WASHINGTON, July 28, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
When the news broke on Friday afternoon that American teen sensation Cori “Coco” Gauff had earned a berth in the qualifying draw for the 2019 Citi Open, there was hearty applause from spectators who were present for the tournament’s draw ceremony inside the air-conditioned Market Square hospitality center near Stadium court.
Maybe, there was a sigh of relief from Mark Ein, too. After all, the tournament’s new owner was banking – perhaps, praying, too – on being able to promote Gauff as a marquee attraction at the week-long ATP 500/WTA International event in the nation’s capital city and sell more tickets. Play began with a total of 16 qualifying draw (eight women’s and eight men’s) singles matches on Saturday.
When the breakout star Gauff, just 15, spoke to the media on Friday afternoon, she admitted she had doubts that she would be part of the 16-player women’s qualifying field. Here’s why:
Because the Citi Open entry list was finalized prior to Wimbledon, Gauff’s pre-Wimbledon ranking (No. 313) kept her from direct entry into the main draw because she had already used the maximum number of three wild cards from the WTA allotted to a player her age and could not use another before her 16th birthday next spring. (Wild cards are awarded at the discretion of tournament organizers.) So, Gauff was dependent upon being able to first secure entry in the qualifying tournament, then win two matches to reach the 32-player main draw.
By the time former junior champion was introduced by Ein, Gauff was “in,” and because her fourth-round Wimbledon finish rocketed her ranking to No. 143, it earned her the No. 1 seed in the qualifying draw tournament.
“I’m happy to get on the court,” said Gauff during a well-attended press conference on Friday. The Delray Beach, Fla. native is still getting used to being the center of everyone’s attention. “I wasn’t sure if I would get to play.”
Now, that Gauff was officially in the mix, she said in a friendly and confident tone of voice, “I’m excited that I get to play here. I’m glad and I hope that this preparation will go well.” After all, the Citi Open represents the best opportunity for Gauff to get some match experience before the U.S. Open begins at the end of August.
On Saturday afternoon under scorching 90º (Fahrenheit) temperatures, Gauff faced fellow American Maegan Manasse, a former collegiate All-American from the University of California, Berkeley. The match was showcased on a sun-baked Stadium court and was very well attended, thanks no less to Ein and the Citi Open having Friday afternoon and evening as well as early Saturday to promote the match on its website, citiopentennis.com – and hope it translated into ticket sales.
Not surprisingly, from the time she was introduced as she walked on court to the end of the match, Gauff was clearly the favorite of the fans. She wasted little time showcasing her talented skills and beat Manasse 6-4, 6-2 in one hour and eight minutes. Whether it was one of her three authoritative service aces, or a timely drop shot that she was able to parlay into a forehand winner, Gauff maintained the upper hand through her first-round qualifying match.
Gauff won the 33-minute first set thanks to earning a pair of service breaks coupled with losing only nine points on her serve. She moved ahead 3-0 in the second set by winning points on her serve at more than an 80 percent clip while also breaking Manasse in her first opportunity. Then, Gauff coasted the rest of the way to set up a Sunday afternoon match with eighth seed Hiroko Kuwata of Japan, ranked No. 265.
— USTA (@usta) July 27, 2019
After her Washington, D.C. debut, Gauff said, “It felt great. I’d never been to this tournament before and I’m really loving it so far. The crowd was amazing. The court was amazing. Everything was great.
“Today I learned a lot about how the court plays here. Compared to where I practice at home, the courts are a little bit slower, which is better for me because I feel like I have so much more time. I’m going to take that into my next match.”
Just a few weeks after becoming a major news story throughout the United States, thanks to her first-round upset of her idol Venus Williams at Wimbledon and, then, becoming the youngest female player to reach the fourth round since 1991, Gauff has fit in nicely around the Rock Creek Tennis Center grounds. Whether it be hitting ground strokes on the practice court, sitting for interviews with Washington, D.C. television stations or meeting fans and posing for selfies, Gauff has managed to maintain a positive attitude. She realizes that she’s become the center of attention.
“It’s been a big change for me,” said Gauff in describing how her life has turned topsy turvy since Wimbledon. “I’ve been recognized at the airport, at the movie theaters, almost everywhere I’ve been. But I’m glad that people recognize who I am.”
After all, as an online Citi Open marketing campaign in support of Gauff suggests, and quoting the teen: “I can do anything if I stay focused and stay calm.”
Troicki and Mahut advance in qualifying
ATP Tour veterans Viktor Troicki of Serbia and Nicolas Mahut of France, along with American Donald Young, advanced to Sunday’s final round of men’s qualifying. Other winners included Americans Tim Smyczek and Thai-Son Kwiatkowski.
In women’s qualifying, all eight seeds reached the second day. Among the winners were second seed Sachia Vickery and third seed Francesca Di Lorenzo, both from the the United States, as well as fourth seed Anna Kalinskaya of Russia.
ATP Doubles draw filled with surprises
The men’s doubles draw took place Saturday afternoon in Market Square and there were some interesting surprises among the placement of the 16 teams entered. First, World No. 1s and top seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah of Colombia were drawn to face the “dream team” of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios in the first round. The winners could face another dream team combo of former No. 1 Leander Paes of India and Olympic gold medalist Jack Sock of the United States. Meanwhile, in the other half of the draw, Andy and Jamie Murray will oppose the French duo of Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. The bottom half also includes No. 2 seeds Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil and the No. 3 seeds Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Michael Venus of New Zealand.
Around the Citi Open
• Ticket sales for first day of qualifying for the 2019 Citi Open improved more than almost 20 percent over 2018. “We entertained a record crowd for our qualifying tournament, witnessed great matches and there was a level of electricity and buzz on the grounds that has never been felt on a first day,” said Mark Ein, MDE Tennis chairman and tournament owner. “We cannot wait for Coco to return and for the action to continue (Sunday). We couldn’t have imagined a better start to the reimagined Citi Open.”
• Market Square, a new fully-enclosed air-conditioned tent next to the Stadium was a huge hit on Day 1 of the Citi Open. Market Square is home to food, beverage, music and entertainment with a front-row seat for viewing the practice courts. On Saturday afternoon, the ATP Doubles draw attracted a large gathering and guests enjoyed culinary fare from District favorites including Beefsteak, Duke’s Grocery and Dolcezza.