“We are raising the level of every event and experience,” Mark Ein — now the manager of the 50-year-old Citi Open tennis tournament — told The Georgetowner in an exclusive interview last week. “We want the tournament at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center to be the place everyone wants to be every night from July 27 through August 4.”
Ein’s sports company has just taken over management of the tournament, which annually draws more than 75,000 fans and benefits the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, founded by Arthur Ashe. Now Ein expects the tournament to grow in substantial and exciting ways.
Almost every week this month, the direct and energetic Ein, who loves journalism and rescued Washington City Paper last year, has made headlines himself with breaking news about the games.
In June, he announced that the tournament would again be part of the prestigious ATP Open Series for the first time since 2014. That alone brings better players and prestige to the D.C. event, the fifth–largest in the U.S. and the only ATP Tour 500 tournament in the country.
On July 18, Ein announced that tennis’ most exciting new star, Cori “Coco” Gauff, will be coming to D.C. to play and participate. Gauff, 15, became a sensation at Wimbledon when, as the youngest player ever, she beat out the oldest player, her childhood idol Venus Williams, in the first round.
Earlier in the week, Ein announced a partnership with high-profile D.C. chef José Andrés to provide his innovative culinary fare at two new venues in the tennis center. The Market Square is a fully-enclosed, air-conditioned tent that will be open to all fans free of charge, along with music, entertainment and front-row seats at the tournament’s practice courts. The Moët & Chandon Stadium Club, overlooking the 7,500-seat stadium, is an exclusive, newly built and air-conditioned courtside hospitality suite offering indoor and outdoor seating for just 40 guests.
The culinary lineup includes Andrés’s Pepe, Beefsteak and Butterfly Taco Y Tortas, as well as pizza prepared in Marra Forni custom ovens, Shake Shack, Dolcezza Gelato, Ice Cream Jubilee, Compass Coffee and OakBerry Acai Bowls. “It will be the most talked-about dining scene in Washington, D.C., this summer,” Ein said.
“We’ve also upgraded all the tournament merchandise,” he added, showing The Georgetowner photos on his phone of the tournament’s new and colorful T-shirts. “The clothes are year-round fashionable cool,” Ein said with a sparkling grin. He went on to describe plans to enhance the extensive tournament grounds and to bring music and entertainment — including interactive interviews with players — to the Market Place stage.
Ein loves tennis. It is often cited — he even says it himself with some amazement — that he went from ball boy to owner and founder of D.C.’s champion professional tennis team, the Kastles (named after his highly successful Kastle security systems company), then to board member and vice president of the United States Tennis Association. Now, driven by his genuine love for the game and its power to influence, he is manager and potential owner of the Citi Open.
Ein was captain of the tennis team at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. For years, he eagerly attended what was then called the Washington Open, even dreaming at one point of becoming a pro player — “though that dream quickly disappeared with reality,” he said with a laugh. But the turning point in his lifelong passion for the game happened while he was a ball boy at the D.C. tournament.
“Just being that close to those dedicated top athletes was inspiring,” Ein said. “They taught me how much pro athletes could really connect to people, how much being close to the players and the matches could touch and inspire kids and fans to do their all-out best.”
A goal of the improvements Ein wants to make is to do more for the players. He has increased concierge and recovery services and made available more practice times and courts, including at Sidwell Friends School. He has upgraded parking at the venue and transportation for players, their families and fans to engage with D.C.’s sights and attractions.
Being in the nation’s capital is a huge plus for the tournament, Ein firmly believes. It’s one reason he decided to take on the management of the tournament, with a five-year option to buy the ATP sanction. There were other offers for the tournament, particularly from buyers from overseas, where tennis is currently more popular. “Thanks to a lot of people, we all wanted to make sure this tournament didn’t just leave here now, but that it’s going to be here forever,” Ein said at a press conference last week.
Under the new management deal, Ein will pay a takeover fee to the former managers, the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, which owns the ATP sanction conveying the right to stage the tournament on the top men’s tour. Ein assumed all financial risk and committed to continue financial support of the foundation. He also agreed to continue to include a women’s tournament that was launched in 2012. In addition, he has increased contracts with sports broadcasters.
There are special challenges to managing this tournament, notably restrictions imposed on any new construction in the park, since it actually belongs to the National Park Service. But Ein is working closely with community park organizations and the Rock Creek Park NPS office to make sure all contingencies are known and met.
He knows well the complications of dealing with property restrictions after buying the famous former home of Katharine Graham on R Street in Georgetown in 2002. He and his wife Sally were married there that year. “We really had hoped to live there,” he said with a sigh, “but we’ve been turned down four times by the architectural review board to make changes to the property.”
Ein’s influence on D.C. tennis is unquestionably growing. Some call him the Michael Kahn of tennis, after the just-retired Shakespeare Theatre Company artistic director, who changed the cultural life in D.C. But Ein’s contribution to the game almost pales next to the long list of successful businesses and philanthropies he runs (too numerous to describe here).
Still, one has to wonder if Ein’s dedication, hard work and success in business and philanthropy all started by being a ball boy years ago at the Washington Open.