Citi Open: Zverev Loves Washington For More Than Just The Tennis

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

Defending Citi Open men’s champion Alexander Zverev, currently ranked No. 3 in the world behind only No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 2 Roger Federer, loves coming to Washington, D.C. — and not just for the tennis that this ATP 500-level tournament offers.

“It’s a different kind of city, an historic old city with lots of monuments. You can walk around and learn from it,” said Zverev during a 10-minute gathering with tournament media assembled at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center on Monday afternoon. He said that Washington, which he compared the feel of to a European city, along with Miami, are his favorite ATP World Tour cities.

The Citi Open holds a special place for Zverev. He is making his fourth appearance in the nation’s capital city and continues to improve his result each year. He reached the quarterfinals in 2015, the semifinals in 2017 and won it all in 2018. A year ago, Zverev successfully kick-started his hard-court season by winning the Citi Open men’s final over Kevin Anderson and followed it up a week later by capturing the Rogers Cup, an ATP Masters 1000 event in Montreal, by beating Federer. The Citi Open is one of five titles the German is defending this year.

“I think I’m a better player than I was last year,” said Zverev, who has compiled an impressive 36-11 win-loss record while reaching a career-best ranking of No. 3 this year. “I think I’m better prepared, I think I’m better physically. Also, I think tennis-wise, there are things that I’ve improved.

“I think you can always improve. There are always areas where you can improve until the end of your career. But the competition doesn’t sleep, either. They’re all trying to find ways. They’re to improve as well. It’s been an exciting year so far, and hopefully it will be in the second half of the year as well.”

Meanwhile, as the top seed and the biggest marquee name in the 48-player men’s singles field, it’s a pretty safe bet that Zverev will play all of his matches in the 2018 Citi Open on the Stadium court, which suits him just fine. He begins defense of his title against 64th-ranked Malek Jaziri of Tunisia, who endured a five hour and 48 minute rain delay before advancing 6-4, 6-1 over No. 76 Evgeny Donskoy of Russia, in Tuesday evening’s featured Stadium match.

“I’m going to do my best to win the (Citi Open) title again,” said Zverev. “I’ve got 1,500 points coming off in the next two weeks. Everyone’s fascinated.”

Petkovic charms Stadium crowd 

Andrea Petkovic of Germany, who was a semifinalist in last year’s Citi Open and a finalist in 2013, needed just 53 minutes to advance to the second round. She soundly if not efficiently defeated Jamie Loeb of the U.S., 6-1, 6-1, in the opening match of the tournament on the Stadium court Monday afternoon. She celebrated her triumph by doing the “Petko Dance” to the delight of the small but appreciative crowd.

The  91st-ranked Petkovic won 81 percent of her first-serve points (well over her season average of 60 percent), broke the 23-year-old Loeb five times in eight tries and faced no break points on her own serve. She outpointed her overmatched opponent 56-31.

“I’m very satisfied,” said Petkovic, 30, following her win during an interview with Tennis Channel’s Justin Gimelstob. “I’ve always played well in Washington, D.C. and I had two good weeks of preparation. I thought I was playing well, but you never know until you step out on court.

“I was happy that I was very solid and had very few unforced errors. The court was a little slower than last year. You really have to work for your points. Overall, I’m very satisfied.

“The courts (at the Citi Open) suit me well. I love the hard courts, but the way the U.S. Open Series is built up, it’s difficult to sustain your level because there’s one tournament after another. In Washington, there’s always two or three weeks to prepare. I know I always play well when I’ve had enough time to prepare.”

Next, Petkovic will face either No. 2 seed Sloane Stephens or wild card Bethanie Mattek-Sands, ranked 381st, who are scheduled first in the Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.

“I don’t look at the whole draw, but I always look at my section to see more or less who is there. I don’t always look at the exact match ups, but I was well aware that my next match would be against Sloane or Bethanie. The most important thing — and the most difficult thing — as a tennis player is to stay in the moment and to really play point by point and not expect too much. I think I did that well today.”

Kuznetsova advances

2014 Citi Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, ranked 128th, was among four women  who advanced to the second round before rain suspended play. The 33-year-old tour veteran from Russia, who came in with just a 4-10 win-loss record this season, beat young American Kristie Ahn, ranked 160th, 6-2, 6-1. Also advancing was qualifier Allie Kiick of the U.S., ranked 202nd, who defeated Xinyun Han of China, ranked 150th, 6-2, 6-3, for her first WTA main draw win since 2014. The first seeded player in the women’s draw to lose was No. 5 Aleksandra Krunic of Russia, ranked 47th. She was upset by 118th-ranked Katie Boulter of Great Britain, 6-2, 6-0.

Other Monday winners: Hubert Hurkacz of Poland and Tim Smyczek of the U.S. in singles and the fourth-seeded team of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares in doubles.

News and noteworthy

* For the the first time on the ATP World Tour, a 25-second serve clock is being implemented during the Citi Open. It will be used at three other events leading up to the U.S. Open.

* Six of the Top 10 #NextGenATP in the ATP Race to Milan standings are playing this week at the Citi Open. They include: No. 2 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 3 Denis Shapovalov, No. 4 Frances Tiafoe, No. 5 Alex de Minaur, No. 8 Andrey Rublev and No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz. World No. 3 Alexander Zverev, who is the leader in the Milan Race, is No. 3 in the Race to London for the Nitto ATP Finals.

* Six of the Top 10 doubles teams in the ATP Doubles Race to London standings are in the Citi Open draw, led by World No. 1 Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic, who have already clinched their place in the season finale. The others are No. 3 Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farrah, No. 4. Nikola Mektic and Alexander Peya, No. 6 Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus, No. 7 Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, and No. 8 Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo. The reigning champions are Henri Kontinen and John Peers.

* Former World No. 8 Mikhail Youzhny, who is making his first visit to the Citi Open since 2009, started the week just two wins from the 500 Win Club. He has the second most wins among Russians in the Open Era.

* At 36 years, 1 month Youzhny is the oldest player in the Citi Open singles field. Shapovalov is the youngest at 19 years, 3 months.

* There are three former Citi Open champions in the women’s singles draw: 2014 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2015 champion Sloane Stephens, and 2017 champion Ekaterina Makarova.

What they’re saying

* 2015 Citi Open champion and No. 7 seed Kei Nishikori, who is currently ranked 20th in the world, and has a 12-5 win-loss record this year: “Returning to the Top 10 is a priority.”

* Local favorite Frances Tiafoe, who is seeded 13th, broke into the Top 50 and is currently ranked No. 41. He’s one of the #NextGenATP rising stars and enjoying the attention. He says: “I feel like I fit in. I have my own personality.”