Match play on stadium court at the 2018 Citi Open
Match play on stadium court at the 2018 Citi Open Credit: Kelyn Soong

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Local venture capitalist Mark Ein grew up in Chevy Chase and for decades has made it a priority to attend the local professional tennis tournament every summer at Rock Creek Park. He ballboyed for players like Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors, and still remembers being yelled at by the volatile John McEnroe. After he outgrew being a ballkid, he drove players around the city as a tournament volunteer, and then later on, became a board member for the non-profit Washington Tennis & Education Foundation.

On Tuesday afternoon, he stood inside the tournament’s stadium court with a new title. WTEF officially came to an agreement with Ein for him to take over its management. Liz Clarke of the Washington Post reported last November that Ein, who owns City Paper, had been in late stages of negotiations for the transfer. The WTEF board passed on higher bids and agreed to terms with Ein after he made clear that he would keep the tournament in the District.

“I have to admit this is bit of a humbling moment,” Ein told the crowd gathered. “This tournament has touched me my whole life.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, WTEF president and chief executive Rebecca D. Crouch-Pelham, and pro players Frances Tiafoe and Denis Kudla, sat on the makeshift stage as Ein reiterated his long-term dedication to the event. This year’s tournament will stay at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center and run from July 27 to Aug. 4.

While WTEF will still “technically” own the tournament, Ein tells City Paper that he is the “manager and operator with an option to buy it.”

Crouch-Pelham adds that the “responsibility has shifted to Mark.”

The tournament has been hit with financial struggles recently, including a six-figure loss in last year’s rain-soaked event. Ein, who also owns the Washington Kastles and has a majority stake in World TeamTennis, will need to find a new title sponsor after Citi’s deal is set to expire next year.

“Everybody just wants to see this gets lifted,” he says. “I think if we if do that, I think there’s huge opportunity. I think there’s so much opportunity here, and there are so many things we can immediately do better and do better over time that I think will just lift the whole event.”

For a half-century, the tournament has hosted some of the biggest names in tennis. Previous winners include Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Connors, and Ashe. The late Ashe played a pivotal role in ensuring that the tournament be held in a public park.

Donald Dell and John Harris co-founded the tournament in 1969, and in 2012, it became a shared event between the ATP men’s tour and the WTA.

Crouch-Pelham said the WTEF seriously considered other offers, which Ein acknowledges could have paid WTEF millions more financially. But in the end, the non-profit foundation, which the tournament benefits, wanted to ensure that the event would not leave the area.

“It was very important to us that the tournament stay in Washington, D.C.,” Crouch-Pelham said. “Our children depend on the visibility of the tournament, the commercials, our organization really is on a larger platform because of this tournament. And as a beneficiary that of course brings proceeds to our organization and it allows us to have a stable financial foundation to provide more programing to children, so Mark’s offer was almost a no-brainer.”