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Resurfaced: A Shared Dream – 50 Years Of Tennis In Washington, D.C.

  • Posted: Aug 03, 2020

A Shared Dream: 50 Years Of Tennis In Washington, D.C.

With exclusive insight, looks back at the history of Rock Creek Park tennis in Washington, D.C.

The Citi Open is celebrating its 50th edition this year with one of the best fields in the history of the ATP World Tour 500 tournament. While the muggy heat of Washington, D.C., which tests out every players’ physical conditioning, endures, back in 1969, in the infancy of Open tennis, when doors were — in some cases, reluctantly opened to amateur, contract and professional players — a small group of dedicated individuals took tennis out of the traditional country clubs to a racially integrated district of the city. The original tournament team was small in number and facilities at Rock Creek Park were far from world-class, as they are today.

Donald Dell, one of the sport’s leading powerbrokers for more than 50 years, relays the story of how his father would drive Arthur Ashe back home through the night from far-flung junior tournaments, knowing full well that the shameful reality of race in the 1950s meant that if they stopped, they would not be able to stay in the same hotel. A decade later, a lifelong friendship already cemented and months before the first US Open, which Ashe won in September 1968, the pair was driving around Washington, D.C. and an idea was floated. “Why don’t we run a tournament here?” Ashe asked. “I’d like to play in it, but it has to be in an integrated area so black faces come out and watch the tennis. If you do it at a public park, a public facility and not a country club, I’ll play the event.”

Dell, and his childhood friend John Harris, had already run a number of exhibition matches for the Washington Area Tennis Patrons Foundation [founded in 1955], which had helped Dell for expenses to get him into junior tournaments. Now named the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, the organisation helps to provide children with equipment, instruction, and financial means to play tennis. “In 1963 we ran the first exhibition and Chuck McKinley played, earning an extra $500 for help towards playing tournaments,” Harris told “In 1966, the U.S. captain George MacCall rang up in May or June asking us for help to raise money for the Davis Cup team. He wondered if we could put together a preview to that year’s final, between American and Australian teams. We needed to guarantee $10,000, but the event raised $9,000-10,000 for the Foundation, its biggest cheque to date. It was after that point that we tried to work towards getting a sanction for a fully-fledged tournament.”

One year later, an exhibition match — a part of the ‘Summer in the Parks’ program — was held in the middle of a Washington, D.C. street near Lincoln Park, with Dell and Charlie Pasarell facing Ashe and Senator Bobby Kennedy. Dell, an advance man [looking after every public appearance] for Kennedy in 1966 and the presidential campaign of 1968, recalled to, “We had 4,000 people turn up, in the inner city. It was the final precursor to the inaugural tournament.” Harris adds, “We opted for Rock Creek Park, because it was a nice location and a huge park. Not many other clubs could host an event, for parking and the growth we foresaw. Buses took people to the park. We also wanted to help the Foundation in helping inner-city kids, so the tournament needed to be fully integrated.”

Early international calendars published for 1969, didn’t feature Washington, D.C., which would be held on green clay courts in the vast 2,000-acre park of a soon-to-be affluent African-American neighbourhood the week before the first grass-court tournament on U.S. soil at Merion Cricket Club, a private club in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Only the Swedish International Championships in Bastad [now named the SkiStar Swedish Open] and the Irish Championships in Dublin, held in the week immediately after the conclusion of The Championships at Wimbledon, are published for the week of 7 July 1969.

Raising funds and getting a title sponsor quickly in 1969 became a major concern for Dell, Harris and their three-man tournament team. “We needed to raise $25,000, which was an awful lot of money in 1968,” says Dell. “We managed to get four friends, Washington businessmen, to each guarantee $5,000. I put up $5,000, anonymously, myself. Incredibly, our long search for a title sponsor — The Washington Star newspaper — ended just six weeks before the event was due to begin.” There had been only two prize-money tournaments — the Pacific Southwest in Los Angeles and the US Open — in the United States in 1968, when the sport went open to amateurs and professional players, with purses totalling $150,000. In 1969, there were five open events out of 14 on U.S. soil, and prize money had nearly trebled to $440,000.

Dell, in his final year as captain of the Unites States Davis Cup team, was largely responsible for such an influx of banknotes and made North America a profitable tennis circuit. Bud Collins, writing for The Boston Globe, noted, “Acting en bloc, with their captain behind them, the [10-player] team informed USLTA [now the United States Tennis Association] tournament officials that they would appear at no tournament, which did not put up substantial prize money. They also made it clear they would enter into none of the old-style expense deals, and that they would boycott tournaments that did so with other players.”

Cliff Richey, who stayed at the Washington Hilton for the inaugural tournament, told, “Washington, D.C. preceded Cincinnati and Indianapolis. Washington had a $25,000 prize money pot, with $5,000 to the titlist. Cincinnati had a $17,500 prize money pot and less for the champion. It was Donald Dell who organised the U.S. tournaments that summer to offer the winner $5,000 each, to standardise prize money and professionalise how tournaments were organised.”

First known as The Washington Star International (1969-1981) — then, subsequently, as the Sovran Bank Classic (1982-1992), the Newsweek Tennis Classic (1993), the Legg Mason Tennis Classic (1994-2011) and the Citi Open (since 2012) — the venue had little in the way of on-site facilities. Players arrived on-site already in their tennis attire. There were no showers, media and tournament officials set up their desks beside fans in tents, while wooden bleachers were erected around one of three clay courts.

“Wooden bleachers had to be erected each year, there were tents and trailers for ball boys, volunteers, linesmen, players and tournament officials,” Harold Solomon, the 1974 champion, told “A changing facility was built in the early 70s with a locker room, but to say it was modest would be an understatement. There were wall-mounted air conditioners, which barely got the temperature down to 90 degrees on hot days, plastic matts on the shower floor, metal lockers, with only room for a very small number of players at a time and limited bathroom facilities. Towels were at a premium, escaping the heat was the trick.”

“We once had Colonel Powell [the statesman and four-star general of the U.S. Army] as the referee for a while and he made sure the tournament was run like the Army. In fact, one time, after a particularly long break from a severe thunderstorm, my doubles partner Zan Guerry and I were defaulted by the Colonel when Zan was a few seconds late following the deluge. He was in the parking lot running up to the courts and the Colonel had his stop watch out and he counted him out while being two seconds past the allocated time!”

Magazine 1969

Thomaz Koch, who beat Arthur Ashe 7-5, 9-7, 4-6, 2-6, 6-4 in the 1969 Washington, D.C. final, recalled to, “I remember talking to Donald Dell before the final, asking to play best of three sets otherwise I would miss my flight back to Brazil. Well, in those days most of the finals were played over the best-of-five sets and this match was no different. After being two sets up, I got very angry to have to play another three sets and I was sure, by that time, my flight would be long gone. I finished my match in a big hurry. Donald provided me to be escorted by the police to the airport and the flight was even delayed so that I could make my flight and later connection.”

Harris, who was the head of Potomac Ventures, Inc., a firm which managed office and commercial space, also remembers, “At the trophy presentation, after giving a brief speech, Thomaz put his hand on my shoulder saying, ‘$5,000 is too much for one player.’”

Washington, D.C.-born Solomon said, “There was a certain air of excitement and open tennis was in its infancy. It was more like a family atmosphere. Fans were there not necessarily to be seen, but to be a part of an emerging sport that many of them and their families were participating in. It soon became an annual event that the community had taken on as its own.”

The tournament soon grew in appeal among Senators, Congressmen, business leaders and the well-to-do, with family members of former U.S. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton watching matches or presenting the trophy in the first 30 years of the tournament. “A sitting President has never attended, but the WTEF had two dinners at the house of George H. Bush, when he was the Vice President,” remembers Harris. “Tim Henman once visited the White House and dined with one-time Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.”

From 992 seats on the west side of the main court in the first year, Harris, the tournament co-chairman until 1994, says, “We added 1,500 seats on the south side and a further 1,500 the following year, when we also created a locker room with showers.” In 1972, there was a major development when Dell and Harris donated the tournament sanction to the WTEF, making it the sole owner and charity benefactor. “In 1972, we gave them the sanction, so now they’re maybe the only charity in the United States that owns a professional event. ” By 1977, when a pro shop was built, there were 5,700 seats around the main court.

For the first 10 years, attendance records were smashed year-on-year, but in 1978 there was the threat of a shift in tournament week from the U.S. Pro Championships, played in Boston, on clay courts one week prior to the start of the US Open, which was being held at its new site in Flushing Meadows, New York. Longwood Cricket Club in suburban Brookline favoured shifting the U.S Pro tournament week to early summer in 1979, but did not believe it ought to change the surface to hard, as the US Open had done after three years of clay competition. Dell and Harris held firm, arguing that Washington, D.C. had built up a tradition as being the first major tournament in the United States after Wimbledon.

The green clay courts made way for hard courts in 1987, the year of Ivan Lendl’s second title, when the whole U.S. circuit reverted to cement. Jimmy Connors, Guillermo Vilas, John McEnroe, Lendl, Stefan Edberg, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro have all walked through the park and tested their skills at the ATP World Tour 500-level tournament. Today, the Stadium court seats 7,500 spectators. From the original five-man team in 1969, there are now 500 volunteers all on hand in or around the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center, which has become a world-class venue and, since 2011, a WTA Tour stop.  


Player Match Record Finals Record Tournament Appearances
1) Andre Agassi (USA) 44-12 5-1 17
2) Guillermo Vilas (ARG) 38-7 3-2 10
3) Andy Roddick (USA) 30-6 3-1 9
4) Harold Solomon (USA) 25-13 1-1 14
5) John Isner (USA) 25-9 0-3 9
6) Eddie Dibbs (USA) 25-12 0-1 12
7) Jose-Luis Clerc (ARG) 25-5 2-1 7
8) Michael Chang (USA) 25-5 2-0 8
9) Jimmy Connors (USA) 25-4 3-0 7
10) Arthur Ashe (USA) 24-7 0-2 8

There has been one constant that no player has ever been able to avoid. The summer heat of Washington, D.C. has always played a contributing factor in how well any player will perform at Rock Creek Park. There are stories aplenty when order of play start times had to be adjusted as the conditions tested a player’s physical conditioning to the maximum.

Marty Riessen, runner-up in 1971 and 1972, told, “I’ve never played in any other place like it. Playing in D.C. in the summer was hot and humid, more of an endurance contest. I remember my match with Tony Roche [in the 1972 final] when I had match point. I served and came in for an easy volley, but I was perspiring so much that my hand slipped on my grip and I couldn’t make the volley.”

Solomon recalls, “I was playing the Australian Phil Dent in a hot and muggy night match [in 1977]. We had this long, long match and I started getting cramps badly all over my body in the third set and after almost three hours, somehow, I won the final point and walked up to shake Phil’s hand and my hand cramped around his and I collapsed onto the court and had to be lifted off. The next day in the paper there was a picture of me victorious, but still shaking his hand while collapsed on the court in agony!”

Lendl, the 1982 and 1987 titlist, one of the fittest players of his era, told, “I still remember how hot it was! Both David Wheaton and I cramping in my three-set win over him in 1987.”

Andre Agassi, who earned a record five trophies from six Washington, D.C. finals, in addition to 44 match wins from 17 tournament appearances, admitted, “I always loved playing in the heat, but it was a constant negotiation. It was the only tournament in the world where I went through two or three shirts a set.

“I have so many memories, such as playing Stefan Edberg [in the 1995 final] and winning 7-5 in the third set on one of the hottest days and literally being sick in the tree planter by the side of the court. We were so tired, I hit the ball high up in the air and was sick. It was one of the first times both of us sat down during the trophy ceremony. We were so spent. Another memory is playing Petr Korda in the 1991 final and when we got to the net to flip the coin, I realised I had played all night matches and he all day matches. He had sun blisters all over his head. He was burned to a crisp and thought it was slightly unfair.”

At this year’s Citi Open, the focus of American attention will be on John Isner, who is looking to master the conditions and potentially become the 13th different American to lift the Washington, D.C. trophy – and the first since Andy Roddick in 2007. The 33-year-old arrives in the capital of the United States on the back of winning his fifth title at the BB&T Atlanta Open on Sunday. “I have made the Washington final three times, but I’ve never won it,” Isner told “I’ve always played very well in D.C. I won five three-set tie-breaks in a row to reach the final out of no-where. No one knew who I was, I was fresh out of college. I certainly won’t forget my match against [Gael] Monfils in the semi-finals for a long time.” Isner, in the form of his life, will compete in one of the strongest fields for the 50th edition, boasting the likes of former World No. 1 Murray, Stan Wawrinka, defending champion Alexander Zverev and Kei Nishikori.

The Citi Open has always been a tournament dedicated to, and for the people, of Washington, D.C. Through the dedication of Dell, who acted as Ashe’s manager for 23 years and was a founding father of the ATP in 1972, and Harris, who stage-managed the tournament from his one-room office for the first 13 editions, the sport was brought to the masses — not just the privileged elite — in one of the biggest cities in the United States, a setting that combines history, beauty and a great atmosphere.

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Murray, American Trio Receive Cincinnati Wild Cards

  • Posted: Aug 03, 2020

Murray, American Trio Receive Cincinnati Wild Cards

Paul, Sandgren and Tiafoe will compete in the main draw

Two-time champion Andy Murray and Americans Tommy Paul, Tennys Sandgren and Frances Tiafoe have been awarded wild cards for the Western & Southern Open.

Murray, who claimed the Cincinnati title in 2008 and 2011, is the sixth Western & Southern Open champion entered in this year’s tournament, joining Daniil Medvedev (2019), Novak Djokovic (2018), Grigor Dimitrov (2017), Marin Cilic (2016) and Rafael Nadal (2013) in the ATP Masters 1000 field. The tournament will be held from 20-28 August at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A three-time Grand Slam winner, Murray is a 46-time tour-level titlist. In January 2019, Murray underwent a hip resurfacing operation. He came back to play doubles last June, then returned to singles competition at last year’s Western & Southern Open before winning the title at Antwerp in October. The Western & Southern Open, where he owns a 31-12 singles record, will be Murray’s first tour-level action in 2020.

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Paul started the 2020 campaign by reaching his first career ATP Tour semi-final at Adelaide. One month later he was a quarter-finalist in Acapulco. In 2019, he was 30-5 on the ATP Challenger Tour with three titles. The 23-year-old will be making his second Western & Southern Open main draw appearance.

Sandgren has reached the Australian Open quarter-finals twice in the past three years. In 2019, Sandgren did not drop a set in Auckland where he claimed his first ATP Tour title. Sandgren played two seasons at the University of Tennessee where he led the Volunteers to the NCAA team final in 2010. He will be making his debut in the main draw of the Western & Southern Open.

Tiafoe was a quarter-finalist at the 2019 Australian Open, which came less than a year after he claimed his first career ATP Tour title at Delray Beach in February 2018. In 2017, Tiafoe defeated his highest-ranked opponent when he upset World No. 7 Alexander Zverev in Cincinnati to reach the Round of 16. The 22-year-old will be making his fourth appearance at the Western & Southern Open, where he has a 3-3 record.

Sixteen Top 20 players in the FedEx ATP Rankings are on the entry list of this month’s Western & Southern Open, the first tournament to be played since the ATP Tour was suspended in early March. Twelve additional players will join the field through a two-round qualifying event.

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Tie-Break King: Isner Announces Arrival In Washington Debut

  • Posted: Aug 03, 2020

Tie-Break King: Isner Announces Arrival In Washington Debut

American finishes runner-up at 2007 event

John Isner wasn’t even supposed to be in the main draw of the 2007 Citi Open. By the end of the week, the American captivated fans with a dream run to the final and established a pattern of producing clutch tennis in tie-breaks that has remained a staple of his career.

Isner, then 22 and sitting at No. 416 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, completed his college tennis career a month earlier at the University of Georgia. He expected to play the qualifying draw in Washington, D.C., but received a main draw wild card at the last minute after Fernando Gonzalez withdrew due to a back injury.

Competing in only his second tour-level event, Isner put the opportunity to use and scored his maiden ATP Tour win with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) victory against Tim Henman. The match provided most fans with their first glimpse at Isner’s rocket serve, which regularly exceeded 135 miles per hour.

But he was far from finished. Isner scored four more third-set tie-break wins against Benjamin Becker, Wayne Odesnik, Tommy Haas and Gael Monfils to advance to the championship match. Monfils served for their semi-final battle at 6-5 in the third set, but Isner fought back and eventually collapsed to the ground in jubilation after prevailing 6-7(4), 7-6(1), 7-6(2). The American’s inspired run made him the first player to win five consecutive third-set tiebreaks at a tour-level event.

“If I had one win this week I would have called it successful, let alone five,” Isner said. “I would have been proud of just having a good showing against Henman.

“I was able to pull that match out and then it was just a snowball thing. I was getting more and more confident.”

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Isner was finally brought back to earth against Andy Roddick. In a battle of big serves and crunching forehands, the top seed secured the lone service break in the opening set and held his nerve to close out a 6-4, 7-6(2) win. Despite the loss, Isner was more than satisfied with his week.

“I’ll always remember playing Andy Roddick in an ATP Tour final. You can never take that away from me,” Isner said. “It’s a dream come true, an unbelievable honour. I’ll never, ever forget it.”

The run in Washington, D.C. propelled Isner inside the Top 200. He made his Top 100 debut just six months later and has remained a perennial staple on Tour ever since.

Did You Know?
According to the ATP Performance Zone, Isner ranks second in the Open Era with 438 tour-level tie-break victories (438-284). The American only trails Roger Federer, who has won 460 (460-244).

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Agassi, Bryans Lead American Success Stories In Washington, D.C.

  • Posted: Aug 03, 2020

Agassi, Bryans Lead American Success Stories In Washington, D.C.

Learn more about the Citi Open, an ATP 500 event

First contested in July 1969, the Citi Open is one of 13 prestigious ATP 500 events on the calendar. The 2020 edition of the tournament was due to take place this month, before its cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. looks at five things to know about the event.

An Elite Honour Roll
Held at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, the Citi Open has welcomed some of the greatest names in tennis history over the past 50 years. In fact, 46 of the previous 51 editions of the singles event have been won by players who have reached the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings during their careers.

Six former World No. 1s — Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick — have triumphed at the tournament. Agassi owns a record five titles in Washington, D.C., while Connors and Roddick each claimed three trophies.

In doubles, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan have won a record four team titles (2005-07, 2015). The American twins share the record for most trophies at the event with countryman Marty Riessen. The American won back-to-back doubles crowns with Tom Okker (1971-72) and also lifted the title alongside Tom Gorman (1974) and Sherwood Stewart (1979).

<a href=Andy Roddick captured his third Citi Open title in 2007.” />

Agassi Sets The Mark
From 1990 to 2000, Agassi won five titles from six final appearances in Washington, D.C. The Las Vegas native captured his first trophy in the American capital in his second tournament appearance, winning each of the 10 sets he contested to claim the 1990 crown. Agassi repeated that feat the following year, beating Petr Korda in the championship match.

In a classic 1995 final, Agassi outlasted Edberg 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 to claim his third trophy at the event. Across his five title runs at the ATP 500, the second set of that final against Edberg was the only set he lost. Agassi added his fourth and fifth Washington, D.C. titles in 1998 and 1999, beating Scott Draper and Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the championship matches.

Agassi fell short of winning his sixth tournament trophy in 2000. Once again, the 1999 year-end World No. 1 advanced to the final without dropping a set, but Alex Corretja claimed the title with a 6-2, 6-3 victory. Agassi finished his career with a record 44 match wins in the United States’ capital.

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Delpo’s Unbeaten Run
After losing his tournament debut in 2007, Juan Martin del Potro claimed 14 straight victories across his next three appearances at the ATP 500 to enter the history books. The Argentine captured his maiden Washington crown in 2008, beating Viktor Troicki in the championship match, and doubled his trophy tally the next year.

Del Potro survived two final-set tie-breaks against former World No. 1s en route to the 2009 title. The Tower of Tandil rallied from a set down to overcome Hewitt in the Round of 16 and outlasted Roddick in the final to lift his second straight trophy at the event.

With a three-set triumph against John Isner in the 2013 championship match, Del Potro joined fellow three-time winners Guillermo Vilas, Connors and Roddick in an exclusive club. Only five-time champion Agassi has won more trophies in Washington, D.C.

“It’s amazing. I’m so happy to win here once again,” said Del Potro. “Always when you win a tournament, it’s special, it’s big.”

Bryan Brothers Equal Riessen’s Record
Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan are the only doubles team to win three consecutive trophies in Washington, D.C. The pair achieved the feat between 2005 and 2007, dropping just three sets across 12 victories to complete their first three title runs in the District of Columbia.

The Bryan Brothers had to wait another eight years before they returned to the championship match. The American twins, aiming to equal Riessen’s tournament record haul of four doubles trophies, beat Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo in straight sets to claim their record-equalling fourth crown in 2015.


Zverev Goes Back-To-Back
Alexander Zverev has reached the quarter-finals or better in each of his four appearances at the Citi Open. After compiling a 6-2 record across his opening two visits, the German claimed 10 straight wins to become only the fourth player in tournament history to win consecutive singles trophies at the event.

Zverev claimed his maiden ATP 500 crown in Washington, D.C. in 2017 with consecutive wins against Daniil Medvedev, Kei Nishikori and Kevin Anderson. One year later, the 6’6” right-hander returned to the final with wins against Nishikori and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Zverev confirmed his place alongside fellow back-to-back tournament winners Agassi, Michael Chang and Del Potro with a 6-2, 6-4 victory against Alex de Minaur in the championship match.

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