Editor’s Note: ATPTour.com is resurfacing features to bring fans closer to their favourite players and tournaments during the current suspension in tournament play. This story was originally published on 30 July 2018.

The Citi Open is celebrating its 50th edition this year with one of the best fields in the history of the ATP 500 tournament. While the muggy heat of Washington, D.C., which tests out every players’ physical conditioning, endures, back in 1969, in the infancy of Open tennis, when doors were — in some cases, reluctantly opened to amateur, contract and professional players — a small group of dedicated individuals took tennis out of the traditional country clubs to a racially integrated district of the city. The original tournament team was small in number and facilities at Rock Creek Park were far from world-class, as they are today.

Donald Dell, one of the sport’s leading powerbrokers for more than 50 years, relays the story of how his father would drive Arthur Ashe back home through the night from far-flung junior tournaments, knowing full well that the shameful reality of race in the 1950s meant that if they stopped, they would not be able to stay in the same hotel. A decade later, a lifelong friendship already cemented and months before the first US Open, which Ashe won in September 1968, the pair was driving around Washington, D.C. and an idea was floated. “Why don’t we run a tournament here?” Ashe asked. “I’d like to play in it, but it has to be in an integrated area so black faces come out and watch the tennis. If you do it at a public park, a public facility and not a country club, I’ll play the event.”

Dell, and his childhood friend John Harris, had already run a number of exhibition matches for the Washington Area Tennis Patrons Foundation [founded in 1955], which had helped Dell for expenses to get him into junior tournaments. Now named the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, the organisation helps to provide children with equipment, instruction, and financial means to play tennis. “In 1963 we ran the first exhibition and Chuck McKinley played, earning an extra $500 for help towards playing tournaments,” Harris told ATPWorldTour.com. “In 1966, the U.S. captain George MacCall rang up in May or June asking us for help to raise money for the Davis Cup team. He wondered if we could put together a preview to that year’s final, between American and Australian teams. We needed to guarantee $10,000, but the event raised $9,000-10,000 for the Foundation, its biggest cheque to date. It was after that point that we tried to work towards getting a sanction for a fully-fledged tournament.”

One year later, an exhibition match — a part of the ‘Summer in the Parks’ program — was held in the middle of a Washington, D.C. street near Lincoln Park, with Dell and Charlie Pasarell facing Ashe and Senator Bobby Kennedy. Dell, an advance man [looking after every public appearance] for Kennedy in 1966 and the presidential campaign of 1968, recalled to ATPWorldTour.com, “We had 4,000 people turn up, in the inner city. It was the final precursor to the inaugural tournament.” Harris adds, “We opted for Rock Creek Park, because it was a nice location and a huge park. Not many other clubs could host an event, for parking and the growth we foresaw. Buses took people to the park. We also wanted to help the Foundation in helping inner-city kids, so the tournament needed to be fully integrated.”


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