- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2020

When competitive tennis returns from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’ll do so in the District.

The Citi Open announced Wednesday that it will hold the first ATP-sanctioned event since the pandemic halted the men’s tennis calendar, starting with qualifying Aug. 13 at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. The main draw will be played Aug. 14-21.

As of now, the tournament does not expect to allow fans on-site, but tournament officials are holding out hope that they may receive permission to have a limited number of fans at the tennis center.

A WTA field for women’s pros was not announced, but Citi Open officials are in talks with the WTA about returning during the same week.

This comes on the heels of the news that New York state approved the U.S. Open to be played on its previously scheduled dates, Aug. 31 to Sept. 13, without fans.

The Citi Open will be the first chance for male tennis players to compete for prize money and ranking points while tuning up for the U.S. Open. The Western & Southern Open will follow starting Aug. 22, but be played in New York instead of its usual home near Cincinnati and lead directly into the Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows.

The main draw will remain at 48 players. Citi Open tournament CEO Mark Ein was optimistic that the circumstances would mean a star-filled field.

“We’ve been inundated with inquiries from around the world of people who are saying they want to come,” Ein said. “And so we think this is gonna be one of, if not the best player field, or one of the best player fields we’ve ever had. You look at the schedule. People will have been off tour for five months. Whether you’re in the States or coming to the States, it’s very easy to come to Washington.”

In 2019, Nick Kyrgios won the men’s singles event at the Citi Open, which also attracted John Isner, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, plus Andy Murray in the doubles draw. But the tournament does not usually draw the top names in men’s tennis — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. College Park native Frances Tiafoe told ABC7 that he will compete in this year’s tournament.

Will some of the world’s best players who might not otherwise play the event want to capitalize on the chance for competition? Or will players stay away from the Citi Open and the tournaments in New York because they were hot spots for COVID-19 earlier this year? Djokovic and Ash Barty, the No. 1-ranked men’s and women’s tennis players in the world, respectively, are among several pros who have shown concern with traveling to New York.

Rates of COVID-19 cases in the District and its surrounding region are declining, but still high.

“We weren’t going to do this, and no one would support us doing this, if we couldn’t find a way to make it safe,” Ein said.

The CEO didn’t reveal many details about how people will be kept safe, but he said MedStar Health, the tournament’s longtime health care partner, will play a key role in enforcing a manual of health and safety protocols.

The District is planning to move into Phase 2 of its coronavirus reopening plan as soon as next Monday. Ein said tournament officials have worked closely with the local government and are hopeful that by mid-August, the District will be in Phase 3, which will allow for some small public gatherings.

Ein added tournament officials were “working on” letting players have more than one guest at the tennis center on match days.

“It’s really important to us that A, we create a safe environment, but B, that we also create an enjoyable experience for players,” he said. “Within the confines of being able to make it safe, we also want to try to make it as good an experience for them as we can.”

This will mark the 52nd straight year Rock Creek Park hosts the tournament. It was originally scheduled for Aug. 1-9 before the tour was suspended.

After the U.S. Open, the tennis world will head to Europe for a few weeks, playing marquee events in Madrid and Rome in preparation for the French Open. As part of the revised schedule, the French Open was pushed back an additional week from what was previously reported, and will now be played from Sept. 27 to Oct. 11. Fans will be allowed to attend the Grand Slam at Roland Garros, according to the president of France’s tennis federation.

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