- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2011

When public address announcer Charlie Brotman asked who was ready for the championship final Sunday at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, there was at best polite applause.

On a day with temperatures in the 90s, it’s understandable that enthusiasm was tepid in the minutes before the match - but then more than a few fans left Rock Creek Park during a rain delay. William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center was maybe three-quarters full to see the rest of Radek Stepanek’s 6-4, 6-4 victory over Gael Monfils.

It seemed to be that kind of week, with weather wreaking havoc and few American stars making significant runs. But tournament director Jeff Newman was upbeat about the turnout and how the event transpired.

“There’s obviously a couple things that are out of our control - weather and results. I think the results were great, as good as they could’ve been,” Newman said after the final. “But at the same time, I was very happy to see great crowds here despite the weather.”

A total of 67,161 fans attended the tournament, according to official figures. That’s down from 75,039 in 2010, but Newman said “we were close” to anticipated ticket sales.

“Obviously, the weather had something to do with a bit of a lower gate. Also, we went to one session this year on Friday as opposed to two sessions, and that was really based on player feedback,” he said. “But in terms of per session, apples to apples to previous years, we were right on the same target as we’ve been.”

Rain took a toll on three days of the tournament, postponing matches Wednesday, forcing a 10:30 p.m. start for one semifinal Saturday and causing two rain delays during the final Sunday. That’s one “challenge,” according to Newman, but a lack of star power is another.

On the eve of the singles draw, expected top seed Andy Roddick withdrew, citing an oblique strain. No. 2 seed Mardy Fish pulled out Monday with a heel injury. Roddick’s absence made Gael Monfils of France the No. 1 seed.

Monfils had a memorable semifinal match against American John Isner in 2007, so while he didn’t provide a magnetic name, fans familiar with this tournament know him.

“Frankly, people were asking why he hadn’t returned up to this point,” Newman said. “I think certainly anytime you have international players as your No. 1 seed, there is some recognition that needs to come with the casual fan, but in terms of the hard-core tennis fans, they all know it. It certainly was a benefit to have him.”

Throughout the tournament, crowds got behind Americans such as James Blake, Isner and Donald Young, but none made it to Sunday. Naturally, having a rooting interest for U.S. fans would be ideal, but 6,464 showed up nonetheless for an all-European championship match.

“When we’re a 500-level event, we’re about an international field and not just about top Americans,” Newman said. “For us, it’s a great way to showcase the No. 1 players in their respective countries. At this level, we hope to have more international stars.”

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