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Washington’s Citi Open to bring back companion women’s tournament

Coco Gauff played in a Citi Open women's exhibition match in 2021. (Michael Blackshire/The Washington Post)

A previous version of this article incorrectly said that the Citi Open was co-founded by Donald Dell and the late Arthur Ashe. The event was co-founded by Donald Dell and John A. Harris. The article has been corrected.

Washington’s Citi Open is bringing back the women’s tournament that for several years was a companion event to the long-running men’s hard-court classic at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center.

Player commitments are pending, with an announcement of the partial fields expected in the coming weeks. But Citi Open officials are expected to announce Friday that they signed a sanction agreement with the Women’s Tennis Association to host a 250-level event to replace the tournament that the governing body withdrew from Washington in 2020.

“One of the great things about tennis is that it’s one of the few sports in which men and women are often featured in the same event,” said Citi Open chairman Mark Ein, a D.C.-born venture capitalist who assumed management and operation of the tournament in 2019.

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As a WTA 250-level event, the Citi Open women’s event will be one rung below the 500-level ATP men’s event in terms of prize money, ranking points and field size. But from 2012 to 2019, when the women’s event was staged in conjunction with the men’s tournament at Rock Creek Park, it drew rising stars and enthusiastic audiences.

Past champions include Jessica Pegula, currently ranked 11th in the world; 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens; and the doubles team of Coco Gauff and Caty McNally.

In the absence of a WTA event last summer, the Citi Open staged a women’s invitational that consisted of former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and Americans Gauff and Pegula competing in a round-robin format. The results didn’t affect the players’ WTA ranking; it was a non-sanctioned exhibition.

This year’s Citi Open will be held from July 30 to Aug. 7, its customary week on the ATP calendar, which makes it a logical hard-court stop as players from across the world acclimate to the East Coast’s time zone, heat and humidity in preparation for the Masters 1000 event in Canada that precedes the U.S. Open in New York.

“Washington is a popular stop among players,” Ein said in a telephone interview. “They have loved D.C., loved being on the East Coast on the way to Canada and the U.S. Open. And Washington is a great tennis community.”

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Founded in 1969, Washington’s Citi Open wasn’t held in 2020 because of coronavirus restrictions. Its resumption in 2021 drew record crowds, Ein said. The tournament debut of Rafael Nadal, who has since won a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title, was a primary reason for last summer’s capacity crowds.

As a top-10 player, Nadal has the option of choosing which ATP 500-level events suit his schedule best. Last summer, he chose the Citi Open to test his readiness for competition following a roughly two-month hiatus to address a foot injury that flared up during the French Open. His competitive return was short-lived. After a third-round loss in Washington, Nadal withdrew from the season’s remaining events to have foot surgery.

The Citi Open was co-founded by Donald Dell and John A. Harris. It is owned by the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, which provides tennis education and educational support to youngsters in underserved areas of the city and is largely funded by proceeds from the tournament.

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