The only hard court ATP 500 tournament to be held in the run-up to the US Open takes place in the final week of July. The Citi Open is staged in Washington, D.C. and dates back to the dawn of the Open Era.
It was Donald Dell who first had the idea of hosting an elite tennis event in the USA’s capital city. A native of Washington and captain of the American Davis Cup team in 1968 and 1969, Dell led his men to the trophy in both of those years, and was inspired to bring more topflight tennis to US soil. He used his influence to convince some of the best American players of the day, including Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith, to play a new event in Washington.
From 1969 until 1986, the competition was held on clay courts. The amenities and stadium were frequently updated during this period, but radical changes were implemented for the 1987 tournament. A new venue, the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, was constructed, named in honour of the local businessman who made a significant contribution to its funding.
With the installation of 11 new hard courts as well as state-of-the-art facilities, the complex became the first in the world designed for both professional and public use. In addition, the switch to the same court surface used at the US Open cemented the tournament’s status as a key tune-up event for the final Grand Slam of the year.
In 2012, it was decided to merge the WTA’s Citi Open, previously held in Maryland, with the ATP version, thereby creating one of only two mixed tournaments in the summer hard court season (the other being Cincinnati).
Although he was one of the main attractions in Washington in the early years of the tournament, Arthur Ashe finished runner-up in 1969 and 1970, and didn’t get his hands on the trophy until 1973. Guillermo Vilas and Jimmy Conners dominated the event for the remainder of the 1970s, winning three and two titles respectively; Connors would make it a hat-trick when he won the 1988 edition, one of the final tournament victories of his career.
Other Grand Slam champions to triumph on the clay courts of Washington were Ivan Lendl, Yannick Noah and Andrés Gómez. After the move to hard courts, American players began to feature more regularly on the roll of honour. Michael Chang won back-to-back titles in 1996 and 1997, and Andy Roddick was a three-time winner in the 2000s.
However, the most successful player by far in Washington is Andre Agassi. From 1990 - 2000, the Las Vegan reached six finals and hoisted the trophy five times.
Del Potro def. Roddick, 2009 final:
Juan Martin Del Potro had powered to the Washington title in 2008 as a relatively unknown 19-year-old. The following year, he faced top seed and three-time winner Andy Roddick in the final, who was playing his first tournament since his legendary Wimbledon loss to Roger Federer.
Playing conditions were tough for both men in the nation’s capital. Del Potro admitted to feeling drained by the heat and humidity during his semi-final the previous day, and Roddick was still nursing the after-effects of a hip flexor injury. But the American had no trouble with his serve in the first set, firing down a series of aces and moving forward to finish off points after his searing deliveries opened up the court. With Del Potro already looking tired, Roddick moved ahead 6-3.
Yet just when it seemed as though the local favourite was set for a comfortable victory, Del Potro found some energy in the second set. He finally managed to break his opponent to lead 5-3, only to double fault at break point down in his next service game. At 5-5 and playing with excellent focus, Roddick had victory within his sights, but the Argentine stepped up in the 12th game to break for a second time and sneak the set 7-5.
Taking advantage of another inopportune Del Potro double fault, Roddick once again gained control of the match, and lead 3-1 in the decider. But in spite of his obvious fatigue, Del Potro unleashed some brutal shots from behind the baseline to claw back to 3-all. Each man then held serve comfortably for the remainder of the set to set up an all-or-nothing tie-break.
The final stage of the match was wrought with tension. After some error-strewn rallies, Del Potro won a stunning exchange - in which he benefitted from a mishit half-volley - to move ahead 5-3. Roddick then showed commendable mental strength to save three match points, but when Hawk-Eye showed that Del Potro’s forehand clipped the line at 7-6, the big man from Tandil exhaled in relief and elation. The exhausting two-and-a-half-hour victory made him the first man to successfully defend a title in Washington since Andre Agassi.
Video: Del Potro v Roddick, 2009
- The Bryan Brothers have reached five finals in Washington. They lost in 2001 and 2002, but won from 2005 - 2007.
- The William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center also has five indoor courts, which can be heated and used in the winter.
- Britain’s Dominic Inglot won his first ever top-level ATP doubles event in Washington in 2012. His partner was Treat Conrad Huey of the Philippines.