Change is coming to the nation’s capital and it might take tennis fans some time to adjust.
The Legg Mason Tennis Classic is now the Citi Open, after Legg Mason, the title sponsor of the ATP tournament in Washington, D.C. for the past 18 years, has decided not to renew its contract.
No reason was given for the why the Baltimore-based Legg Mason will no longer be the title sponsor, but Donald Dell, the chairman and co-founder of the tournament, emphasized that both sides parted on good terms.
“I want to thank Legg Mason for their tremendous sponsorship,” he said. “They have been with us 18 years – they were the longest running title sponsor in tennis in North America. We owe the Legg Mason a great bit. They decided not to come back – their contract expired in November. It was a very amicable transition.”
Stepping in to replace Legg Mason is Citigroup Inc., the sponsor of the inaugural professional women’s tournament in College Park, MD last summer, for a five-year deal. The Citi Open will combine the ATP tournament with the women’s event in efforts to attract an even more diverse fan base.
“We are very excited about [having a joint tournament], because over the years we’ve had lots of requests and lots of pressure to have both events – men and women – and the demographics of tennis is 52 percent men and 48 percent women,” said Dell.
The men’s tournament will remain an ATP 500 event, one of only two in the United States (the other is in Memphis), and the women’s will be a $250,000 International Level tournament. Last year’s winner on the men’s side was Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic, while Russia’s Nadia Petrova claimed the women’s trophy.
Along with the name change and the inclusion of the women’s tournament will be stadium upgrades to accommodate the increase of players. The renovations, which will begin in May and finish before the start of the summer tournament, will include a new show court that seats 2,500 people and five new practice courts. The Washington Tennis and Education Foundation (WTEF), a charitable foundation that provides tennis instruction and education to DC-area youth, privately funded the expansion. The tournament is owned by the organization.
“We built [the stadium] with [WTEF] in 1989, and we just think it’s time to upgrade in a lot of different ways,” said Dell. “We are competing on the world tour. It is very competitive that we have a facility and proper usage of the court site for the players.”
The Citi Open will continue to be held at the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park and will run from July 28 to Aug. 5.
Because the tournament coincides with the London Olympics, the draw size will decrease from the usual 48 players to 32. While several marquee players will be competing for Olympic medals, current world No. 9 Mardy Fish has already confirmed to play at the Citi Open in preparations for the U.S. Open. Also expected is former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt.
Despite the tournament expansion, Dell said that there are no plans on increasing parking, but that General Admission ticket prices will most likely not rise.
The name may take some getting used to, but the changes should give tennis fans in the metropolitan area much to be excited about.