All the winners of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, which began in 1969, are enshrined on the stadium wall at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, their names in a place of honor for all to see.
For 43 years the tournament has produced a singles champion, coming from many different backgrounds and representing a variety of countries. But the one thing they all have in common? They’ve all been men.
This year, that will change. For the first time, the Women's Tennis Association is participating in the tournament, now called the Citi Open.
The WTA held a women’s event in College Park last year during the week before the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. But tournament director Jeff Newman, who has held the position since 1995, said it was a goal to one day combine the two events.
“It’s just something where we want to bring more tennis to D.C.,” Newman said. “It’s obviously a very popular sport in the area. Our fans have asked if indeed we’d ever bring a women’s event into the equation, so we obviously listened and tried to get one, and we were successful.”
This year’s tournament includes a women’s singles draw and a men’s singles draw, both with a field of 32. In addition, there is a men’s and women’s doubles bracket.
During the first four days of the tournament, the tennis center’s stadium has housed only men’s matches, while all the women’s matches have taken place in the surrounding courts and grandstands. On Thursday, the first women’s match took place in the stadium, which seats more than 7,500, between the United States’ Sloane Stephens and Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard.
Melanie Oudin, ranked 109th in the world, said she has enjoyed the combined event this year because it allows her to watch some of the men’s matches when she’s not playing.
But Oudin also said she senses the men may not be as pleased with the combined tournament.
“They still get the stadium to themselves. They shouldn’t be complaining that much about us playing here also,” she said. “I don’t care about what court I play on.”
Germany’s Tommy Haas, who played his first- and second-round matches in the stadium, said having the WTA involved in the event this year is something the men have had to adjust to, but the size of the tennis center has made that adjustment easier.
“I think we’re all kind of selfish at times when it comes to these tournaments,” Haas said. “You know, the men were here first. We had the practice courts and didn’t have to worry about it and it’s more quiet. We sort of like that at times. But this is a big venue. It has a lot of courts.”
Haas suggested that maybe an earlier start in the day would provide enough time to have some of the women’s matches played at the stadium. But as long as he gets to play on that court, he said, he’s not too worried about it.
The women’s championship match will be held at the stadium Saturday, followed by the men’s championship Sunday.
Newman said that fans have responded well to the addition of the women’s tournament and that the combination has attracted fans. And this weekend it might prove to pay off even more.
Because this year, fans won’t get to see just one championship match, they’ll get to see two.
“I’ve certainly had a lot of fans come up to me and say ‘Great job on bringing the women here,’” Newman said. “There are matches going on all over the site. So I feel like it’s really created a great buzz, just in terms of the amount of tennis happening at once.”
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