Monfils, Puig are committed to play at Citi Open
Over 14 seasons as a globetrotting professional tennis player, Gael Monfils has competed in the biggest, most-celebrated stadiums around the world. The 30-year-old Frenchman, known for his electric shot-making and charismatic personality, is a top attraction nearly anywhere he plays.
There are, however, only a few stops where Monfils has truly felt comfortable and confident every time he enters. The Citi Open in Washington, the site of Monfils’s greatest career triumph last year, is one of them.
“I love the city,” Monfils said, “and I really like the stadium. The stadium is nice, and I love the atmosphere. People are super nice to me and bring me a lot of great energy.”
In three trips to the tournament — in 2007, 2011 and 2016 — Monfils has never lost before the semifinals, and the fan favorite recently committed to play at this summer’s Citi Open to defend his first ATP 500 title. Monfils has never won two championships at the same tournament.
Rio Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig of Puerto Rico will headline the women’s draw.
“We couldn’t be happier with this player field,” Citi Open cofounder Donald Dell said. “The field is considerably stronger than last year and probably a bit better than 2015 when we had [current world No. 1] Andy Murray.”
The 11th-ranked Monfils is not the only former champion who has made an early commitment to the summer hard-court tournament, which will run July 29 to Aug. 6 at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. Three-time winner Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina is also set to compete, as are Americans Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan — the most decorated male doubles pair of all time who claimed titles in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2015.
American John Isner, ranked 22nd, and Austria’s Dominic Thiem, a first-time competitor who is the highest ranked player in the field at No. 9, also have committed.
Tournament officials expect to announce more players in midApril.
“Washington is a great tennis town,” Dell said. “We have a tremendous following in tennis here.”
Despite losing in the second round in her first visit to the Citi Open last season, the 23-year-old Puig partially credits her preparation in the often-suffocating summer weather in the District for her Olympic success.
“Oh, I love it,” Puig said. “Me being from Puerto Rico and obviously training in Miami, the heat and humidity don’t really affect me that much. I just have to embrace it, and I feel very comfortable in it.”
Similarly, Monfils points to his Citi Open victory as the start of a successful run during the summer hard-court swing. Just days after hoisting his champion’s trophy and watching as his name was added to the blue awning surrounding stadium court alongside the names of his childhood heroes, Arthur Ashe and Yannick Noah, Monfils arrived at the Toronto Masters, where he reached the semifinals.
Several weeks later, Monfils battled to the U.S. Open semifinals, and he ended his season at the ATP World Tour Finals in London with a career-best world No. 6 ranking.
“I was riding the wave,” Monfils said of the momentum he started at the Citi Open. “I think the confidence [gave] me a stronger belief I could make it, and it put me in a great spot.”
For the first time since 2000, the Citi Open will have a new tournament director after Jeff Newman stepped down in February.
Replacing Newman is Keely O’Brien, who started with the tournament as an intern in 2004. O’Brien, 34, is the only female tournament director of a combined ATP and WTA tournament.
The Citi Open became a shared event between the two tours in 2012.
“I feel truly grateful for the opportunity,” O’Brien said. “We’ve had and continued to have incredible female ambassadors in this sport . . . and I wake up every day and feel extremely lucky.”
In her new role, O’Brien said she hopes to engage with diehard tennis fans and those who may have never experienced a tennis tournament before.
O’Brien’s team is working on a Citi Open smartphone app that will be launched in time for the tournament, an attempt to connect with the social-media active generation and attract new fans.
“We know we have to go outside the core audience so that it’s not just a tennis event but an event in the summer,” O’Brien said. “We are trying to find out ways to engage community members in all eight wards in D.C. and Maryland and Virginia and also people from across the country. It’s all about focusing [on their] experience and the planning that goes into that.”