“There are three things you do for a successful tournament,” Dell explained. “Once you get players, players get you sponsorship. And sponsorship and players get you television. If you’re the second-most popular sport in Great Britain or Germany and you’re 10th or 11th in America, it’s a little easier in Europe to get big-name sponsors.”
Nonetheless, Washington’s Citi Open has endured, largely because of its unique ownership.
It’s owned by a nonprofit, the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation, which funds much of its operating budget from the event’s profits. As such, the tournament isn’t for sale despite overtures from bidders interested in relocating it elsewhere.
Now in its 45th year, the tournament has a long history of community support.
And officials took a major step to safeguard its place in 2009 by more than doubling its prize money (currently $1.3 million) in order to be classified as a so-called “500-level” event on the ATP calendar. There are only 11 such tournaments in the world, and the top 30 players are required to compete in at least four each season.
That alone should protect the Citi Open for years to come, said Roddick, who claimed three titles in Washington before retiring last fall.
“As long as it maintains its 500 status, it’s going to be fine,” Roddick said. “That was always one I was going to play. One, I enjoyed it. Two, I knew I had to play so many 500 events, and it was a no-brainer as a lead-up to the U.S. Open. It was either that or travel to Dubai.”
This year’s Citi Open draw is considerably stronger than last year’s, when virtually all of the sport’s stars competed in the 2012 London Olympics instead. Six of the current top 20 players will compete this week, including 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. Five past champions, including Lleyton Hewitt and James Blake, are entered, as well as the top two American men, Querrey and Isner. Fish, who reached a career-high No. 7 in 2011, has just returned to competition after addressing a heart ailment.
“There are places I play well, and Washington, D.C, is one of them,” said Fish, a semifinalist last year. “I stay in Georgetown at a great hotel. We can walk around there; I know the restaurants. I feel very comfortable there. And that helps when you get into a situation in a match and have to dig deep. I want to stay as long as I can because I love this place.”
■ Today’s draw. D5