As a young tennis player in Washington in the 1970s, it was always a treat when the world’s best came to town every summer.
Major League Baseball had abandoned us after the 1971 season and the PGA Tour didn’t make a stop in the nation’s capital, but we always had the men’s tennis tournament whether the title sponsor was the late, lamented Washington Star, DC National Bank or Sovran Bank.
The list of players who have conquered Washington’s scorching summers and the rest of the field at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center at 16th and Kennedy Streets N.W. reads like a Hall of Fame roster as intoned by the tournament’s longtime resonant voice Charlie “To The Umpire’s Right” Brotman: Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Guillermo Vilas, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi and Stefan Edberg.
I’ll never forget the two summer weeks I spent as a ballboy at the tournament. Local hero Harold Solomon and Vilas were the champions in those years, once famously battling each other through a 105-point rally. Fellow ballboy Doug Proxmire and I each wound up needing medical attention, but we survived nicely unlike the unfortunate bird that top-ranked Stan Smith killed with a serve. And I still have the autographs I collected as well as the wooden Jack Kramer racket I won in a raffle.
While the current top American players, Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, withdrew because of injuries and the world’s top trio, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, remain across the pond until just before the U.S. Open starts at the end of the month, this year’s tournament marks the 43rd consecutive summer that the pros have come to Washington.
Now sponsored by Legg Mason, the competition features such standouts as Frenchman Gael Monfils and American John Isner and James Blake, who upset Argentinian David Nalbandian, the defending champion, on Tuesday.
With the Nationals on the road through the weekend and the Redskins still yet to reach preseason, do yourself a favor and head to Rock Creek Park and experience the final rounds of one the ATP Tour’s top 20 events. The weather is even being cooperative since it’s not supposed to be nearly as sweltering as July was.
And while you’re watching these superb athletes smack balls at each other, you’ll also be doing good: a portion of the Legg Mason’s revenues benefits the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation which focuses on helping lower-income area youth through a combination of tennis, education and community service.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.