Keeler: Citi Open has long ways to go

I’ve always had high hopes that someday the Citi Open in Washington D.C. could be elevated to a bigger professional tennis tournament. The idea of seeing players such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova dances around in my head. However, after actually attending and seeing most of those players last week in Cincinnati I realize that D.C. has a long ways to go to become a big-time tennis tournament.

I went to both the D.C. and Cincinnati tournaments, and quite frankly, there is no comparison.

The Citi Open is a nice small tournament, and it’s good for what it is. It’s a 500 level tournament on the men’s side. The ATP Tour is divided into 250, 500 and Masters 1000 level tournaments. In order to get the really big names you have to be a Masters 1000 event.

There are currently two Masters 1000 events during the hard court summer swing, one in Cincinnati and the other in Canada.

The Citi Open had some decent names in the field this year, three top 10 players, although Grigor Dimitrov pulled out due to an illness. But to get to that next level many big changes would have to happen.

The facility at Rock Creek Park is OK, but quite honestly not good enough. Parking can be a total mess. Most of the time they encourage fans to just take the metro in, the problem is the matches sometimes go very late, and the metro will only stay open for so long. They have a field for parking, but when it rains or it’s calling for heavy rain they won’t use it, making parking very limited.

In contrast, the Western and Southern Open in Mason, Ohio (just outside of Cincinnati) has several huge fields next to the tennis complex. The first day I got there it seemed like I was driving for hours just to get to my parking spot. It takes a little time to get out of there as well, but at least there is plenty of space for parking.

They need plenty of space for parking, because the facility as a whole is huge. There are three main courts (only two in D.C.), and the third court in Cincinnati is bigger than D.C.’s second court.

The Western and Southern Open is pretty much the perfect place for any tennis fan. The food is excellent, with a huge concessions area. Many of the courts are still small enough that you can see the players up close and personal. It’s one of the biggest tournaments out there, so all the top players are there. In a lot of ways it’s like a grand slam, it’s just condensed into one week and the men’s matches are only two-out-of-three sets instead of three-out-of-five.

Even many of the players believe it’s one of the best tournaments a fan could go to.

“It depends on what the tennis fan likes,” American John Isner said after a win last week in the tournament. “If they like sort of the glitz and glamour of the U.S. Open and the buzz around the grounds, there are tons of matches at the U.S. Open. But here it’s a little bit more personal, I guess. All the best players in the world are here, barring injury. So this tournament, as far as being a tennis fan goes, in my opinion, it’s second to none. The town is super easy to get around.

“I guess one plus is you’re not in New York City all the time fighting traffic. You can do whatever you want to do here.”

I truly think the Citi Open would need to relocate if it truly wants to become a bigger event. The tournament is in a residential community, and I don’t think they have the room to expand that they would need. I’m not sure where they could move to, but probably somewhere like Fairfax or a town like that. They would need a lot of land to make it work, and I’m just not sure that there’s any land like that in the area.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing with the Citi Open, it’s one of the best around for its size. If going to a smaller tournament is what you like, then it’s still a great bargain, but I won’t lie that I enjoy the big-time tennis and seeing the very best in the world play.

Hopefully, at some point down the road the Citi Open can expand and grow even more than it has. Things are changing all the time on the ATP and WTA tours, and I would still love for the tournament to become bigger, not just for myself, but for the entire community and the D.C. community. D.C. has a lot of great sports teams, and it would be nice to see the tournament in the nation’s capital be as big as the city itself.

Until that happens, there’s always Cincy.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd