Youth Is Being Served At This Year’s Citi Open

Stefanos Tsitsipas (photo: Michael Dickens)

WASHINGTON, July 30, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

This year’s ATP 500 Citi Open field is dominated by the current wave of #NextGenATP stars. From 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, the tournament’s top seed, to 23-year-old Russians Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev, seeded second and third, respectively, to Felix Auger-Aliassime, 18, from Canada, youth is being served this week at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in northwest Washington.

Add to the mix, 20-year-old Alex de Minaur of Australia, a Citi Open finalist last year who rolls into the capital city fresh off winning the BB&T Atlanta Open Sunday night – even local favorite Frances Tiafoe, who’s only 21 – and it’s anyone’s guess who might lift the champion’s trophy next Sunday afternoon.

Tsitsipas was ranked No. 32 coming into the Citi Open a year ago and raised his game to reach the semifinals before he lost to eventual champion Alexander Zverev. From there, Tsitsipas started an in-form hard-court run the following week when he beat four Top 10 players at the Masters 1000 Rogers Cup in Canada. The Greek’s superb two-week run lifted him into the Top 15 and he went on to capture the Next Gen ATP Finals title in Milan. He’s built upon last year’s success and won two titles in 2019 (at Marseille and Estoril). Now, he’s arrived in the nation’s capital city a bonafide worldwide superstar, ranked No. 6, and a popular fan favorite among Citi Open fans.

Asked by Tennis TourTalk how he’s handled going from playing on the Challenger Tour to becoming a Top 10 player in a little over a year, Tsitsipas said, “I’ve matured a lot and I’ve played a lot of matches. I’ve remained hungry, motivated, and with a desire to do well.”

Meanwhile, the rise of Khachanov and Medvedev has been remarkable, too. Khachanov made his Top 10 debut after reaching the French Open quarterfinals and became the first Russian Top 10 player since Mikhail Youzhny in 2011. After losing in the first round of the Citi Open to Denis Kudla last year, Khachanov will face 70th-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, a 6-4, 7-6 (2) winner over 99th-ranked Canadian qualifier Brayden Schnur, in Tuesday evening’s featured second-round match on Stadium Court.

Medvedev, who reached the Citi Open quarterfinals in 2017, joined Khachanov in the Top 10 following this year’s Wimbledon. He comes in with a 30-14 record and will face American wild card Bjorn Fratangelo, in his first match. The 124th-ranked Fratangelo advanced over No. 80 Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, 6-4, 6-7 (14), 7-6 (5), Monday afternoon on John Harris Court. The second set, alone, which featured a 30-point tie-break, lasted 67 minutes.

As for the ninth seed Auger-Aliassime, the only player aged 18 or under currently in the ATP Top 100, he has reached his first three ATP Tour singles finals this season, and achieved a career-high ranking of No. 21 last month. Tsitsipas, who lost to Auger-Aliassime in the quarterfinals at Queen’s Club on grass last month, paid his fellow #NextGenATP star the ultimate compliment during a news conference Monday afternoon. He said of the young Canadian star, who turns 19 next week: “He’s very humble, polite, very ethical. He does everything the right way, with a professional attitude. He has a very bright future.”

Murray looks forward to playing singles, again

Three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray, who is playing doubles with his older brother, Jamie, this week at the Citi Open, was asked if he’ll play singles again. His answer: “I’m quite close, but there’s stuff that needs to get better.”

During a news conference late Monday afternoon, Murray, feeling good and sounding much happier than he did here a year ago when he withdrew from the Citi Open because of fatigue, after finishing a match at 3 a.m., remains optimistic he’ll be playing singles soon – maybe as soon as the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati in two weeks.

“It’s possible, yeah, best, best-case scenario,” Murray said. “Best-case scenario probably would be Cincinnati. And then if I wasn’t able to play in Cincinnati, there’s a good chance I would probably wait until after (the U.S. Open in) New York, because I wouldn’t want my first tournament, either, to be playing best-of-five (sets).”

Murray, who has been seen playing some singles sets on the practice courts, noted that his cardio isn’t up to start for playing singles as he works himself back into shape following his hip resurfacing operation.

The Murray brothers will face Wimbledon finalists Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasellin, both from France, on Wednesday. It will be Andy Murray’s fourth doubles event this summer since returning to competition.

Around the Citi Open

• The first-time “dream” doubles team of Aussie Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece won a set off of Wimbledon champions and top seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, the World No. 1s from Colombia, which gave the enthusiastic Stadium crowd something to get excited about during Monday night’s featured Stadium Court match. After a shaky start, Kyrgios, whose collegial spirit playing along side Tsitsipas was a refreshing change from his oft-boorish behavior, entertained everyone with his trick-shots and 120 mile-per-hour rocket serves while serving for the second set. Suddenly, he and Tsitsipas began to click on the court. However, after taking the match to the distance, it was Cabal and Farah who prevailed, 6-3, 3-6, 10-5, to advance to the next round.

Afterward, there was plenty of love between Kyrgios and Tsitsipas during a brief exchange with reporters. Kyrgios said of Tsitsipas: “He’s only just begun. Hopefully, he doesn’t make the same mistakes I have. If he keeps his head down, he can do some special things.”

Tsitsipas on Kyrgios: “I got inspired today, honestly, I won’t lie. His serve was brutal … I wish I could serve like that. It’s unbelievable to see that in a human being.”

The 52nd-ranked Kyrgios, who is unseeded in singles, will be the late night attraction on Stadium Court Tuesday night when he faces 206th-ranked American qualifier Thai-Son Kwiatkowski.

• Denis Kudla of the United States, from nearby Arlington, Va., is a product of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., and has made the main draw sixth straight years. Last year, Kudla reached the semifinals after going 0-4 in his previous Citi Open appearances. On Monday, the 98th-ranked Kudla opened the tournament on Stadium Court against another American, wild card Tommy Paul, and went down 6-0, 6-4 in 57 minutes.

• Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova brought a 5-2 head-to-head win-loss record into her match against Christina McHale of the U.S. Twice, she’s been a Citi Open finalist, losing to Magdalena Rybarikova in 2012 and to this year’s top seed Sloane Stephens in 2015. However, the seventh seed was ousted in the first round by McHale, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, in two hours and 18 minutes on the Grandstand Court.

• No. 5 seed Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine had beaten Wang Yafan of China once before, in the second round of the 2016 U.S. Open. On Monday afternoon, they met and Tsurenko prevailed, again, 6-3, 6-2, in 72 minutes on the Grandstand Court, outpointing Wang 61-42.

• After playing the featured match on Stadium Court both Saturday and Sunday during qualifying, Coco Gauff returned Monday to play doubles with fellow American Catherine McNally, in a reunion of sorts for the 2018 U.S. Open Girls’ Doubles champions. They beat alternates Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan and Zhu Lin of China, 6-3, 6-2, in 62 minutes in front of a packed Grandstand Court crowd.

“I’m super excited to play with her at the professional level,” Gauff told over the weekend about teaming with McNally, noting that it would be the pair’s first professional match together. “I’ve known here a long time. I’m excited. We’re a great pair together on the court. I think we’re going to do well.”

• Former doubles World No. 1 Rennae Stubbs from Australia, now a TV commentator for both Tennis Channel and ESPN – and a familiar face and voice to U.S. audiences –  is onsite this week to interview ATP and WTA players inside the new Market Square hospitality area each evening. “Tennis Talks with Rennae Stubbs” launched Monday, featuring a conversation with Andy Murray, who is playing doubles with his older brother, Jamie, this week.

By the numbers

• The oldest player in the men’s draw is Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, age 40, while the youngest is 19-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada. On the women’s side, the oldest player is Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, age 33, while the youngest is 15-year-old Coco Gauff.

• Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev are the first Russians to be simultaneously ranked in the Top 10 since Mikhail Youzhny and Nikolay Davydenko in October 2010.

• No. 8 seed Milos Raonic of Canada (8-2 in past Citi Open play) is the only prior Citi Open champion in the men’s draw this year. The former World No. 3 beat his countryman Vasek Pospisil in the 2014 final, his only only title at ATP 500-level or higher.

John Isner, the top-ranked American at No. 15, enjoyed a career breakthrough in Washington back in 2007, when he strung together five straight wins in final-set tie breaks (what else!) to reach his first singles final as a 416th-ranked wild card. Since then, he’s reached the Citi Open final twice – 2013 and 2015 – but is still seeking his first Citi Open trophy. Isner will play 44th-ranked Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, who defeated 195th-ranked American qualifier Donald Young, 6-1, 6-4 Monday night.

What they’re saying

• Coco Gauff, 15, who reached the main draw with a couple of qualifying draw wins over the weekend, on what it was like playing in front of her extended family: “This is the first tournament that we’re all together. Now, they get to watch me play. It’s all been last minute, but I’m just so happy and grateful that I’ve gotten this opportunity to play here and I’m excited that I’m still in the tournament, so that’s good.”

More Coco: “I’ve figured out my game a little bit more. Definitely a lot more confidence and I feel like I’m putting a lot less pressure on myself and I feel like I’m enjoying it more and not necessarily thinking about losing, but just thinking about taking it point by point.”

• Frances Tiafoe, one of the #NextGenATP stars in the draw who is from nearby Hyattsville, Md., on this year’s men’s field: “There’s a ton of great players playing this week, but if I bring it, I’m excited to play top guys. I want to play top guys. Those matches, I’m not really worried about them, I know I’m going to play well. I’m going to be excited to play on a good court, with good fans and great energy. It’s those matches that aren’t as exciting where it’s tougher to get up for. But if I play well, I’ve got a good chance against anyone in the world.”

Monday’s results

Men’s singles / first round
WC-Tommy Paul d. Denis Kudla, 6-0, 6-4
Q-Marc Polmans d. Malek Jaziri, 6-2, 6-4
Hubert Hurkacz d. Q-Donald Young, 6-1, 6-4
Adrian Mannarino d. LL-Ilya Ivashka, 7-6 (3), 6-3
Marius Copil d. Q-Mikael Torpegaard, 6-1, 5-7, 6-3
Alexander Bublik d. Bradley Klahn, 7-6 (5), 6-3
WC-Bjorn Fratangelo d. Ivo Karlovic, 6-4, 6-7 (14), 7-6 (5)
Q-Tim Smyczek d. Matthew Ebden, 6-4, 6-4
Lloyd Harris d. Ricardas Berankis, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga d. Q-Bradley Schnur, 6-4, 7-6 (2)

Women’s singles / first round
No. 5 Lesia Tsurenko d. Wang Yafan, 6-3, 6-2
Q-Varvara Gracheva d. Anna Blinkova, 6-2, 5-6, 6-2
Christina McHale d. No. 7 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5
Jessica Pegula d. No. 6 Katerina Siniakova, 6-4, 6-3
Iga Swiatek d. Ons Jabeur, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
Lauren Davis d. Eugenie Bouchard, 6-1, 6-2
No. 3 Sofia Kenin d. Jennifer Brady, 6-2, 6-4
Q-Anna Kalinskaya d. Nao Hibino, 6-1, 6-1

Men’s doubles / first round
No. 1 Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah d. Nick Kyrgios/Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-3, 3-6, 10-5
No. 2 Lukasz Kubot/Marcelo Melo d. Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury, 4-6, 6-3, 10-5

Women’s doubles / first round
WC-Coco Gauff/Catherine McNally d. Zarina Diyas/Zhu Lin, 6-3, 6-2
Allie Kiick/Sachia Vickery d. Cameron Moira/Alana Smith, 7-5, 2-6, 10-1

Tuesday’s schedule

Stadium / From 2 p.m.
No. 1 Sloane Stephens vs. Rebecca Peterson
Not before 4:30 p.m.
No. 16 Frances Tiafoe vs. Alexander Bublik
Not before 7 p.m.
Q-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. No. 2 Karen Khachanov
Q-Thai-Son Kwiatkowski vs. Nick Kyrgios

John Harris Court / From 1 p.m.
Daniel Evans vs. Yoshihito Nishioka
Reilly Opelka vs. WC-Christopher Eubanks
Zarina Diyas vs. Q-Coco Gauff
WC-Bjorn Fratangelo vs. No. 3 Daniil Medvedev
No. 6 Marin Cilic vs. Marius Copil

Grandstand / From 1 p.m.
No. 8 Monica Puig vs. WC-Allie Kiick
Kristina Mladenovic vs. Shelby Rogers
Q-Sachia Vickery vs. Camila Giorgi
WC-Hailey Baptiste vs. No. 2 Madison Keys
Zhu Lin vs. WC-Catherine McNally

Court 4 / From 1 p.m.
Miomir Kecmanovic vs. Alexei Popyrin
WC-Jack Sock vs. Jordan Thompson
No. 13 Kyle Edmund vs. Lloyd Harris
Andrey Rublev vs. Bernard Tomic
No. 4 Hsieh Su-Wei vs. Kirsten Flipkens

Court 5 / From 1 p.m.
No. 1 Anna Blinkova/Katerina Siniakova vs. Hsieh Yu-Chieh/You Xiaodi
Nikola Mektic/Franko Skugor vs. Q-Matthew Ebden/Nicholas Monroe
No. 3 Anna Kalinskaya/Miyu Kato vs. Eugenie Bouchard/Sofia Kenin
WC-Leander Paes/Jack Sock vs. Alex de Minaur/John Peers, after suitable rest
Jessica Pegula/Shelby Rogers vs. Elena Bogdan/Rosalie Van Der Hoek, after suitable rest