Citi Open: Stephens Advances, Wozniacki Withdraws

WASHINGTON, August 1, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

After a tentative opening set in which she rallied from 2-5 down and fought off four set points, No. 2 seed Sloane Stephens gained momentum during a seven-game run in her first-round match against resilient wild card Bethanie Matek-Sands, her U.S. Fed Cup teammate, in the Citi Open at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in Washington, D.C., Tuesday afternoon.

As it happened, Stephens won going away, 7-5, 6-4, in one hour and 53 minutes on the Stadium court despite a brief rain delay. It didn’t dampen Stephens’ enthusiasm at all even if it might have seemed awkward playing against her compatriot.

“We’ve played on a lot of Fed Cup teams together,” Stephens told Tennis Channel after her win over Mattek-Sands. “I was excited to see her and play against her. I knew not to get frustrated. I had to stay patient and wait for my opportunities. I felt super comfortable. I was ready.”

After yielding consecutive service aces to the always colorfully attired Mattek-Sands at the start of the match, Stephens found her groove and rhythm later on. Although the reigning U.S. Open champion and French Open finalist won just 63 percent (37 of 59) of her first-serve points, Stephens saved seven of the nine break points she faced and broke Mattek-Sands four times in four tries.

Later, during a post-match press conference, Stephens was asked what it’s like to be on the other side of the net facing a Fed Cup teammate in a competitive match. She responded: “When you’re competing on the court, whatever happens happens. After the match you’re still friends. Win or lose, it won’t make or break a friendship.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Stephens faces Germany’s Andrea Petkovic in a second-round match on the Stadium court.

Wozniacki withdraws with leg injury

Meanwhile, women’s top seed and World No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki withdrew from the Citi Open just hours before her opening round match with a right-leg injury. She was scheduled to play qualifier Anhelina Kalinina of the Ukraine Tuesday night. Wozniacki was replaced in the draw by lucky loser Ysaline Bonaventure of Belgium, who lost in last weekend’s qualifying draw after being seeded first.

After practicing Monday, Wozniacki told that her leg “is just something that has been nagging a little bit, but hopefully it’ll be fine.”

Wozniacki’s last competitive match was July 4 at Wimbledon, in which she lost in the second round to Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, who won last year’s Citi Open women’s title. (Makarova was upset in Tuesday’s first round by Ana Bogdan of Romania.) The reigning Australian Open champion has not played a hard court match the Miami Open in March. She has less than a month to recover for the U.S. Open, which starts on August 27.

Other women’s results

No. 7 seed Donna Vekic of Croatia advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over American Caroline Dolehide in a match originally scheduled for Monday night but postponed to Tuesday because of rain. It was played on intimate Match Court 3, which has no permanent seats. Thus, fans were lined two and three deep standing along the fence on one side of the court to catch an up close view. Elsewhere, No. 3 seed Naomi Osaka of Japan defeated Bernarda Pera of the U.S., 6-2, 7-6 (4), while No. 4 seed Makarova lost to Bogdan, 7-6 (2), 6-3. Also, No. 6 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland defeated qualifier Harriet Dart of Great Britain, 7-5, 6-2, No. 8 seed Yulia Putintseva of Russia advanced with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win over Tatiana Maria of Germany, and unseeded Nao Hibino of Japan defeated qualifier Sofya Zhuk of Russia, 7-5, 6-4.

Riding out a rain delay

On Monday, Malek Jaziri of Tunisia rode out a five-hour, 48-minute ran delay en route to winning his first-round match over Evgeny Donskoy of Russia, 6-4, 6-1, on Match Court 1, which sits in the shadows of the Stadium. The unseeded and 64th-ranked Jaziri’s match lasted just 89 minutes. He endured a marathon 24-point game to hold his serve for an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the second set. It lifted his spirits and gave him the momentum needed to patiently close out the victory on his fourth match-point try over the 76th-ranked Donskoy. What began at 3:53 p.m. Monday afternoon under threatening skies ended at 11:08 p.m. with just a handful of fans remaining to see the finish.

The win earned the 34-year-old Arab. No. 1, who was a semifinalist earlier this year in Dubai and a finalist in Istanbul, a prized Stadium berth on Tuesday night against World No. 3 and top-seeded Alexander Zverev – less than 24 hours after beating Donskoy. Jaziri’s coach, Christophe Freyss, didn’t seem concerned by the quick turn around. “Sometimes, its better,” he said Monday night while walking from the court to the nearby racket stringer’s office following Jaziri’s win. “Malek is starting to play the way he’s capable, the way he should. OK, lets play.”

Following a one-hour rain delay and with just a few hundred fans remaining in the Stadium, Jaziri and Zverev finally began their second-round match at 11 p.m. local time. They played for just 18 minutes before the rain returned. Both players stayed out on court seated under umbrellas and play resumed 11 minutes later. However, it lasted for just six minutes before the match was suspended and the players exited the court to wait the tournament’s next decision.

Jaziri and Zverev returned and completed the first set, won by Zverev 6-2, before play was suspended for good at 1:10 a.m. as the rain returned and sanity prevailed.

The match will be resumed Wednesday afternoon following the Murray-Edmund match in what has now become a very packed schedule on all courts.

Young upsets Wawrinka

American qualifier Donald Young, ranked 234th and with just two tour-level wins to his credit this year, scored a satisfying win over three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3). The 198th-ranked Swiss was unable to break the lefty Young’s serve during the two hour and 21 minute contest played under the Stadium lights.

“I’ve been losing so much, I thought why not just buckle down and fight and compete,” said Young, a Citi Open semifinalist in 2011 and 2014, during an interview with Tennis Channel after the match. “He wasn’t playing his best tennis and neither was I. I felt like if I could fight and compete, I could win.”

Other men’s results

Playing on the Stadium court in front of his hometown fans, Arlington, Virginia, native Denis Kudla, ranked 85th, garnered a satisfying 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3 win over Lukas Lacko of Slovakia. “For me, this is always a place I’ve wanted to win. I’ve always struggled here; my record was pretty awful coming into today. But today everything just came together. I had a good feeling about it. I’m just glad everything connected and I couldn’t be more thrilled with this win.” 

Also advancing were: Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus over Benoit Paire of France, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2; Alex de Minaur of Australia beat Vasek Pospisil of Canada, 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-3; Jared Donaldson of the U.S. advanced over Jordan Thompson of Australia, 6-4, 7-6 (4); James Duckworth of Australia bested Thai-Son Kwiatkowski of the U.S., 6-3, 7-5; and Daniil Medvedev of Russia defeated Yosuke Watanuki of Japan, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.

What they’re saying

* World No. 9 John Isner, who is seeded second here behind Alexander Zverev and faces fellow American wild card Noah Rubin, ranked No. 152, in the final Wednesday night match on Stadium court, is used to playing through the humid and often rainy conditions at the Citi Open: “We’re used to playing late matches here. You deal with it and whoever deals with it the best usually wins it all.” Asked who his biggest rival was, Isner smiled at the question, then answered: “I like to think I’m friends with everyone on tour. The one we’re all chasing is Alex (Zverev). Everyone is going after him.”

* Naomi Osaka of Japan loves to play hard court tennis. It’s the one reason the World No. 17 is competing at the Citi Open this week where she is seeded third. “I don’t usually look at the draw, but I always know there’s a chance I can win.”

* Former World No. 1 Andy Murray, who plays fellow Briton Kyle Edmund in his next match on Wednesday afternoon, was asked to describe his fan base which was out in big numbers on Monday night for his first-round match against Mackenzie McDonald despite a lengthy rain delay that pushed back the start to 10 p.m.: “That’s the great thing about tennis, you get fans from all over the world coming to watch tournaments in some of the biggest cities in the world and it’s nice to see that. The Brits, especially in America, get a lot of support.”