Despite an Olympics-depleted player field, the first installment of the CitiOpen joint event was a success. From a week of casual observations, attendance appeared to be slightly down this year, but there were new amenities in store for the faithful. With men’s and women’s tennis being simultaneously played and the introduction of CitiOpen radio, provided by Live Sports Radio, it added up to give fans a US Open-like experience without the slog up the New Jersey turnpike.
There were also the amazing volunteers and ball kids, the dangerously witty MC Wayne Bryan, DC sports legend Charlie Brotman as Stadium Announcer, and the immensely helpful cast of the Sage Communications firm who took care of every need of the press corps. In many ‘retrospects’, it was the best DC pro tennis event in the dozen years I’ve been in attendance.
There’s just one puzzling question left in my head, though. Did they do right by the WTA?
If you’re offended by the inequality of men’s and women’s tennis, you might have been horrified at CitiOpen. The women got to play on Stadium Court for only two of the thirty-three WTA matches of the tournament. 94% of the time, you found the ATP featured on Stadium. I know the WTA event is smaller than the long-standing ATP 500 event, but with a weakened player field, I’d have put Sloane Stephens and #1 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Stadium every night. The DC crowds love Sloane, and it’s settled practice that a #1 seed should almost always be on Stadium. The #1 seed only got to see the bright lights of the marquee court for the final. If Pavs had practiced or played on Stadium prior to the final, the result may have been different.
I also know that television contracts require that the highest-rated matches be featured, but those ESPN and Tennis Channel crews didn’t even arrive until Thursday. That gave organizers a half a week to balance the schedule and put the WTA under Stadium lights during the early part of the tournament. They did bite on Sloane Stephens once in the quarters, putting her on with #309th ranked Eugenie Bouchard, who happens to be represented by Lagardere, the tournament’s organizers. That was the first and last time any woman would be on Center Court until the Saturday night final.
Perhaps the most galling example of the inconsistent treatment was Secret Tennis Day. The event’s organizers failed to mention to anyone that the women’s qualifying began on Friday, July 27. The website, the bus advertisements and every single piece of promotional material claimed the CitiOpen ran from July 28-August 5. I was alerted to Secret Tennis Day by a post on WTAToday.com. Mike Barber found the Order of Play on the WTA’s website early Friday morning and sent out a twitter alert. I rushed to Rock Creek Park to find only friends and families of the players enjoying a match like Alicia Tornado Black’s WTA debut.
In some ways, the differential treatment worked to the advantage of the fans and to the advantage of this blog. WTA fans got to see major league matches on intimate outer courts. The attitude of the player representatives also mattered. While the ATP is so lock and key on their players and treats an interview request with twenty questions of their own, the WTA player rep graciously made players available on short notice and treated bloggers like reporters rather than rogues. For ATP, you’re supposed to request an interview before play begins for the day. Even if your interviewee is playing at 10 p.m., you’re still required to submit that form by 4:00 p.m. All the WTA requires is that you submit an interview request before the match is over, so the player doesn’t unwittingly run out for dinner after a win.
On the other hand, there were more spectators in attendance viewing the WTA qualifying matches on Saturday than were in attendance for the women’s quarterfinals of this event in College Park, Maryland last year. Our shocking exclusive photos above and below drive that point home. It’s clear that the WTA needs this ‘joint’ event to sustain a women’s event in the region. I just wish they wouldn’t be so obvious about the imbalance of this relationship. The least that they can do is make the ladies feel wanted.
It’s a fact that the ATP is a bigger draw. Fans have been coming to Rock Creek Park to see the men play for decades. CitiOpen didn’t even increase their tickets prices this year, so it could be argued that the WTA was a free gift with purchase.
Nevertheless, I am hopeful and somewhat confident that when the player fields are restored for next year’s CitiOpen, organizers will have more marquee WTA stars to feature and be able to confidently schedule a few more matches on Stadium. Or they’ll be hearing from Gloria Allred.
Agree/Disagree? I’d like some feedback.