Citi Open Wrap-up, 2016

By Jane Voigt

Washington D. C., July 25, 2016 — Heavy air and heavy groundstrokes enveloped the 2016 Citi Open. Court surface temperatures over the last weekend ranged from a toasty 1300 to a hot-to-touch 1430 while air temperatures approached 100. The ATP and WTA competitors, fans, media, grounds crews, volunteer and hospitality staff were the week’s heroes. 

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Although top seed Tomas Berdych pulled out before day one, along with crowd-pleasers Nick Kyrgios, Mike and Bob Bryan, Rajeev Ram, Ernests Gulbis and 3-time Citi champion Juan Martin del Potro, people settled in to the idea that three-time finalist John Isner became the top seed. John’s been a fixture at Citi since his debut in 2007. Players withdrew due to injuries, fatigue and scheduling problems associated with the Rio Olympics, which start August 5. 

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Yanina Wickmayer won her first Citi Open singles title as well as the doubles title alongside partner Monica Niculescu. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

Yesterday, two new champions emerged in both singles and doubles. Gael Monfils and Yanina Wickmayer won their inaugural D. C. singles titles. Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin earned their first men’s doubles title. And, most impressively, Wickmayer and Monica Niculescu won women’s doubles — a D. C. double for Wickmayer. 

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Gale Monfils became a first-time Citi Open champion when he defeated Ivo Karlovic in one of the best finals on record.
Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com. 

ly: Verdana; font-size: 13px;">Local Junior Tennis Championship Center graduates drew crowds when ATP pros Denis Kudla and Frances Tiafoe teamed up for doubles. Other fresh faces made impacts, too, but Wildcard and American Jessica Pegula made the loudest statement. 

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American Jessica Pegula won the hearts of many this week in Washington. She eliminated top-seeded Samantha Stosur, on her way to her semifinal loss. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

She dismissed Samantha Stosur, the number-one seed and ranked No. 14, American Christina McHale and ranked No. 63, only to finally tumble in the semifinal to Citi Open runner-up American Lauren Davis. Pegula’s ranking reached a career high today … No. 122. 

Trouble in Rock Creek Park Paradise

Inconsistencies in service and treatment of WTA players continued to drag on this ATP 500-level event that has been coupled with a WTA International event for seven years.

Women’s matches were regularly scheduled on Grandstand One and Two, leaving Stadium Court predominantly for the men. Jeff Newman, tournament director, plus ATP and WTA staff create the daily order of play. Of course their plans have to give bigger names center stage, when considering TV contracts with Tennis Channel and sponsors. But concern about the lack of women’s matches on Stadium Court seemed to fall on deaf ears. And, perhaps, the attitudes of tournament management should be examined. 

As Jeff Newman wrapped up the awards’ presentation Sunday he thanked sparse crowds for coming and said, “See you next year,” when the women’s singles final was minutes away. A mistake? From the women’s perspective, yes. But if deeply seeded attitudes were at play the message was clear … women's competition doesn’t rate proper respect and attention.

Parking — Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, where the tournament is held, is managed by the U. S. National Park Services. The fields that sprawl north of the site are havens in a densely populated community. People play soccer, baseball, frisbee, ride bikes and run the perimeter of the park. But for this one week those folks have to step aside for thousands of fans, which many arrive in cars, eager to watch top-notch tennis. 

Here’s the rub … The tournament doesn’t really want people to drive and park near the site. If fans drive and arrive early, each car’s charged $15/day for a Field Parking spot. If fans arrive after that's full, they are directed to free parking/shuttle locations off site like the U.D.C. parking facility. The availability of on-site parking is exacerbated if rain has soaked the fields. The U. S. Park Service clearly doesn’t want to tear-up the ground, which is understandable. However, it also doesn’t use all the field space when it’s dry. In fact a third of Field Parking is left empty each year - no one is allowed to park there. 

Joann Chae, the day manager for Atlantic Parking D. C., the contractor for the event, began her explanation by referring to the damage from heavy rains earlier in the week. But with hot sun and no rain since Tuesday night that didn’t make much sense until she added, “One side is open to community for soccer and other sports. It’s like that every year.” She pointed to a large color photograph above her desk, which showed an aerial view of near-in parking. It was difficult to know the date the shot was taken.  

“We try to rotate use of the fields so the grass doesn’t get torn up,” Emily Linroth, National Park Service Public Information Officer, said. “A lot of people take the shuttle.”

But driving 20-30 minutes away from the tournament, parking in a garage then shuttling back another 20-30 minutes didn’t sit well with this fan, who has regularly attended the event. 

“It makes me stinking mad,” she said, after parking in the field. “I get here early so I don’t have to go to UDC/Van Ness. Why would I want to waste a stinking hour doing that. If they don’t want to have the tournament, then cancel it.”

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Half the field available for parking is closed off each year due to U. S. Park Services policies and agreements with the community near the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center.
Photo credit Jane Voigt DownTheTee.com.

The tournament sends email alerts about available parking to those registered to receive them. Its website also keeps readers informed on field conditions, and recommends upfront that they use free remote lots.

The suggestion is tied in to a common sense theme of preserving the fields of a public park, that the tournament is held in a neighborhood and fans, therefore, should respect those interests. But the reality of being turned away and sent to remote locations caused some tempers to flair.

Drivers were handed directions to U. D. C. parking, but told to proceed directly ahead which was the opposite direction suggested on the handout. Once at public parking near the college, no signs with a Citi Open logo were displayed to help ticket holders. “Is this where we park,” one woman shouted from her car. “I guess so,” said another. 

Once parked a herd of people pointed out the vans across Connecticut Avenue. Two women manned a table next to the van. They represented Atlantic Parking. “You need to put up some signs. People are confused when they get in the garage,” one woman suggested, sounding frustrated. “Tell them down there,” the attendant said, gesturing toward the site. “I don’t work for the tournament.”

The working press didn’t escape the parking friction, either. 

On Saturday one photographer was relegated to a spot in the field that was at least a half-mile away from her desk in the Media Tent. Parking attendants were filling the lot farthest out first, which seems illogical. Why park early arrivers farther away. Wouldn’t you give them close-in spots and keep far-away ones for later arrivals?

Nonetheless this photographer, who’d been covering the event for 12 years, had no choice but to drag her 40-pound bag of calibrated camera equipment worth at least $30,000 across the bumpy terrain. “I’m so mad right now. You won’t believe where they had me park,” Leslie Billman, owner of tennisclix.com said when she arrived to work. 

Additionally when she picked up her media credentials the day before the event began, she wasn’t issued any parking passes. “I literally got down on one knee,” she told DownTheTee.com.

Media is assigned passes to park in the field, “Parking Lot A” and along Carter Barron, which skirts the facility to the south. A-parking is paved and reserved for staff associated with larger news outlets: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agency French Press, USA Today, plus people with box seat packages, patrons, tournament management, players and tournament transportation. Photographers interviewed for this article — USA Today, AP — said they parked in the ‘A lot.’ “The two questions we always ask when we go to a tournament are what hotel will we be in and where’s the parking.” 

“We want to make it as easy as possible for media,” Linroth added. “We want to ensure everyone enters the tournament as efficiently as possible.”

Linroth was not aware of photographers having field parking passes, seemingly agreeing with the premise that they should park closer due to the amount and value of equipment. She said she would talk with the tournament.

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013