If you ask me, the best sporting event in D.C. doesn’t require a trip to FedEx Field, the Verizon Center or Nats Park, and doesn’t even involve the local teams. It’s the Citi Open, a world-class tennis tournament that takes place every summer at a tiny venue right inside Rock Creek Park, a true local treasure.
This tournament was first held in 1969 and was called the Washington Star International because its main sponsor was the Washington Star, a daily paper that had been in circulation since 1852. In a sign of industrial trends to come, the paper went bust in 1981 and Sovran Bank took over as the main sponsor. The tournament became the Sovran Bank Classic until Legg Mason jumped into the sponsorship fray in the early 1990s. We knew it as the Legg Mason Tennis Classic from then until 2011, when Citi arrived on the scene. From here on out, I think it would simplify things greatly if the organizers would just call it the Insert Financial Services Mega-company Name Here Open.
Regardless of the name, the tournament attracts household names every year and the venue is so intimate you can see the expressions on the faces of those household names no matter where you sit. Sometimes the draw is full of players whose prime has passed, but not this year: three of the men are ranked among the Top 10 in the world by the Association of Tennis Professionals.
Last night I went to see one of them, Andy Murray, with my friend Laura from the Smash Hits. (We may not play great tennis, but we know it when we see it.) Ranked third in the world, Murray was seeded first in the tournament, and I could hardly wait to see his game up close.
But first, I had to get stung by a bee. It happened during a break between rounds, while Laura and I were sitting on comfy chairs, enjoying the shade of some trees and a Grand Marnier/pisco-based cocktail called the Match Point. We’d been talking about online dating when a big bug alighted on my left cheek. (I guess online dating inevitably attracts pests.) I swatted it away, not realizing it was a bee until a vaguely familiar pain kicked in just below my eye. I’d been stung once before, twenty-five years earlier. I was a lifeguard at Fox Hunt Swim Club at the time and got stung three times in the heel while performing the lifesaving function of mowing the lawn.
Laura and I happened to be near the First Aid trailer when my latest sting happened, so we made a pit stop. I guess it had been a slow day in First Aid, because we were the only customers and the woman manning the trailer seemed almost excited to hear that I’d gotten stung. She handed me a numbing swab, but when I requested ibuprofen, she shook her head and said, “As the attendant, I can’t do that.” Then she asked my name, which seemed odd at that point in the proceedings. When I told her, she said “Great to meet you, Karen. My name’s Delphine. And as your friend, I’d be happy to give you some ibuprofen.” Two ibuprofens, an ice pack and one new friend later, Laura and I began making our way to our seats for the big show.
Once the ice had melted, I could feel my cheek beginning to swell. Right on cue, one of my more attractive (and single) guy friends materialized out of thin air a few seats away. As we chatted, he said nothing about my face, which by then looked like it had sprouted an ocular tumor, but I could tell he noticed. I texted my family for sympathy and got loving messages like, “We’ll call you Popeye!” My ego was spared further bruising as Murray and Teymuraz Gabashvili, an unseeded Russian ranked 53rd in the world, took the main court and began to play.
Laura and I had been expecting your average first/worst blowout, but after five games, only our expectations had been blown out: Gabashvili was leading, 4-1 and took the first set, 6-4. In the second set, Murray started to look more like himself, but though he won it, 6-4, he never seemed quite in command. The third set started out close. When Murray pulled ahead 5-4, we thought the natural order was on the verge of restoration. Murray probably thought so, too, but no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t close it out. The score was tied at 6-6 and Gabashvili won the tiebreak, 7-4.
Just like that, Andy Murray was knocked out in the very first round. Apparently I wasn’t the only one feeling the sting at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. My pain had subsided when I woke up this morning, but I bet Murray will be feeling that one for a while.