Kelyn SoongSome professional tennis players have the ability to galvanize interest, regardless of where they’re playing or their world ranking. They’re more than athletes—they’re entertainers with captivating personalities.
Mark Ein believes those players will be at the Citi Open this summer. Ein, who owns City Paper, officially took over management of the hardcourt tournament at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in April, and has made it a priority to bring in a deep field of players he imagines will excite D.C. tennis fans. This year’s event will run from July 27 until Aug. 4.
“I think we have close to 100 percent of the most compelling players on tour,” Ein says. “What’s exciting can mean different things to different people, but there’s a set of players who fans are drawn to. Felix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov, Frances Tiafoe, Nick Kyrgios, Gael Monfils, Benoit Paire, Stefanos Tsitsipas, these are players at the Grand Slam that fans circle their matches, and we have virtually all of them this summer.”
All of the players Ein mentions have committed to play at the Citi Open. The field also consists of five top 10 players: Tsitsipas (No. 6), Kei Nishikori (No. 7), Kevin Anderson (No. 8), and Karen Khachanov (No. 9), on the men’s side, and world No. 9 Sloane Stephens in the women’s draw. Milos Raonic will join Nishikori, Monfils, and Stephens as past champions who are committed to play.
Ein also made an emphasis on bringing in young, next generation players. On the men’s side, there’s 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime of Canada, who is having a breakout season after reaching the semifinals of the Miami Open in March. Tiafoe, a 21-year-old Hyattsville native, has been touted as the future of American men’s tennis and made the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in January.
Sofia Kenin, 20, will play at Citi Open for the first time. She recently defeated Serena Williams in the third round of the French Open. Other players confirmed for the women’s draw are Madison Keys, Belinda Bencic, Bianca Andreescu, Monica Puig, and Eugenie Bouchard.
“I think it’s comparable to previous years,” Ein says of the women’s field. “You’ve got a number of women on the top of the game. If you go deep into it, the last direct entrance is Genie Bouchard, a Wimbledon finalist. Our top entry (Stephens) is a U.S. Open champion.”
Ein, a venture capitalist who grew up in the D.C. area and worked as a ballboy in the tournament, has repeatedly said he wants to “re-imagine” the tournament he’s attended throughout his life.
“Just in terms of fan experience, we are evaluating every single aspect, from food and drink to the space you go, to merchandise, to the non-tennis elements of what’s happening around the ground,” he says. “We’re trying to re-imagine every component of it … not just re-imagine but elevate it in every single way. People will see huge lift in terms of the fan experience starting this year. There’s going to be a lot that will be very different.”
Specific news of upgrades to the tournament will be announced this Thursday.