Keeler: Citi Open boasts strong fields

With football season still a week away, there’s another great event going on in Washington D.C. next week — especially for tennis fans.

The Citi Open begins Saturday with qualifying rounds for both the men’s and women’s tournaments. Both tournaments last all week, with the finals being held on Aug. 4.

Last year was the first year both tournaments were held as a joint venture, but of course the men’s and women’s fields were hurt by the Olympics. This year’s fields are stellar for both the men and women.

The men’s field is always top-notch. While you won’t find any of the top five there, most of the other top players will be there.

The top seed is two-time former champion Juan Martin Del Potro, who is coming off his epic Wimbledon five-set semifinal loss to No. 1 in the world Novak Djokovic. Tommy Haas, Gael Monfils, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov (best known for being Maria Sharapova’s boyfriend) will all be there.

John Isner leads the crop of Americans in the field. He is a former finalist at the Citi Open, and the big-serving 6-foot-9 Isner is always a crowd favorite. Americans Sam Querrey, James Blake, Ryan Harrison, Denis Kudla and Mardy Fish are in the tournament.
Australians Bernard Tomic and Lleyton Hewitt are also playing.

Even the qualifying for the men’s tournament has some big names. Big-serving Ivo Karlovic and Americans Robby Ginipri, Michael Russell, Jack Sock and Donald Young are among those trying to qualify.

The men’s field was no surprise to me. The Citi Open (formerly known as Legg Mason) has always had strong fields. The real surprise is the big names for the women’s tournament.

It’s only the third year overall for the women’s tournament and the second at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. The women’s tournament is an international tournament, which means it’s a lower-tier event with smaller prize money and ranking points. There is also a bigger event being held near San Diego at the same time.

Despite all of that, the women’s field is pretty strong led by up-and-coming American Sloane Stephens. She has been in the tournament all three years. This year Stephens had a real breakout year. She upset No. 1 in the world Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals, and reached the semifinals there. She also reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year and is currently ranked a career-high 15th in the world.

The top seed for the women’s tournament is German Angelique Kerber, who is currently ranked ninth in the world. Kerber, who has been ranked as high as No. 5 in the WTA rankings, reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 2011 and the semifinals of Wimbledon in 2012.

There are eight of the top 40 players in the world, and 12 of the top 50 playing in the women’s Citi Open. It might be the best women’s field of any tournament of its size on the tour. Not bad for such a young tournament. I think the tournament will continue to grow over the next few years and could eventually expand into a high-level tournament for both the men and women. If that happens all of the big names will probably be there.

The tournament should have a little something for everyone this year. If you love doubles, seven of the top 10 doubles teams in the world will be playing in the men’s doubles tournament. Last year they added another grandstand court, and the tournament now has six courts that are useable for singles matches. With the addition of the women’s tourney, play begins as early as 2 p.m. during the week (in the past play didn’t start until 4 p.m. on Monday-Thursday).

There’s now more matches going on, and if you’re a true tennis fan, like me, this is a very good thing.

Hopefully the tournament will get bigger with each year. The Citi Open still has a ways to go to become a big-time event, but it is making the right steps in that direction.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com