This week Andy Murray returned to action, competing in Washington’s CITI Open, one of the important warm-up events for the US Open. As the tennis season takes off in the States, we catch up with Maggie Britvec (above centre), a former Paddington Rec player in London, and now Washington-based, for an insider’s take.
The US tennis season is well under way - there are hard-court tournaments in many cities in the run-up to the US Open. In DC we have the CITI Open and many top players are here including Andy Murray. The points structure was raised a few years ago, so it is worth it for them to show up! But this year is different for Andy. He really needs the court time. In his first round, he had a tough match - but pulled it out. Go Andy! [At the time of time of writing, Andy has battled his way to the quarter final, winning an epic late-night match against Marius Copil]. He is my bet for winning the tournament.
Rock Creek Park, where the CITI Open is held, is a beautiful venue and I always go a few times. It's right in DC and tickets are not hard to get. But it is a very rainy week here and we have no roof on our big stadium so there are many rain delays. It's usually super-hot ... this week's wet weather is very unusual.
I belong to a very social indoor tennis club and go to the tournament with friends from the club as well as USTA friends. The match courts are not huge so you never have a bad seat. It's awesome to be so close and see the strength and speed of these top players. They walk around among the crowd, going to watch each other’s matches and going to their practice courts. You can quite easily get autographs and selfies with them.
It’s quite informal. Even in the main stadium, people tend to get up and go elsewhere when they hear another match has started on an outer court. The main stadium is the only court where you have assigned seats. Everywhere else, you sit where you can and early in the tournament moving from court to court and catching the action from different matches is part of the fun.
The organisers do a great job of promoting tennis to the public. They invite children's local tennis leagues to come at discount prices or offer a USTA Member's Day and a Ladies Day which combine special events with your ticket (like a group lesson with the Bryan Brothers’ father and then lunch afterwards). I noticed this year that there is a box for the Mayor of DC, but that is the only one I saw for a politician. I'm sure many Congressman and Senators come but it's not a big deal. The players are the stars.
There is plenty to do. They have added food trucks this year to the traditional stalls but you have top dollar tickets to be allowed into the air-conditioned restaurant and there is only the one. I like seeing the latest in tennis gear too and many vendors sell the extra things that tennis lovers love - tennis bags, clothing, even Christmas ornaments.
When I lived in London I played in leagues – Local Tennis Leagues was very important for that. Here, the USTA is super-organised and you can find teams to play in easily. I belong to a tennis club in Alexandria where we have 5 indoor courts. It's sort of like London’s Westway. It has a workout facility and a spa but it's not a country club by any means. I have a regular Monday night mixed doubles group, and a Saturday morning singles match. Then, sporadically, people put together doubles matches in the week and text you to come play. Most people play in the parks outdoors. There are tennis courts everywhere.
DC is super-hot in the summer so you either play outdoors early in the morning or after 6 pm. We do have a few indoor tennis clubs that aren't too expensive. And there are country clubs with indoor facilities of course. I like to play outdoors, but if you are a year-round player you need an indoor membership too. I remember playing at Paddington Rec in the winter time - or in the rain! Great memories! We just don't do that here.
I'm not going to the US Open this year. It's very expensive - $100 per match and that gets you a seat up in the "nose bleed" section. But I am going to the Cincinnati Open in a few weeks and I have been to the Miami Open in the last few years. The smaller events are really great! The venues are beautiful, the courts are intimate and the players are relaxed and friendly.
I really enjoy building my vacations around playing and watching tennis. In September, I head to Chicago to see the Laver Cup. It's the first time it's in the US. It's very exciting and I'm thrilled that I have tickets for it. I'm going with tennis-loving friends. We book the hotel, get flights, and go!
Not that I plan to stop playing. The USTA has a lot of different opportunities to play - mixed doubles, women's singles and doubles - combo teams (for example a 7.5 league would mean that a 3.5 and a 4.0 can play together, which otherwise there would be no opportunity to do). Also, leagues for the over 40s, even the 65s! So, as I get older, I won't feel like I can't compete. You just change leagues!