it merged with the ATP side, which forced the site to expand. In addition to Stadium Court, two new Grandstand courts were built, plus six practice courts, and the locker rooms were renovated. 

"Oh yeah that," John Isner said, when first considering women at Citi. "The women here … that's great to see. Good to have both of us here."


North Caroline native, John Isner, serves up a speedy one on Stadium Court, at the 2013 Citi Open. Today, one serve was clocked at 140 m.p.h.
Photo by tennisclix

The six-nine American, who launched his tennis career in D. C. six years ago as a wildcard, says he feels 'real comfortable' on Stadium Court. In 2007, he went all the way to the final, thrilling local fans and those from nearby North Carolina, his home state. However, Isner has never won the title. Today, he took another step closer to realizing that dream. He defeated Marcos Baghadatis in the quarterfinal 67(5) 64 64. Next up for John, Dimitry Tursunov. They have never played each other. 

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013