Mark Ein remembers being a ball boy at the Citi Open in the District for tennis superstars like Jimmy Connors and Guillermo Villas as a child.
Now the CEO of MDE Tennis, Ein is looking forward to welcoming another tennis legend to the District: Rafael Nadal.
“To be in a position to bring back an icon, not just in tennis but in sports to our community and enable so many people in our town to be able to watch him in person for the first time, it’s an indescribable thrill,” Ein told the Washington Times.
When the 20-time grand slam winner takes the court at the Citi Open in August, it’ll be in front of a full-capacity crowd.
The tournament was cleared for 100% last week after it was originally set to only host 50% of the capacity at Rock Creek Park. Now, the tournament can welcome about 7,500 people per day over the week-long event.
Moving to full capacity is also expected to allow organizers to restore $750,000 in prize money to the event.
“Even before we sell any additional tickets, I just felt it was the right thing to do, to proactively restore prize money to its full level in that spirit of partnership with the players,” Ein said.
Ein said most tournaments around the world have been operating with a reduced prize pool since they weren’t able to host capacity tournaments. Now that the Citi Open is able to have a packed stadium, he said it’s a big deal for the players competing to be able to play for more money.
“A lot of players have had a tough year and a half with a lot of tournaments not running and the ones that did significantly reduced prize money,” Ein said. “So, I do think that this is going to make a meaningful difference to a lot of players.”
The tournament has a waitlist for those interested in obtaining tickets for the entire tournament. Ein said anyone who isn’t signed up yet can still register and will receive an access code to be able to buy tickets when they go on sale.
“There’s just incredible demand to come to the event this summer and we’re trying to accommodate as many people as we can,” Ein said.
Nadal headlines the field and is joined by Maryland native Frances Tiafoe, World No. 12 Denis Shapovalov and defending Citi Open champion Nick Kyrgios on the men’s side.
It’s the first time that any of the “Big Three” tennis stars — Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal — will play at the Citi Open. Ein said when he took over the Citi Open, he made it a point to contact the top players of the world and explain why they should play in the tournament.
“As Rafa was thinking about his plans for the summer and how he would best prepare for his run to a record 21st grand slam, he decided that Washington was the right place to start,” Ein said. “We were thrilled when he called us and we can’t wait to welcome him to our community.”
The Citi Open will also welcome the U.S. Olympic team members Jen Brady and Jessica Pegula in the inaugural women’s invitational.
• Andy Kostka contributed to this report.