Once in a blue moon, a town known more for politics than sports gets a glimpse of a lineup like the one awaiting fans at this week’s Citi Open tennis tournament in Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was so excited about the prospects for the city, she officially declared the first week of the month “Tennis Week,” at the draw ceremony downtown on Friday.
Headlining the show on the men’s side of the combined ATP and WTA event is World No. 3 and two-time Grand Slam champion, Andy Murray. Anchoring the opposite end of the 48-man ATP draw is U. S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori, seeded No. 2, and internationally ranked No. 5.
The list of seeded stars goes on — both men and women.
At No. 3 is Marin Cilic, reigning U. S. Open champion, followed by Frenchman Richard Gasquet, South African Kevin Anderson, resurfacing Grigor Dimitrov, newlywed Feliciano Lopez, and America’s hope — Georgia Bulldog John Isner — who wraps up the top eight heavyweights.
The tournament couldn’t contain its own giddiness about the Rock Creek Park event, asserting, “It’s the best entry list in 47 years,” days ago on its website.
Tournament director Jeff Newman told The Tennis Island in May that improvements in live coverage will include broadcasting capabilities from the two show courts, the William H. G. Fitzgerald Stadium, which seats 7,500, plus the Grandstand court, which seats about 300.
To enhance players’ comfort, Newman said, “We’re also looking at upgrading our dining options in the hospitality area.”
And for fans?
“For them we got Andy Murray,” Newman added. “That’s a big win for the event, and for D.C. area tennis fans. Obviously Andy is performing incredibly well. Kei Nishikori we have, as well. We made an investment in securing two top-five players. We feel from a fan perspective, everybody benefits from that.”
Murray and Nishikori committed to play Citi Open in March, and to secure their appearances, fees were negotiated.
“There are fees for players to commit early,” Newman admitted, but when asked how much the tournament paid Murray and Nishikori, he said, “That’s not something that we will divulge.”
Women’s tennis was added to Citi Open years ago — when it was called the Legg Mason Classic. This year’s lineup boosts the aura of this WTA International contest even higher. Seeded No. 1 is Russian Ekaterina Makarova, U. S. Open and Australian Open semifinalist who’s currently ranked No. 11 in the world. Aussie Samantha Stosur secures the far end of the 32-woman draw, seeded No. 2.
Between them is a bevy of familiar and new faces. Defending Citi Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova is back, seeded No. 4. Teen phenom Belinda Bencic is seeded at No. 3 — her highest of any tournament she’s entered. At 18, the Swiss tutee of coach Melanie Molitor — Martina Hingis’s mother — has zoomed up the rankings to reach her highest perch at No. 22.
Two days ago, though, two-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1, Victoria Azarenka withdrew, citing a should injury. Eugenie Bouchard, dragging along a dismal season yet still packing a solid fan base, also pulled out with an abdominal strain. This is the second consecutive year the 20-year-old Canadian has withdrawn from Citi Open.
Accepting a wild card in Azarenka’s stead was American Coco Vandeweghe. The California native reached her highest ranking — No. 32 — after a quarterfinal run at Wimbledon where she lost to Maria Sharapova. Stepping in behind Bouchard was the feisty Yulia Putintseva, called ‘Poots’ by those who adore her.
Citi Open is the only ATP 500 level tournament held in the United States. Although the tournament finishing up in Atlanta this weekend kicked off the year’s US Open Series, the Rock Creek Park event gives a preview of the five-week USTA-led initiative that leads up to the US Open — as the Citi Open itself no longer counts in the US Open Series standings. Total prize money for the six hard-court tournaments scattered across North American and Canada is over $40 million, according the the US Open Series website.
In Washington, the winner of the ATP tournament will pocket $343,000 and 500 points while the WTA winner will earn $43,000 and 280 ranking points.
“This is a unique opportunity for sport fans in the D.C. area,” Newman added. “We’re one of only four events in the U.S. where men and women play together. We want to continue to improve each year.”