Citi Open: Headliners Galore At Washington’s Summer Tennis Tradition

Nick Kyrgios (photo: Citi Open)

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

The 2019 Citi Open, with a star-studded lineup that features four Top 10 players – Stefanos Tsitsipas, Karen Khachanov, Daniil Medvedev and Sloane Stephens – begins Monday at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in northwest Washington and continues through August 4.

The “reimagined” Citi Open, under new management with a different vision on how to make Washington’s summer tennis tradition a more enjoyable experience for both players and fans, alike, is the kick-off to the U.S. Open Series of summer hardcourt tournaments. It culminates with the season’s last Grand Slam event, the U.S. Open, in New York late next month.

With one of the deepest draws for the concurrent ATP 500 and WTA International events in recent memory, it will be interesting to see who handles the summer heat and humid conditions – and, sometimes, lengthy rain delays – the best. One thing’s certain, there will be two new singles champions lifting trophies next Sunday. That’s because neither 2018 titlists are back to defend their crowns. World No. 5 Alexander Zverev stayed home in Germany to play in the ATP 500 Hamburg European Open this week (losing to eventual champion Nikolaz Basilashvili in the semifinals), while Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, was a last-minute scratch due to visa problems, which prohibited her from traveling from her home country to Washington in time to play.

One player who is here and ready to make an impact is 41st-ranked Frances Tiafoe of the United States, from nearby Hyattsville, Maryland. The 21-year-old, who is fourth-best among the American men, hopes to break out of the pack and make an impact. He’s seeded 16th in the 48-player singles draw and, after a first-round bye, will begin his quest in the second round against either Bradley Klahn of the U.S. or Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, a finalist on grass in the Hall of Fame Open at Newport, R.I., a week ago.

“I’m nowhere near where I want to be,” said Tiafoe speaking informally to a small group of reporters on Friday, “but I know what I have to do to get where I want to go.” While Tiafoe has achieved good results on all surfaces, it’s on hard courts such as he’ll be playing on at the Citi Open, that have rewarded him the most. “It seems that way, doesn’t it?”

Early this season, Tiafoe reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and the Miami Open playing on hard-court surfaces. Lately, it’s been a struggle for Tiafoe as his 13-19 win-loss record attests. He’s been knocked out in the opening round of four of his last five tournaments.

“We’re all professionals,” said Tiafoe, still upbeat and smiling. “I think we can all adjust, but it’s tough. Everyone’s good here. I’m excited (to be playing). I’m trying to build some matches toward the U.S. Open.

“I’d love to win and have my name here on center court. That’s my goal.”

Dream doubles match highlights Monday’s play

Wimbledon champions Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both from Colombia, whose recent Grand Slam triumph lifted them to the top of the men’s doubles rankings, will play in the featured Stadium match Monday night (not before 7 p.m. ET) against “dream team” Nick Kyrgios of Australia and Stefanos Tsitsipas from Greece. It’s a match-up that Citi Open owner Mark Ein envisioned in reimagining this year’s tournament. Expect to see plenty of doubles, with the Top 10 men all playing, showcased throughout the week-long tournament.

Other Stadium matches on Day 1 include: No. 101 Denis Kudla, from nearby Arlington, Virginia, against No. 128 wild card Tommy Paul of Greenville, North Carolina, in a matchup of Americans, will start play at 2 p.m. ET, followed by Canadian qualifier Brayden Schnur, a fixture on the ATP Challenger circuit, versus No. 68 Jo-Wilfred Tsonga of France. The night session begins with the men’s doubles showcase, then finishes with No. 114 Eugenie Bouchard from Canada against No. 73 Lauren Davis of the United States (not before 8:30 p.m.).

A total of 22 matches are on the Day 1 schedule at the Citi Open spread over five competition courts. Tickets are available via the Citi Open’s website.

Gauff’s win headlines second day of qualifying

For the second straight day, Cori “Coco” Gauff headlined qualifying draw activities at the Citi Open on Sunday afternoon. Her match against 265th-ranked Hiroko Kuwata of Japan generated plenty of buzz among the 3,000 fans, who braved another sunny, hot day to see her in action on the Stadium Court.

The final day of Citi Open qualifying took place with six men’s and four women’s tickets being punched to round out the main draw for the ATP 500 and WTA International fields.

Gauff reached her third career main draw, following up her successes earlier this year at the Miami Open and more recently at the Wimbledon Championships, with her 6-1, 6-2 win over Kuwata. She didn’t disappoint the crowd during her 64-minute match. The 15-year-old, who’s the youngest player in the tournament, served eight aces, won 89 percent (25 of 28) of her first-serve points, saved all three break points she faced, and broke her opponent four times in 12 opportunities. Gauff, who outpointed Kuwata 62-38, dropped just nine games during her two qualifying wins.

After the win, Gauff said, “I’m happy that I was able to get into the main draw. These two matches, I feel like, will prep me for my first round, especially because I’ve never been to this tournament before.”

Next, Gauff, who was placed in the upper-half of the 32-player main draw in top seed Sloane Stephens’ quarter, will face No. 84 Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan in the first round on Tuesday.

Also advancing to the women’s main draw were: second seed Sachia Vickery of the United States, ranked No 151, who defeated fifth seed Destanee Aiava of Australia, 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-3; fourth seed Anna Kalinskaya of Russia, ranked No. 161, who beat No. 224 Fanny Stollar of Hungary, 7-6 (3), 6-3; and 18-year-old sixth seed Varvara Gracheva of Russia, ranked No. 214, who upset No. 159 Francesca Di Lorenzo of the U.S., 7-6 (6), 6-4.

Among those reaching the men’s main draw were veteran American Donald Young, twice a Citi Open semifinalist (2011, 2014) who reached the tournament’s main draw for the sixth straight year and ninth time overall. He beat No. 122 Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

“It feels really good,” said Young, recovering from neck and back injuries, as quoted by His last tour-level main draw win came a year ago here against Stan Wawrinka. “I’ve been through a lot so to be healthy again is good. This is the first time this year where I’ve really been healthy for more than two or three weeks. Mentally, I’ve been there. But physically, it’s taken a toll.”

Also moving on were: No. 208 Thai-Son Kwiatkowski of the United States, a former NCAA singles champion from the University of Virginia, who upset fifth seed Viktor Troicki of Serbia, ranked No. 155, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4 in two hours and five minutes; No. 177 Mikael Torpegaard of Denmark, a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 winner over third seed Ilya Ivashka of Belarus, ranked 126th; No. 282 Tim Smyczek of the U.S., who upset No. 132 Norbert Gombos of Slovakia, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-3; 10th seed Marc Polmans, a South African-born Australian ranked No. 179, who edged past sixth seed Nicolas Mahut of France, ranked 158th, 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-4; and No. 97 Brayden Schnur of Canada edged past No. 256 Uzbekistan-born Gleb Sakharov, from France, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. Afterward, Ivashka was added to the main draw as a lucky loser replacing Ugo Humbert of France, who withdrew due to fatigue.

With one men’s doubles slot going to a qualifier, second seeds Matthew Ebden of Australia and Nicholas Monroe of the U.S. beat top seeds Rohan Bopanna of India and Benoit Paire of France, 2-6, 6-3, 10-7, to advance to the main draw.

Local wild cards getting recognition

A couple of local wild cards, Andrew Fenty and Robin Montgomery, fell during first-round qualifying on Saturday. However, in defeat, both acquitted themselves well during their respective matches on Stadium court.

While Coco Gauff, 15, has been garnering much of the early recognition during qualifying weekend, Montgomery, just 14 and a product of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in nearby College Park, Maryland, showed she has tremendous potential, too. After losing to 192nd-ranked Australian Destanee Aiava, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, Montgomery knows there are better days ahead for her.

Meanwhile, the 19-year-old Fenty, who also trained at the JTCC and was Big Ten Freshman of Year two seasons ago while playing for the University of Michigan, took ATP Tour veteran Viktor Troicki of Serbia to three sets and saved one match point before losing 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 in one hour and 46 minutes. Fenty received much applause from the home crowd.

Around the Citi Open

• The Citi Open Kids’ Day powered by Net Generation, hosted by teen phenom Coco Gauff, brought a record number of youngsters out early Sunday to the Stadium Court at the Rock Creek Tennis Center for a morning of fun-filled activities. There were special on-court appearances from Nick Kyrgios and Frances Tiafoe as well as by Sofia Kenin and Genie Bouchard, who interacted with participants.

• The grounds surrounding the Rock Creek Tennis Center Park, home of the Citi Open, make it conducive for fans wanting to snag autographs or take selfies with their favorite players. During the qualifying rounds on both Saturday and Sunday, the areas near the practice courts and outside the players’ locker room were popular hangouts for fans hoping to have a chance to exchange pleasantries with their favorite players. On Sunday, Nick Kyrgios generated quite a buzz when he stopped outside the entry gate to the practice courts to sign autographs for adoring fans, then traded barbs with Andy Murray as the three-time Grand Slam champion was going out to practice.

Also, the Citibank autograph booth on the west side of the Stadium featured players like World No. 6 and Citi Open men’s top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, 2016 Olympic singles gold medalist Monica Puig from Puerto Rico and Jennifer Brady of the United States signing autographs and posing for photos.

• According to the Citi Open, Sunday’s attendance showed a 30 percent increase over the same Sunday a year ago. Overall, attendance for the two-day 2019 qualifying tournament rose by 23 percent over last year.

Monday’s order of play

Stadium / From 2 p.m. ET
Denis Kudla vs. WC-Tommy Paul
Not before 4:30 p.m.
Q-Brayden Schnur vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Not before 7 p.m.
No. 1 Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah vs. Nick Kyrgios/Stefanos Tsitsipas
Eugenie Bouchard vs. Lauren Davis

John Harris Court / From 1 p.m. ET
WC-Bjorn Fratangelo vs. Ivo Karlovic
Q-Mikael Torpegaard vs. Marius Copil
Alexander Bublik vs. Bradley Klahn
Matthew Ebden vs. Q-Tim Smyczek
Malek Jaziri vs. Q-Marc Polmans

Grandstand / From 1 p.m. ET
Christina McHale vs. No. 7 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Wang Yafan vs. No. 5 Lesia Tsurenko
Hayley Carter/Megan Manasse vs. WC-Coco Gauff/Catherine McNally
Jennifer Brady vs. No. 3 Sofia Kenin
No. 6 Katerina Siniakova vs. Jessica Pegula

Court 4 / From 1 p.m. ET
Ons Jabeur vs. Iga Swiatek
Lloyd Harris vs. Ricardas Berankis
Adrian Mannarino vs. LL-Ilya Ivashka
Q-Anna Kalinskaya vs. Nao Hibino
Hubert Hurkacz vs. Donald Young

Court 5 / From 1 p.m. ET
WC-Cameron Moira/Alana Smith vs. Allie Kiick/Sachia Vickery
Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury vs. No. 2 Lukasz Kubot/Marcelo Melo
Anna Blinkova vs. Q-Varvara Gracheva