Your Citi Open First Take: The Rafa Effect
Steve Fogleman in Washington
I’ve been attending the Washington ATP event since the 1990’s, back when it was named the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. I’ve seen fans in awe of Andre Agassi, go loco for Juan Martin Del Potro and get cuckoo for Coco Gauff. None of that prepared me for The Rafa Effect, which swept the Nation’s Capital at the Citi Open in Washington this weekend.
I’ve been to majors and masters events, yet in those environments, the Great One is part of a team of superheroes like Djokovic and Federer and consequently basks in the shared limelight at those locales. DC is different. At once, he has breathed all of the oxygen at this tournament, and during qualifying weekend, that was more than any fan could ask. Nadal returns that oxygen by packing the stands for hardly-known qualifying players who notice more fans than they’ve ever seen at one of their matches.
At his Saturday morning practice, the energy was pronounced. While thousands of fans queued up to see the Spaniard in action, those fans already in the stadium made noise. Those waiting in line acted like they were at a TSA checkpoint and about to miss a flight as Nadal took the court. Fans shouted, “Thank you for coming!’, applauded nearly every point and gave him more than one standing ovation. Although few of the fanaticos got Nadal’s autograph, many left fulfilled with a selfie of a tiny Nadal hitting behind them.
Why Washington? How did we get so lucky?
“When I see the calendar, my goal was to be here in Washington,” he told reporters earlier today. “Here I am. So that’s the main thing for me. An important one. Playing in Washington allow me to be on the tour one week before than what I do usually for this part of the season,” he added, before noting that he believes that skipping Wimbledon was a wise move on his part.
Whatever magic Nadal’s presence conjures up, it feels even more magical here in DC. Even the US Open puts their marquee players on stadium-style courts for practices, but this one felt like family. DC tennis fans have always enjoyed their ATP 500 level tournament, but this was a taste of the big time. It’s something residents of New York or Miami might take for granted since the tennis carnivals come through their towns every year. For Washingtonians, it was a dream come true.
I’ve heard the term “The Rafa Effect” thrown around on social media, and I am now able to quantify it. Another tweeted, “Elvis is in town.” And hopefully, we’ve got the King all week. I fully expect the anticipation for Nadal’s Wednesday night match to boil up every day, and I can’t wait to see how his disciples react when he hits a ball in actual match play.
It’s called charisma. Plenty of players have tennis talent but few have the ability to make the environs buzz like Rafa can. Enjoy. The rest of us will have to settle for watching it on tv.