One step at a time.
Tennis is taking a step in the right direction in the Washington, D.C., area this summer. At a press conference in D.C. on Tuesday, it was announced that Legg Mason will no longer be sponsoring the men's tennis tournament. Citi will be the new sponsor and the tournament will be called the Citi Open.
On top of that, the men's tournament will be combined with the women's tournament starting this year. It will be the sixth tournament in the U.S. to have a men's and women's combined tourneys.
The tournament will still be held at the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park, where the men's tournament has been held for many years.
Legg Mason was the longest running sponsor (18 years) of an ATP event, but things have to change eventually. And this change is for the better.
Citi was the sponsor for the inaugural women's tournament last year, and needed a better location and more publicity to bring in more fans. The ultimate goal is to eventually make the combined events one of the biggest on the tour, which will bring all of the top players on tour to D.C.
One day soon, it's very possible to see players such as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer or Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka playing in the D.C. tournament.
They are making major changes at the Fitzgerald Tennis Center that should be in place by this year's tournament, which is held on July 28-Aug. 5.
There will be a new 2,500-seat show court, which will replace what had been three practice courts. It is very rare for a tournament the size of the Legg Mason (which is an ATP World Tour 500 tournament) to have two big courts like the ones they will have. They will be building five practice courts. The practice courts will all be beside each other and will have four rows of seats, where the fans can sit and watch. There will be a total of seven courts that can be used for matches during the tournament.
The tournament is hoping to increase the prize money of the women's tournament over the next three to five years to draw even bigger stars to the women's event, much like the men's field.
It is actually not the first time the Fitzgerald Tennis Center has hosted a men's and women's tournament together. In 2005, the tournament had an ITF Women's circuit tournament going at the same time as the men's tourney.
The women's tournament seemed to do OK. One of my favorites of all time, Ashley Harkleroad, won the event. They even showed the final on TV, and of course it helped having an American and future Playboy cover model -- Harkleroad -- win the tournament.
The field for the women's event last year wasn't bad. Russian Nadia Petrova defeated Israel's Shahar Peer in the final, and both were in the top 25 in the world at the time.
This year's field will be limited for both tournaments due to the Olympics being held at the same time. Although, Mardy Fish has already said he's skipping the Olympics this year and plans to play in the Citi Open.
All of this gets me very excited for one main reason. I truly believe that at some point the tournaments will be able to increase their prize money and become two of the biggest events leading into the U.S. Open, which means all of the top players in the world will be there.
They are making the facility top-notch, and as we all know if you build it, they will come.
Now, it's important for all the tennis fans in the area to go and support the tournament over the next few years. The more support the tournament has, the more likely it is to become a bigger event.
If attendance continues to go up, it's possible for Davis Cup and Fed Cup ties to also be held there. The D.C. area is a good one for tennis, and if the fans become more involved over the next few years they will eventually be rewarded.