The Citi Open is an annual tennis tournament in Washington that makes me feel happy and at home, features some of the best athletes in the world, includes an Asian food concession stand called Thai Breaker and also is making me lose my mind.
On Tuesday night, after about three hours of rain delays, I tried to stay at the tournament for the conclusion of the Donald Young-Kei Nishikori match in the grandiose stadium court. Young had finished his Monday night match at 1:38 a.m. Tuesday, and you would have felt sorry for him playing twice in the same day, except his Tuesday night match wound up finishing Wednesday. Sometime between midnight and 1 a.m. on Wednesday, I began sort of nodding off despite the enthusiastic Japanese fans sitting on a tarp in front of me. I didn’t make it until the conclusion, which came at 1:52 a.m, or about four hours before my infant daughter wakes up.
Turns out that was an early night for Nishikori, who played until 2 a.m. on Thursday, which was really Friday. Because Thursday there were about three more hours of rain delays — torrential, drenching, end-of-times rain delays — during which time the most exciting on-site competition consisted of media members competing in their annual Rain Delay Theater Tennis Player Spelling Bee, which I would have flunked out of in the first round. This was held inside the media tent, where I was working on a table that was undulating because of the coursing, cleansing, ark-destroying currents of water flowing under us. I’m not kidding. I felt like I was on a boat. For a second, I kind of felt seasick. While working on a computer. At a tennis tournament.
Wednesday night’s stadium action featured the 200th-ranked player in the world, Yuki Bhambri — a former world junior No. 1 from India, who had to qualify his way into this event — who scored the biggest win of his professional career by shocking defending champion Gael Monfils. It was a thrilling, exhilarating upset, which led to many tennis fans asking Yuki for selfies as he wandered around aimlessly during Thursday night’s rain delay.
After Bhambri’s win came the main event: Nick Kyrgios — the mercurial, wondrously talented rising star who also seems to hate tennis — against Tennys Sandgren — a tennis player named Tennys who loves Metallica, is quite charming while talking about his first name and tweets frequently with alt-right media personalities.
I was excited for this match. Kyrgios was not. He looked as if he would rather be anywhere in the world other than playing tennis against Tennys. (He wound up retiring early and was booed off the court.) He looked as if he would rather be in a rain delay. He looked as if he would rather be sitting on a tarp at 2 a.m. with the Nishikori fan club. He looked as if he would rather be participating in the Tennis Player Spelling Bee. Also, he looked so sad. Why is he so sad? His mom was there, and she kind of rolled her eyes at Kyrgios as he complained to her. He looked like he needed a hug. She looked like she needed a hug. Everyone needed a hug.
Except you would be out of your mind to hug anyone at the Citi Open because everyone is always wet, and wet hugs are gross. Here’s how it goes: You sweat like crazy — because Washington in the first week of August feels something like being in a sweatsuit inside an oven inside a sauna inside a rain forest inside a giant world-enveloping sweatsuit lined with rabbit fur. Then it starts raining, and probably you get caught in the rain. Then it stops raining, and you walk through puddles to sit on rain-soaked seats, at which point the sauna catches a second wind, and you begin sweating again.
(This is not a tennis column, by the way. I am not writing this as a substitute for writing a tennis column, which I can never do anyhow, because the night matches end at 2 a.m., which is sort of past our newspaper deadlines, and anyhow the rain does not allow easy planning for things like newspaper columns, in the sense that the doubles match I was trying to write about Thursday — featuring Andy Murray’s older brother against a 35-year old international relations grad from Brown University — just got flat-out canceled and rescheduled for Friday late afternoon, when I suppose I could still cover it, except for this nagging ache in my kidneys telling me that posting a lovely feature story off a men’s doubles match at 6:47 p.m. on a Friday in August is about as effective as just posting still shots of myself sitting in the media tent with my head in my hands and far less effective than posting videos of me vomiting from sea sickness because of undulating press tables.)
(So why, you’re wondering, am I even writing this? It’s just, like, therapy.)
(And actually, you’re not wondering that, because you don’t exist. No one is reading this. Literally, no one. There’s no chance an editor has even made it this far. “Sweaty Writer Complains About Deadlines and Weather and Sea Sickness at Land-Based Tennis Tournament.” I’m sure that’s just what Bezos had in mind.)
(And actually, I am not complaining about the tennis event. I promise. I am not joking in any way when I tell you it is one of my favorite events of the year and you should go to it, especially if you don’t have a baby who wakes up at 5:30 a.m. In fact, I told my wife this so many times that she finally got a last-minute babysitter Thursday night and took an Uber to the Rock Creek Tennis Center, where we met up for Sangria and beers under a tent, owing to the fact that it was raining and no one was playing tennis. Not just Sangria, either. They also have these bubbly wine drinks in cans and different sorts of whiskey-based cocktails, including the featured drink, a Maryland Mule, which is whiskey and ginger beer. Who doesn’t like drinking whiskey and ginger beer outdoors? Think of it as like going to one of those fab beer gardens for millennials, except occasionally people also play tennis.)
Here’s one thing rain can’t ruin: the food cart that sells smoothie bowls, which are like smoothies, except in bowls, and you eat them with spoons. They’re amazing. This is how good the smoothie bowls are: They would make Nick Kyrgios smile. I want to bathe in a smoothie bowl. It’s not like I could be any stickier.
Also, there is a special tent for Citi card holders, of which I am one. It has free flavored water, with cucumbers and all that. So crisp. And people are everywhere passing out free Kind bars. You can just walk one loop after another, collecting a free Kind bar each time. And you get these free earpieces that allow you to listen to free (and compelling) tennis play-by-play from stadium court, with updates from the surrounding courts provided by Marc Sterne and Scott Jackson, assuming anyone is playing tennis. The play-by-play is so good that you might even ignore your wife in favor of the Kevin Anderson-Dominic Thiem play-by-play. Theoretically. And there are also free Skippy P.B. Bites, which I never knew existed, but which are round little doses of heaven — basically like eating peanut butter right out of the jar, except in spherical form.
(If you are a corporate sponsor at the Citi Open, rain delays are actually good because then partially insane writers will mention your products. Please support Kind, Citi and Skippy. They’re all great. Also Peet’s Coffee.)
By the way, there are good sports stories at the Citi Open, even if they feature people you haven’t heard of, assuming you are a casual D.C. sports fan, assuming you existed. What if Bhambri — the qualifier who won again Thursday night, right around midnight — continues this magical run, in front of his enthusiastic Indian fans? What if Anderson — who is super tall — rides the momentum from beating the top-seeded Thiem right into the event’s finals? (And that match included a mildly magical moment when Thiem conceded a point that was officiated incorrectly — just voluntarily giving up a point out of some sense of fair play.) What if Jack Sock finally gives the event its first American men’s champion since Andy Roddick in 2007? What if Nishikori — having already finished matches at 1:52 a.m. and 2 a.m. — petitions to begin his next match at 3 a.m., so that he might be on the court when the sun comes up?
(Luckily The Washington Post’s Ava Wallace — whose new work schedule apparently runs from 10 a.m. through 3 a.m. — is covering these good sports stories. And also eating P.B. Bites.)
The guy you should root for is probably Alexander Zverev — a rising star, the youngest man in the top 20 and a German kid who just wants to be loved. Sometime late Wednesday night or maybe Thursday morning, he lobbied tournament organizers not to move his next match out of the stadium court in favor of a better-known American because he likes playing for a crowd. He won that argument, only to have his next match moved out of the stadium court because it had rained too much.
Around 1 a.m. Friday, Zverev won the first set of that match, then wanted to move right on to the second set. He was told that TV concerns necessitated a pause.
“It’s 1 o’clock at night. Who’s watching on TV?” he asked, according to the New York Times’s Ben Rothenberg.
It was suggested that Europeans might be watching.
“Nobody cares about me in Europe,” he said, according to Rothenberg, who noted that the remaining crowd cooed in sympathy.
And yes, I’m having to attribute the most charming thing that happened at this tennis tournament to another writer. Because I was asleep.
More from the D.C. Sports Bog and the Citi Open: