“You play well at places you’re comfortable at,” explained Fish, 31, a native of Minnesota.
That sort of familiarity is among the reasons Fish looks forward to Washington’s Citi Open, which kicks off Monday at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park. It’s a key stop on many top players’ road to the season’s final major, the U.S. Open, as well as a staple on the calendar of most American contenders.
But opportunities to compete in the United States are dwindling as tennis tournaments are relocating to Europe, South America and Asia at breathtaking speed.
In 1983, there were 26 ATP men’s tournaments in the United States, not counting the U.S. Open. In 1993, there were 18. This season, there are only 11, with Washington’s Citi Open the longest running among them.
In men’s and women’s tennis alike, tournaments are disappearing from the landscape of U.S. cities much like orchestras, nonprofit theater and independent movie houses. Boston, Cleveland, Dallas, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Richmond and Tampa are among those that have lost established tournaments over the last 30 years.
Multiple factors account for the exodus.
“It is complicated, but it’s all economics,” said Donald Dell, the veteran agent, promoter and former Davis Cup captain who co-founded the Citi Open with the late Arthur Ashe in 1969.
For starters, American players don’t dominate the game as they did in the era of Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.
In 1993, three American men ended the year ranked among the top 10: Sampras (No. 1), Jim Courier (third) and Michael Chang (eighth).
Currently, there’s not one American man in the top 10 and only two among the top 50: Sam Querrey (20) and John Isner (22).
In the absence of front-running Americans, apart from top-ranked Serena Williams, TV ratings for tennis in the United States lag well behind those in Europe and much of Asia, where the sport is second only to soccer. In China, it is third behind basketball.
“It’s pretty simple in my mind,” said Andy Roddick, 30, who carried men’s tennis in the United States for most of his career. “Tennis is second worldwide as far as popularity. Frankly, it’s just in the U.S. that it’s not. Americans like watching sports that they know, but the sports that get covered mainstream have heavy American participation, like NFL — 99 percent of the guys are American, and the rest are place kickers.”
Without a robust TV audience, it’s more difficult for tournament promoters to attract the corporate sponsors that make an event profitable.
■ Today’s draw. D5