- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2021

When Coco Gauff arrived at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in July 2019, the then-15-year-old tennis phenom was still grappling with her newfound celebrity.

With an upset over Venus Williams in the first round of Wimbledon earlier that month, Gauff was propelled into the spotlight as soon as Williams’ final return struck the net.

And that spotlight soon shined at the Citi Open, Gauff’s first tennis tournament since her run at Wimbledon. She drew large crowds, even for her two qualifying round matches, and she paired with Caty McNally to win District tournament’s doubles field.

Gauff has grown since then — she now ranks No. 23 in the world and will represent the U.S. at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. But she’ll soon return to where her post-Wimbledon career began, headlining this summer’s Citi Open tournament alongside Nick Kyrgios.

She was part of what made the 2019 tournament so magical,” said Mark Ein, the CEO of MDE Tennis. “She really captured the hearts of our community, and I think we touched her and her family, which is why she wanted to come back.

“Everybody who was there remembers watching this emerging superstar at the beginning of her career,” Ein continued. “And she’s made unbelievable progress in the last two years, and our community is excited to welcome her back.”

The Citi Open immediately follows the Olympics, and Ein said the 17-year-old Gauff will fly directly from Tokyo to the District to compete. The Citi Open’s qualifying round begins July 31, with the main draw playing from Aug. 2 to Aug. 8.

With the U.S. Open beginning in late August and running into September, the Citi Open often serves as a tune-up tournament for players to acclimate themselves to hard court surfaces and high heat. But the Citi Open lost its WTA sanction to a market in Poland, Ein said, meaning the women’s side won’t be an official tournament.

Still, Ein said the Citi Open will host “four top women” with a singles and doubles component over the last three days of the tournament. The exact details haven’t been worked out yet, but Ein said “it’s going to be a competitive format, and they’re all eager not just to come to D.C., but to play competitive matches coming off the Olympics.”

Kyrgios is also scheduled to play in the Olympics before headlining the men’s field at the Citi Open, a tournament he won in 2019. If Gauff was one side of the magic seen at that year’s tournament, “he was the other half of the magic,” Ein said.

Kyrgios ranks No. 60 in the world. He’s a player often battling issues with consistency. But he put together an all-around dominant showing at the 2019 Citi Open — which was the last time he’s won a singles title. Kyrgios has won his first two rounds at Wimbledon this week.

“That run he had in D.C. in ’19, it wasn’t just — people still talk about that around the globe in the tennis world, and the highlights are still shared endlessly on social media,” Ein said. “So I was really hoping he would come back. I know he wanted. He hasn’t been playing a lot of tournaments, and so, as soon as he was back in action, I made sure that he was gonna come through D.C.”

The Citi Open can only operate at 50% capacity, and Ein said tickets have been going quickly. The lower bowl of the main stadium is about 85% sold out, Ein said. The rest of the tickets are “rapidly disappearing.”

But for those who can attend the Citi Open, they’ll see other star names beyond Gauff and Kyrgios. Ein said the full tournament field should be announced in the coming days.

“Fans are going to realize that Coco and Nick are just the beginning of an extraordinary set of players coming to Washington in August,” Ein said.

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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