UPDATE, July 30: Victoria Azarenka withdrew from the Citi Open, citing a shoulder injury.
Think of a tennis tournament. Any tournament.
Do you see the grass of Wimbledon? The red clay of Paris?
How about the hard courts of Washington?
If you want to watch some of the world’s best tennis players, there’s no need to book a transatlantic flight or even a bus ticket to New York for one of the sport’s Grand Slam tournaments. We have a first-class event here: the Citi Open, which begins Saturday and runs through Aug. 9 at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. It is one of only five tournaments in the United States, including the U.S. Open, at which you can see both male and female professional players.
The tournament is a longtime Washington tradition. The name has changed — many people probably know it by its former Legg Mason moniker — but the history goes back almost 50 years.
It started as an exhibition in 1969. Chairman and co-founder Donald Dell, a former tennis player who served as captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team in 1968-1969, said he and teammate Arthur Ashe chose the site that remains today because it was “naturally integrated.”
Since then, the event has continued to grow, in terms of attendance — it averages about 70,000 people each year — and prize money. The men’s purse is $1.75 million and the women’s is $275,000. (Part of the discrepancy has to do with the tournament being on different levels on the men’s and women’s tours.)
Past champions include Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang and Andy Roddick.
The field this year includes several recognizable players who made it deep into this year’s Wimbledon: Andy Murray, the third-ranked player in the world; Marin Cilic, the defending U.S. Open champion; and Victoria Azarenka, a former world No. 1.
But unlike Wimbledon and many other tournaments, the Citi Open is played at a compact site where spectators and players are thrown together. If you want to get up close to some of the best and fittest athletes in the world, this is your chance.
Need further convincing? Read on for more reasons to go and tips on how to make the most of your time at the tournament.
The player field may be the best one yet. The contenders in the men’s and women’s brackets include multiple Grand Slam champions. This year’s biggest get is Andy Murray, who has Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Olympic titles to his name. Other Grand Slam winners include Marin Cilic (2014 U.S. Open), Lleyton Hewitt (2002 Wimbledon, 2001 U.S. Open) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (2009 French Open, 2004 U.S. Open).
But the field also includes some intriguing veterans and exciting up-and-comers. One perennial D.C. favorite is John Isner, the 6-foot-10-inch American who, after 11 hours spread over three days, won the longest match in tennis history against Frenchman Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010. There’s also Kei Nishikori, who made headlines at last year’s U.S. Open by becoming the first Asian-born man to make a Grand Slam final, before falling to Cilic.
On the women’s side, Sloane Stephens has long been an American to watch. And even though she’s been in a recent skid, Canadian Eugenie Bouchard still generates buzz. Identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan headline the men’s doubles competition.
“It is collectively the most talent we’ve had,” tournament director Jeff Newman said. The combination of Murray and Nishikori is the highest-ranked pair of singles players since Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick competed in 2003.
“These players are very accessible, too,” he added. Many other tournaments are spread out, with much larger stadiums and player facilities far removed from the public areas. Here you can end up close enough to the players to practically rub elbows.
It’s so much better than watching at home. Tennis doesn’t always translate to the small screen. Only in person can you fully appreciate what an approximately 150 mph serve from Australian Sam Groth is like, or just how tall Isner really is. And you get a better view of the players’ mannerisms — and a better chance of hearing an interesting outburst.
On television, you’re going to see only one match at a time. At the Citi Open, you can jump between the stadium and five other courts for live action. Plus, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The outer courts are small and intimate, but even spectators in the top rows of the 7,500-seat stadium court have great views.
There’s something for all ages. Tennis, of course, is the main attraction at the tournament, and there will be clinics for players young and old. But special events manager Cameron Thaney said that the Citi Open has tried to plan related activities that will appeal to all kinds of fans. Sunday is National Parks Kids Day, featuring organized play, story time, face painting and local sports mascots. Children 14 and younger get in free and receive a lunch voucher.
For the adult set, there are happy hours throughout the week. Attendees will also have a chance to try platform tennis, a kind of mash-up of tennis and racquetball in which players can hit the balls off the fence.
It benefits a good cause. The Citi Open is owned by the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, a nonprofit group that works with underserved youth in the area. Dell said that over the years, the tournament has raised millions of dollars for the foundation.
Go early. There’s a certain cachet to going to the tournament for the last few rounds, but the best time to see all the best players — before any potential upsets — is in the opening rounds. You’ll also see the most matches at that point, too.
Thaney suggested fans may want to consider coming out even earlier for the qualifying rounds on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets for those days are $10, and the Saturday kickoff will include a concert by local band White Ford Bronco. Main draw players are often out on the practice courts during qualifying; sometimes they’ll even hit with each other.
Speaking of practice . . . Watching players work out on the dedicated practice courts is one of the best strategies for getting up close and personal, not to mention snagging an autograph. You’ll get to see their warm-up routines and maybe even a little goofing around; you also might overhear coaches advising their players. If you’re a player, you may pick up a few tips or drilling ideas. (Grigor Dimitrov was spotted one year on court kicking around a soccer ball.)
Don’t limit yourself to the stadium court. Your ticket gets you an assigned seat at the stadium court, but you’re free to wander to the smaller courts where seating is first come, first served. Grab a free Citi Open radio; roaming reporters will let you know where the best action is taking place. You also can watch tournament action on a new video board in a viewing area complete with food and beverage options. (There are several hospitality lounges and a food court with options such as Thai, barbecue, crepes and coffee.)
Volunteer your time. Volunteers for this year’s tournament already have been selected, but it’s never too early to think about next year. The application process opens in the spring, usually April, according to tournament volunteer coordinator Jennifer Gregg. Volunteers helping with transportation and hospitality get a chance to mingle with the athletes; other responsibilities include scorekeeping, answering phones and working the will-call window. Volunteers can also catch matches — for free, of course — on their breaks or before or after their shifts.
Silence is golden. In tennis etiquette, it’s considered poor form to cheer, whoop or basically make any loud noise during play. Shout all you want in between points and during the changeovers, but be prepared to stop as soon as the competitors are ready to resume play. Along those same lines, only go to or from your seat on the changeovers. Be prepared to move quickly and heed the ushers.
If a ball flies into the stands, it’s not going to be your next souvenir. Return it to a ballboy or ballgirl when they indicate for you to toss it back.
Be thoughtful with regard to electronic devices. Turn off or silence your phones and other gadgets during play. Also, the tournament does not allow “continual use of laptop computers or other handheld electronic devices” in the spectator areas of match courts. Flash photography is not allowed during matches.
Pack smart. Each person is allowed to bring one bag into the tennis center. The bag can have only one compartment and one strap, such as a tote or messenger bag. In other words, no backpacks.
You’re allowed to bring a very limited amount of food and one unopened, see-through plastic water bottle up to 33
Also consider packing a light jacket you can use in case of rain or chilly evenings (yes, they exist in August).
Among the things you can’t bring are the obvious: firearms, noisemakers, alcohol, glass, coolers and hard containers such as thermoses and picnic baskets. No large banners, flags or tennis rackets, either.
Dress cool. Here’s where you can take some cues from the players. Think about lightweight, light-colored, even moisture-wicking clothes. Comfortable — dare we say tennis — shoes are good for walking around the complex, including the grassy food court area and up and down the stands. And of course, sun protection: hats, sunscreen and sunglasses.
For more information, call 202-721-9500 or
go to www.citiopentennis.com.
Where: Rock Creek Park Tennis Center,
16th and Kennedy streets NW.
Tickets: Single-session tickets are $10 for the qualifying rounds on Saturday and Sunday, $45 for sessions Monday through Friday afternoon, $50 for Friday evening through Saturday (Aug. 8) evening and $55 for the tournament finals Aug. 9. Various ticket packages and plans are available as well. (Prices quoted are for online purchase; at the box office, they’re $5 more.)
Parking: Because of limited on-site parking and traffic concerns, the tournament recommends patrons ride Metro to the Red Line’s Van Ness station for free shuttle service to and from the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. Shuttles will be stationed at Connecticut Avenue and Veazey Terrace in front of the Metro entrance. Service will be available from Saturday through Aug. 9. Shuttle service will begin two hours before the start of matches each day and will run until 30 minutes after the completion of the last match; they will operate every 10 to 12 minutes.
There is free parking at the Landmark parking garage (4301 Connecticut Ave., at Veazey Terrace NW) and the University of District of Columbia parking garage (4200 Connecticut Ave., at Van Ness Street NW). Patrons who park in the garages also can take the shuttle to the tennis center.
The S1, S2, S4 and S9 Metrobuses all stop near the tennis center along 16th Street NW.
Uber will have a dedicated pick-up and drop-off location at the Carter Barron Circle, located at 4850 Colorado Ave. NW, near the intersection of 16th Street NW and Colorado Avenue.
Saturday, qualifying: 10 a.m.
Sunday, qualifying: 10 a.m.
Monday, first round, start of main draw: 2 p.m.
Tuesday, second round: 2 p.m.
Wednesday, third round: 2 p.m.
Thursday, fourth round: 2 p.m.
Aug. 7, quarterfinals: 1 and 7 p.m.
Aug. 8, semifinals and WTA doubles final: 12:30 p.m.
Aug. 8, semifinals: 7 p.m.
Aug. 9, finals and ATP doubles final: 12:30 p.m.
Players: On the men’s side, commitments include Andy Murray, Marin Cilic, Kei Nishikori, Richard Gasquet and John Isner. On the women’s side, contenders include Ekaterina Makarova, Eugenie Bouchard, Samantha Stosur and Sloane Stephens. The draw will be determined Friday.