By: Orrin Konheim
An hour after tennis matches were scheduled to start on Thursday at the Citi Open, a group of security officers crowded in a tented area because of a storm.
The Sloane Stephens upset and the first-ever professional matchup between the Zverev brothers were the day’s big headlines. However, for those at the Rock Creek Tennis Center on Thursday night, the fourth rain delay of the tournament was the main headline.
While one security officer talked about the “sweet overtime paycheck” he’s going to get, another, Iesha Mack, said she has a newborn son at home. It’s been difficult managing care for him. Another security officer, Ray Brooks, estimates that he’s been working three consecutive 12-hour days, which is exhausting.
These mixed reactions summarized the moods of spectators, athletes, and those working the tournament.
On Monday, Jasejeet Waraich, who serves as a ball boy, was caught in the longest rain delay of this week’s tournament. The delay lasted approximately six hours, pushing the tournament from its expected end time of 11 p.m. to 2:30 in the morning. Nine out of 22 matches were postponed for the next day. He ended up staying until 1 a.m.
“The main reason was it was an opportunity to watch world-class tennis,” he said. Waraich spent his time walking around booths, eating snacks, testing his serve, and watching tennis players practice.
“Rain delays cause havoc, and it wreaks havoc for everybody,” said Jen Gregg, the Citi Open’s volunteer coordinator. “Our goal is to be as welcoming as possible to our players, customers, and volunteers. And we’ll do what it takes to make things right for people. And for me, that’s the volunteers. I need to make sure that they are having a good time and they are getting to see some tennis.”
Michael Akin, the tournament’s spokesman, said weather updates weren’t meant to intentionally mislead customers. Instead, they were standard for the National Weather Service — which reveals data incrementally.
“It lets people know that they can go somewhere and not be back by that time or they wouldn’t miss anything,” Akin said.
Like most tennis tournaments, the Citi Open doesn’t offer refunds or exchanges. “To me, the fans are affected the most,” said Steve Fogelman of Tennis Atlantic. People routinely drive from Baltimore, Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Pennsylvania to come down here. You have to remember, this is the only tournament between the US Open and the Atlanta Open in the summertime. This is the only game in the region.”
Elaine Schultz and two of her friends drove from Pennsylvania to watch Jennifer Brady compete in the tournament. “We’ll weather the storm,” Shultz said. “I think this is out of their hands unless you have an indoor venue.”
Volunteer Mary Ann Blyth was disappointed that she was only awarded the opportunity to see games for free on the day it was raining. She wanted to receive a voucher for another day. However, Blyth feels this is one of the better-run tournaments.
“This is tennis everywhere. I’m not dissatisfied. I think this is a nice tournament, honestly. I’ve been to other tournaments, and the big players are majorly accessible here,” she said
According to Fogelman, the Citi Open has one quality that isn’t true for tennis tournaments everywhere: A 2 p.m start time.
“Because they try to attract Washington crowds who work late, this has always been a tournament that has tried to cater to the after-hours crowd,” he said. “To the best of my knowledge, no one has a later start time than the Citi Open. The problem is they added a woman’s tournament, which has overloaded the field and given less margin for error”
ATP spokesman Edward La Cava said there were tons of factors, including the heat and humidity.
Anne Schultz, a tournament attendee, said she feels “worse for the players because they’re affected more by what’s going on. We can entertain ourselves, but they’re pre-match preparations are pretty important. And they lose control of it through the weather”
Fogelman said players are just as prepared as anyone else for a rain delay. “While it may be frustrating, it is a part of the game that they learn at an early age. [They] learn how to cope with taking the court at 11 p.m. for an expected 2 p.m. start date.”
Player Dennis Kudla said players were playing board games, cards, watching TV shows, and conversing during the rain delay to remain calm.
“You just kind of try to focus on the match and not be so tense the whole time, so you just try to calm down and not ramp up,” said Donald Young, who lost to Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-4.
If the tournament can’t end at the set time, the tournament director has the option to apply for a waiver from the ATP to extend the tournament dates. Until then, tournaments try to shift hours or even schedule players for multiple matches a day.
When John Isner lost his second round match to Noah Rubin, his disappointment was countered with relief because the reconfigured schedule had him playing two matches twice in one day. On Thursday, Rubin was one of three singles players who had to play two matches because of the deference in scheduling.
“He’s gotta play another match in an hour,” said Isner. “Holy crap, I don’t know what I would have done if I’d won.”
On Tuesday night, some 40 spectators who were waiting for match resumption at 1 a.m. received free vouchers from tournament director Keely O’Brien.
“It felt like it was the right thing to reward these people who waited out in the rain all night,” she said.
However, O’Brien clarified this was a one-time exception, and the rest of the crowd will have to wait when purchasing tickets on an iffy weather forecast. For the rest, buying tennis tickets during a rainy season is risky.