Washington Tennis Thrills - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Washington Tennis Thrills
Rafael Nadal in 2017. (Shutterstock/Leonard Zhukovsky)

In the wide world of sports, the Tokyo Olympics came to a ceremonial end on Sunday in the presence of many notable eminentos, including the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. She received a torch to indicate the next show will be in her city, though she may be president of France by then. In rolling weekend protests against the vaccine passport mandate (which she favors), some of her compatriots marched anyway (in Paris, not Tokyo), muttering they would be happy if she stayed in Japan.

Despite the heat, it was a fine Olympiad, and Mrs. Hidalgo must have been delighted to be there when both the Blues and Bluettes won gold for France in handball and the Blues won gold in volleyball, while the U.S. took gold in basketball and swimming, Germany took gold in tennis, and other nations scored too. Greece did okay. They invented the games, but limited them to Peloponnesians. Now they are global and appear to be on the way to becoming intergenderational.

Meanwhile, at the Washington Open tennis tournament at the William FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park, the women were out this year, playing only a one-day invitational exhibition, which was won by America’s rising star, Coco Gauff. Our young men did well, with Californian Mackenzie McDonald reaching the final in the singles draw with a hard-fought win over Japan’s Kei Nishikori, himself playing extremely well notwithstanding jet lag.

You can get on the bus on 16th Street at Kennedy St. when leaving the tournament, and before you have time to compose your thoughts, you are a block from the White House. Rafael Nadal, one of the three most successful tennis men of the past 20 years, was playing here for the first time, and he took advantage of the proximity to do some sightseeing. Always courteous and apolitical, he pronounced Washington a handsome city. Calls to the White House to learn whether he was invited to meet the leader of the Free World and try out the tennis court, rehabbed by Melania Trump, were not answered. The meeting could have been a way to build international amity in a world riven by strife and selfishness.

Created in 1969 by Donald Dell and Artur Ashe, friends, business partners, and Davis Cup teammates, the tournament was the first “open” tournament in the United States. Its stated purpose was to establish a permanent funding source for the Washington Tennis Patrons Foundation, soon to be renamed the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation, an organization dedicated to giving poor and dead-end kids a chance at life through sports, character-building, and extra schoolwork. As was said, “put them on the courts and they will stay out of court.”

Arthur Ashe died prematurely in 1993 but Donald Dell continued to manage the tournament, and thanks to such legendary sports educators as Willis Thomas, Jr. and Mike Ragland, the mission continued, with an expansion in the last decade that brought a fine tennis campus to kids in Washington’s underserved North East wards.

Mark Ein, a local businessman who owns the World Team Tennis franchise Washington Kastles, took over the tournament management from Dell a couple of years ago and stated his belief in the city’s potential as a tennis capital. In this regard, bringing Rafa Nadal to the tournament was a coup. Nadal played two thrilling three-set matches before capacity crowds at the stadium, winning one against Nebraska’s Jack Sock and losing one to South Africa’s Lloyd Harris.

Sports-wise, this was perhaps the better outcome. Nadal has nothing to prove in tennis, and it was gracious of him to make a detour to NW Washington, something neither his great rivals, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, has done. His early exit ensured the semis and finals would be disputed among the rising cohort. American hope Jenson Brooksby, who plays classical piano when he is not playing tennis and is fresh from a final at the Newport Hall of Fame Open (won by the veteran Kevin Anderson), lost to Italy’s teen phenom, Jannik Sinner.

The first set was a gem of tennis skills on both sides that went to a tiebreak; Brooksby finally seemed to run out of fuel in the second. On Sunday, the steady, elegant Sinner, who had played a doubles semi-final after his match with Brooksby, faced an energized McDonald for the trophy. He found the stamina to hold off the Californian, who made a fiery comeback from 2-5 in the third set. Sinner steadied his ship to hold at love in the eleventh game, and in the twelfth, he converted a breakpoint after several chances. It was one of those matches where both players agreed either might have won.

Notwithstanding the absence of a women’s draw, it was a fine tennis week, but some uncertainty remains about the WTEF. The name and logo of the half-century-old D.C. institution were not prominently displayed, as in past years. Mark Ein has an option to buy out the WTEF, which owns the tournament, but he has demurred on whether or when he plans to exercise it. The WTEF itself has not returned calls to The American Spectator regarding its future status.

In other sports news, soccer great Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona for Paris, which could be a “win” for Mrs. Hidalgo, but now we are getting back where we started. Our next stop will be the U.S. Open.

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