Despite Novak Djokovic testing positive for COVID-19, Citi Open chairman Mark Ein remains optimistic the August tennis event in D.C. can be played safely and will feature what he expects to be the tournament’s best field ever.
Ein is not just being a boastful promoter; he understands the Citi Open’s unique position on the tennis calendar.
The Citi Open is scheduled to be played at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park from Aug. 13-21, the first event back for the men’s ATP Tour since it was forced to shut down in early March because of the pandemic.
“It won’t just be the eyes of Washington, or the tennis world, but the entire sports world will be tuned in to see what happens in our city as tennis comes back on the world stage,” said Ein. “It’s a great honor, but it’s also a great responsibility.
We’ve put a huge amount of time and effort into collaborating with world class health experts to put in a series of protocols and a framework that is going to keep the players healthy and safe while they’re here. And that’s what’s enabled us to have the confidence that we can host this event.”
Ein also understands the circumstances around Djokovic’s positive test.
The top ranked men’s tennis player in the world only decided to get tested for the coronavirus when the final of an event he organized in Croatia had to be canceled Sunday due to another player, Grigor Dimitrov, testing positive.
The stands were packed at the event, and off the court, players participated in parties and other social functions.
“Unfortunately, it showed that even when you feel safe, you still have to be careful,” said Ein.
“That’s why at our event in D.C., we are going to proactively test all players and anyone who’s on site before the week starts to make sure that no one has it.
Then on a daily basis, do temperature checks and questionnaires, and maybe through the week do spot testing as well. It’s basically overlaying testing on all the other precautions that we have all been advised to take.” Ein said.
He believes tennis, by its design and if done in the right environment, is well-suited to be played during the pandemic.
“If you think about the nature of our sport, it is two people, generally one on either side of a court, with no contact,” said Ein.
“So by the very nature of our sport, tennis should be something that we can figure out a way to play. We don’t have the contact of team sports or concern about a crowded locker room.” Ein said.
With protocols in place, Ein is busy talking to players and agents of players who want to play in the Citi Open and recently received a commitment from what he calls a “top five player” — one Ein is not yet ready to announce.
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Not only is the Citi Open scheduled to be the first event back after a long layoff, but there is also only one other event on the tennis calendar before the U.S. Open.
“The field is going to be incredible,” said Ein.
“If you are going to play in the U.S. Open, I would have to imagine you are going to want to stop in Washington at our event. Players need matches; they need to earn ranking points and so we think it’s going to be maybe the best field we’ve ever had.” Ein said.
The Citi Open has historically included an ATP Tour men’s event and a women’s WTA tournament. But, this year, the Citi Open is only scheduled to have a men’s competition.
However, Ein has an ongoing dialogue with the WTA and has not ruled out the possibility of a women’s tournament. If that cannot be worked out, he still plans to involve women on some level.
As for fans, that is another question mark.
Right now, the plan is to play the Citi Open with empty stands in Rock Creek Park, but Ein is also keeping an open dialogue on that front.
He is in constant contact with D.C. government and is holding out hope there might be a way for some fans to attend.
“I went to a restaurant on Friday night and there were 50 outdoor tables with four to six people at each table,” said Ein.
“If the virus continues to diminish, maybe there is some way to create that kind of environment in an outdoor stadium that seats 8,000 people.
Families could still sit together and we could maintain social distancing. Our hope is that by August we could have limited attendance.” Ein said.