By Jane Voigt
Rock Creek Park, Washington D. C., July 26, 2013 — Summer in the nation’s capital is a hotbed for tourists and residents alike. Monuments and museums rank high for visitors until their feet scream for a dip in the Potomac. Residents, on the other hand, discover new hiking trails or an ethnic restaurant they read about in Washingtonian Magazine. However, both groups can douse themselves with some of the best tennis across the country as The Citi Open gets underway at the Rock Creek Park tennis facility tomorrow.
As with most things ‘DC’ Citi Open comes with a formidable history complete with a cast of esteemed tennis characters. It’s conception began in 1968, the year both amateurs and professional tennis players were allowed to participate in major tournaments — the beginning of The Open Era. The U. S. Davis Cup Team defeated Australia that year. Their prodigious victory motivated Captain Donald Dell, a native of the DC area, lawyer and former pro, to ride the wave of his team’s accomplishment.
A well-connected businessman, Dell tapped friends for seed money. Arthurs Ashe, a native of Richmond, Virginia, member of that winning U. S. Davis Cup team, and a man with a social conscious agreed to get on board with Dell if the site was located in DC in a well-integrated neighborhood. That spot was found on National Park Service land, minutes from the National Mall.
The inaugural tournament in 1969 was named the Washington Star International; its title sponsor being the evening daily newspaper, The Washington Star. There were two clay courts and a few bleachers. However, it was the first open professional tennis tournament ‘held in the United States other than the U. S. Open,’ reports the tournaments web site.
To keep with Ashe’s concern for education, half the tournament’s proceeds is given to the Washington Education and Tennis Foundation. Its mission is to ‘improve the life prospects of low-income, underserved children and youth in the District of Columbia through athletic and academic enrichment,” reports the foundation’s web site.
Donald Dell has not left the tournament since. He remains its Tournament Chairman and Founder, working closely with tournament director, Jeff Newman, to secure top-notch players. Its success is reflected in the tournament’s categorization granted through the ATP Tour. In 2009, it recognized Washington as a 500 level event, one of 11 played worldwide.
Last year, the first year Citi Open took the helm, draws were diminished due to the London Olympics. However, this year a full field of players will be on hand.
The men will be lead by two-time champion and Wimbledon semifinalist, Juan Martin del Potro. Alexandr Dolgopolov, the defending champion, will compete, along with Americans John Isner, Sam Querrey, James Blake, Mardy Fish, Ryan Harrison, and Denis Kudla, an Arlington, Vir., native. Bob and Mike Bryan, the greatest men’s doubles team in the Open Era, will grace the hard courts, too. The brothers pocketed their 15th Grand Slam at Wimbledon, completing a Golden Slam — holding all four Majors plus gold from the Olympics.
Washington Kastles’ team member and No. 21 ranked player, Kevin Anderson, of South Africa will debut in DC, too. And there’s no telling what might happen on court when Bernard Tomic and Grigor Dimitri show up. Young and sometimes volatile, the Aussie and Bulgarian native are two rising stars on tour. Who knows … Maria Sharapova, Grigor’s girlfriend, could grace the William H. G. Fitzgeral Tennis Center.
Magdalena Rybarikova will be on hand to defend her 2012 title. The young Americans — Sloane Stephens, Christina McHale, Madison Keys, and Taylor Townsend — join 19-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, and Heather Watson of Great Britain. No. 9 ranked Angelique Kerber, Andrea Petkovic, and Sorana Cirstea will hone their hard-court skills, too, all in preparation for the U. S. Open, which is scheduled to begin August 26 in Flushing Meadows, New York.