The Citi Open tennis tournament in the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, running from July 28 to Aug. 4, broke all previous records in attendance and ticket revenue. It was full of fantastically close and exciting games with unexpected winners and losers. But, ultimately, the happy icing on the cake for many D.C. residents, guests and fans from around the world was just the experience of being there.
D.C.’s half-century-old tennis site had undergone a makeover for the games. From the entrance gate and all around the sunny stadiums and practice courses, white air-conditioned and glass-windowed “tents” with breezy covered decks had been constructed. These allowed viewers to be able to get out of the sun if they wanted and still see the ongoing action on giant screens.
They also could order food prepared by some of D.C.’s signature restaurateurs, including José Andrés, buy newly designed souvenirs such as giant tennis balls — that all the players walking around the venues seemed willing to autograph — and play various tennis games, such as testing your service speed. Getting over 60 mph was considered really good, never mind that the champions were serving at 112 mph (Cori Gauff) and 145 mph (Nick Krygios). Proceeds from most of the games and souvenirs went to the tournament’s main beneficiary, the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation.
According to event management, the 2019 Citi Open — a sanctioned U.S. Open tournament for the first time since 2014 — set a record for the highest attendance in the tournament’s 51-year history: 78,643. Six of the nine main-draw sessions were sold out. In addition, there was a virtual sellout on Qualifying Sunday, July 28.
Ticket revenue set a record for the entire tournament by the Tuesday of main-draw play; in the end, it was 20 percent over the prior all-time record. Hospitality, food and beverage and merchandise sales were reportedly 100 percent over 2018. Citi presented a $50,000 check to the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation from funds raised on the grounds during the tournament.
“I’ve always believed that the D.C. Open had the foundation to be one of the great tennis events in America, but that it just needed to be elevated in every respect,” said Mark Ein, the D.C. native, entrepreneur, philanthropist, owner of the Washington Kastles tennis team and former Washington Open ball boy, who took up a five-year contract to manage and perhaps even buy the rights to the tournament. By all accounts, he has succeeded in elevating the event.
There really was something for everyone. The “Market Square” was friendly, elegant and open to everyone, offering white couches, tables and counters where you could sample the offerings at the gourmet food booths while facing the practice courts and watching the stadium games on multiple TVs. The Amstel Light beer lounge had a covered deck, TVs and busy table-tennis tables. Anyone with a Citi credit card could go into the sponsor’s air-conditioned lounge.
There were also more exclusive venues for those who wanted them. The “Stadium Club” at one end of the stadium was available to 50 patrons, who paid between $285 and $2,500 for day- or event-long access to stadium-side “dream” seats and a snazzy lounge with continuous service of Moët & Chandon champagne and a courtside Moët “Riviera Spritz” cocktail. The rolling buffet include tender cuts of steak, giant shrimp plates, crab cakes, salads, watermelon and gourmet cupcakes and snacks. According to manager Sergio Cespedes, they were sold out every day.
Similarly exclusive, some attendees could sit in air-conditioned, glass-walled suites and shaded balconies along the east and north sides of the stadium as invited guests. Ein’s owner’s suite saw a constant flow of star tennis players and D.C. celebrities, as well as trays of gourmet food. Barbara Donovan, a well-known interior designer, philanthropist and enthusiastic tennis player, attended every day and hosted over 250 people in her suite, including many young beneficiaries of the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation.
Ein has a longer-term vision as well, saying: “I want this tournament to be the place that people from around the United States come with their families to watch professional tennis in the summer. Washington, in August, is already one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. And if you combine that with a world-class tournament that will only grow and get better and better, we can fulfill that ultimate vision.”