Established in 1969, the Legg Mason Tennis Classic was the first Open tennis tournament in the United States outside of the US Open. The tournament was played on clay through 1986 but has been a hard-court event since then. The event’s founder and tournament chairman is Donald Dell, a former player who served as U.S. Davis Cup Captain from 1968-1969 and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2009, and its owner and beneficiary is the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation (WTEF), an charitable organization that provides academic help to at-risk children by applying lessons they learn on the tennis court to the classroom and beyond.
Arthur Ashe won here in 1973, but it was years earlier that he left his mark on the event in a much more significant way. When Dell was looking for a place to hold the tournament in the Washington D.C. area, it was Ashe who suggested it be played in a naturally integrated neighborhood so that everyone could enjoy the event. And thanks to Ashe’s suggestion, the tournament eventually found a home on federal park land which was accessible to everyone and located in the middle of one of Washington D.C.’s most multicultural districts. More than four decades later, the tournament is still played at the same location—the beautiful Rock Creek Park, a division of the National Park Service, which is on 16th and Kennedy Streets, not far from The White House.
In the tournament’s humble beginning, temporary bleaches were set up around the court and local families provided player housing and transportation. Players changed clothes in a tent and volunteers brought water for the players from spigots located across the street. A card table was set up to sell tickets, which were kept in cigar boxes.
Today, the Legg Mason Tennis Classic is a world-class event played at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, which features a 7,500-seat stadium with 31 air-conditioned courtside suites.
The tennis center also serves as the WTEF headquarters, and the stadium suites are used as classrooms when the tournament is not being played. Among the many educational programs WTEF offers is The Arthur Ashe Children’s Program, an after-school program, and The Arthur Ashe Reading is Fundamental Program.
This year’s Legg Mason Tennis Classic, which is celebrating its 42nd anniversary, will feature three-time tournament champion Andy Roddick leading a field of top ATP stars. Several special events are scheduled at this year’s tournament, including Family Picnic Day, when families can purchase discount tickets which include lunch and entertainment as well as the opportunity to watch tennis.
The tournament’s rich history and its importance in funding the good works of the WTEF make the Legg Mason Tennis Classic a standout stop on the Olympus US Open Series.
"Seven years ago, we believed that the Olympus US Open Series could be the biggest thing for tennis in the last 50 years," said Dell. "Tennis has seen a rebirth since that time – including increases in community tennis participation, attendance at tournaments and television viewership – which can be attributed to the investment that has been made into the Series."
The first round begins on Monday and great tennis action runs through the week, concluding next Sunday, August 8.