Win Or Lose, Rising Star Russians Garner Main Stage Attention at Citi Open

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga celebrates victory. (photo: Michael Dickens)

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Rising Russian stars Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev, seeded second and third, respectively, at the Citi Open each shared the spotlight at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in northwest Washington on Tuesday evening. While Medvedev restored some calm after a topsy turvy afternoon, in which American teen phenom Coco Gauff’s singles run came to an abrupt halt and top seed Sloane Stephens was also shown the door, Khachanov lost a slugfest.

Khachanov, who achieved a career-high No. 8 ranking earlier this month and became the first Russian in the Top 10 since Mikhail Youzhny in 2011, took on popular crowd favorite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, ranked 70th, in the featured evening match on Stadium Court. Tsonga came in with a 2-0 career head-to-head lead against Khachanov and left the Stadium to a thunderous applause with his perfect record against the Russian unblemished, thanks to a 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 win that lasted two minutes shy of two hours.

On court, Tsonga seemed his old fighting self. He agreed with a reporter’s assessment by saying, “I just try to be myself. When you play for such a long time, I try to bring out my personality. I’m ‘Jo’ and I’m playing good tennis.”

At about the same time that Khachanov was tangling with Tsonga, the 10th-ranked Medvedev, a 2017 Citi Open quarterfinalist who was going for his 31st win of the season, faced wild card Bjorn Fratangelo. The 124th-ranked American had outlasted Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, 6-4, 6-7 (14), 7-6 (5) on Monday afternoon in a match that lasted two hours and 32 minutes – including 67 minutes to decide the middle set – including a 30-point tiebreak.

Medvedev maintained control throughout the one hour and 13 minute match on John Harris Court and won 6-3, 6-4 to advance to Thursday’s third round against 16th seed Frances Tiafoe. He won 72 percent of his service points and saved the only break point he faced against Fratangelo, outpointing his opponent 65-53.

Gauff’s run of form halted by Diyas

After coming through two rounds of qualifying over the weekend to much fanfare, American sensation Coco Gauff fell in the first round of the Citi Open main draw to unheralded Zarina Diyas from Kazakhstan. The 84th-ranked native of Almaty took advantage of 33 unforced errors by the 15-year-old Gauff and five service breaks. Although Gauff hit 21 winners, including five service aces, she also committed seven double faults during one hour and 18 minute match that was played on John Harris Court before a packed crowd that so desperately wanted to see her find a way to win.

“I don’t say it’s the biggest win (for me),” said the soft-spoken Diyas, who is 10 years older than Gauff, when asked by Tennis TourTalk. “Of course, it’s a good win.

“I’m always the other player, but I love big crowds.”

Asked why she won, Diyas thought about the question for a moment before replying, “I think I was playing more aggressive today and I served better.”

Diyas gave due props to Gauff, saying: “I think she’s going to be really big in the future.”

Gauff said she was “really happy” for the support she’s received this week. “It was a sad way to finish the singles run, but I’m excited to play doubles,” she said.

“I really love D.C. I hope to be back at this tournament in the future.”

Stephens, Keys both lose to underdogs

Top seed Sloane Stephens, who has played here every year since the tournament added a WTA event in 2011 and captured the 2015 Citi Open title, and second seed Madison Keys played their first-round matches on Tuesday – both with unexpected but equally disappointing results.

Stephens opened play against Rebecca Peterson of Sweden on Stadium Court on another scorching-hot summer afternoon, while Keys took on Washington, D.C. native and wild card Hailey Baptiste in the more intimate but no less friendly environment of the Grandstand Court. The 17-year-old Baptiste trains in nearby College Park, Md., at the Junior Tennis Champions Center and the Citi Open represented her WTA main draw debut.

Stephens struggled against the 70th-ranked Peterson, looking beat from the heat and showing a lack of mobility. After losing the first set, it seemed like she had things figured out. However, it was to no avail and she lost 6-2, 7-5. Peterson proved the steadier player – she won 71 percent of her first serves to just 46 percent for Stephens. The American committed 45 unforced errors and her serve was broken five times. Peterson outpointed Stephens 72-50.

“There’s been a lot of ups and downs that’s been out of my control,” Stephens said during a news conference on Monday. The World No. 8 had been idle since losing in the third round of Wimbledon earlier this month. “Sometimes, that happens. I’m trying to bounce back and let the chips fall where they may. I’ve got an attitude of ‘let’s keep moving forward.’”

Despite a season of mixed results, Stephens had expected to make a deep run in Washington this week in a tournament she won back in 2015. “I think playing here is the ideal location for me,” she said. “I have a lot of friends and family here. I’ve always enjoyed competing here – I’ve won a title.” This year, however, it wasn’t meant to be.

Meanwhile, Keys dropped the first set of her Grandstand Court match against Baptiste in a tie break, then fell apart in the second set. She lost to Baptiste, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

“It was amazing, like, having everybody in the crowd cheering for me,” Baptiste said after her victory. “I knew every other person in the crowd, so it felt really good.”

Americans are well represented at Citi Open

While Stephens, Keys and Gauff are grabbing much of the attention among the U.S. women playing at this week’s Citi Open, one shouldn’t count out No. 3 seed Sofia Kenin or unseeded Lauren Davis. On Monday evening, both were in action about the same time with Davis winning over former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, 6-1, 6-2, dropping just three games on Stadium Court, while outside on the Grandstand, Kenin was putting away fellow American Jennifer Brady, 6-2, 6-4.

“It feels really good to be back here, I love coming back here every year,” the 75th-ranked Davis told the WTA website following her win. “I’m used to the heat and the humidity, so the conditions have not really been an issue.”

Davis and Kenin will meet in the second round on Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, six American men were in action on Tuesday, including Reilly Opelka and Jack Sock. Opelka looked locked in against American wild card Christopher Eubanks and won 6-4, 7-6 (3), not so much for Sock, who remains winless in singles this year after losing to 46th-ranked Jordan Thompson of Australia, 7-5, 6-3. Sock’s ranking has plummeted to No. 173 due to inactivity while recovering from surgery to repair an injured thumb ligament.

Kecmanovic winning with confidence

At age 19, Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia is one of the youngest players in the men’s singles draw. The Belgrade-born Kecmanovic, who now lives and trains in Bradenton, Fla., is making the most of his summer hard court season so far. Last week in Atlanta, he scored a couple of good wins over Jack Sock of the United States and Ugo Humbert of France before losing to American No. 2 Taylor Fritz, ranked 28th, 6-2, 6-3, in the quarterfinals. It boosted his ranking to No. 61.

Earlier this summer, Kecmanovic reached the finals of a grass-court tournament in Antalya, Turkey. So, things have been looking up for the young Serbian. “Yes, start of the year was (about) making the Top 100,” he said. “It’s been great so far. I’m really happy for that.”

On Tuesday afternoon against 87th-ranked Alexei Popyrin of Australia, Kecmanovic picked up the rhythm of his game and won 7-6 (6), 6-3. He will face 15th seed Pierre Hugues-Herbert of France on Wednesday.

Former player and coach Peter McNamara remembered

The late Peter McNamara, a former ATP player and WTA coach, was honored during the opening night at the Citi Open with a tribute and moment of silence. McNamara, 64, passed away last week following a prolonged battle with prostate cancer.

Former WTA doubles No.1 Rennae Stubbs, plus current and former ATP and WTA players, including Wimbledon men’s doubles champions Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios, and coaches David Macpherson, Sascha Bajin, Juan Nacho Todero, Adam Lownsbrough, Piotr Sierzputowski and Kathy Rinaldi took part in the on-court ceremony.

Around the Citi Open

• Local hero and No. 16 seed Frances Tiafoe, from nearby Hyattsville, Md., is making his fourth career appearance at the Citi Open this year. Some of the 40th-ranked Tiafoe’s best results this season have been on hard courts. With an opportunity to play second on the Stadium Court during the afternoon session, the 21-year-old Tiafoe beat 72nd-ranked Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, 6-1, 7-6 (5). Unfortunately for Tiafoe, at the end of the match he felt a tweak in his foot. Later, in a statement, he said, “In the interest of making sure I can play my next match (against Daniil Medvedev) to the fullest, I will be getting my foot checked out tonight. I am very happy to return home with a win and want to thank my fans for coming out to support me today.”

• The always entertaining if sometimes misunderstood Nick Kyrgios, ranked 52nd and just 12-10 this season prior to this week, drew a prized Stadium slot for the second straight evening. After teaming with Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece against the World No. 1 doubles tandem of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah from Columbia (and losing) on Monday, Kyrgios faced 206th-ranked American qualifier Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, a former NCAA singles champion at the University of Virginia. The mercurial Aussie behaved himself and obliged the crowd with artistic trick shots and won 7-5, 6-4 in one hour and 32 minutes. He fired 15 aces and converted three break-point opportunities to advance against 11th seed Gilles Simon of France on Wednesday evening.

• No. 101 Malek Jaziri from Tunisia and South African-born Australian Marc Polmans were last on court Monday night and finished their match on John Harris Court just four minutes before midnight in front of a small group of fans who remained. Polmans, a qualifier ranked 172nd, upset Jaziri, 6-2, 6-4, in one hour and 39 minutes. The fifth-scheduled match on John Harris Court was pushed back because of a few lengthy matches earlier coupled with a one-hour rain delay. The two players didn’t reach court until well after 10 p.m., but they soldiered on – and for Polmans, it was well worth it. He secured his very first ATP Tour-level victory, which earned him a second-round match against 10th seed Benoit Paire of France.

By the numbers

• American No. 5 Reilly Opelka, ranked 43rd, reached the semifinal at the BB&T Atlanta Open last week, where he bested American No. 1 and 15th-ranked John Isner in three tie-break sets. Opelka, who played a total of seven tie-break sets in four matches, faced wild card Christopher Eubanks, ranked 178th on Tuesday afternoon and put away the match in – what else? – a tiebreaker. Opelka will face ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime on Wednesday.

• Thirteenth seed Kyle Edmund of Great Britain gained career win No. 100 with his second-round victory against unseeded Lloyd Harris of South Africa, 6-1, 6-4. The Briton needed just 68 minutes to achieve his milestone. His summer season has included a semifinal run at Eastbourne and a second-round finish at Wimbledon.

• Fourth seed Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and tour veteran Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium have met four times between 2006 and 2109, alternating matches between hard courts and grass. Hsieh has won both times on grass while Flipkens excels on hard courts. Last up on Court 4 Tuesday night, Hsieh finally broke her drought and beat Flipkens on a hard court, 6-4, 6-3. It followed up on her win at Wimbledon earlier this month.

“If I keep my mind there with my game, I have a real good chance to win like I did at Wimbledon,” said Hsieh, appreciative of the support she received from the crowd. When told by a reporter that following the earlier loses to the top two seeds, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys, she was the second highest seed remaining behind No. 3 seed Sofia Kenin, it drew a laugh from the always personable Hsieh. “OK, don’t put the pressure on me! I like to play it free,” she said.

“I never worry about it. Anything can happen on the court. So, I make sure I’m healthy and happy so I can do my stuff.”

What they’re saying

• Coco Gauff was asked what she can take away from her loss first-round loss against Zarina Diyas. She replied, “I think, looking back maybe a few days from now, I think I’ll learn a lot. Obviously, right now I feel a little bit disappointed. … I think going forward to the U.S. Open, I’m just going to work on being more aggressive, pressing myself a little bit more. I think I second guess myself too much on the court. That also comes from playing more matches, too. I think I’m going to try to get some practice matches in before the U.S. Open.”

• Singles top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was asked if playing doubles with Nick Kyrgios on Monday evening lived up to its expectations: “It was actually much better than I thought it would be to be honest. It was fun, I enjoyed it despite the loss, I felt comfortable. We enjoyed playing together. … I enjoyed the company and I would like to do it again.”  Added Kyrgios: “I really enjoyed playing with Stefanos. He’s one of the best players in the world right now. It was a lot of fun. I thought we played really well. On big points (Cabal and Farah) didn’t give anything away.”

Tuesday’s results

Men’s singles / second round
No. 6 Marin Cilic d. Marius Copil, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4)
No. 16 Frances Tiafoe d. Alexander Bublik, 6-1, 7-6 (5)
No. 3 Daniil Medvedev d. WC-Bjorn Fratangelo, 6-3, 6-4
No. 13 Kyle Edmund d. Lloyd Harris, 6-1, 6-4
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga d. No. 2 Karen Khachanov, 6-4, 2-6,7-5

Men’s singles / first round
Jordan Thompson d. WC-Jack Sock, 7-5, 6-3
Miomir Kecmanovic d. Alexei Popyrin, 7-6 (6), 6-3
Nick Kyrgios d. Q-Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, 7-5, 6-4
Yoshihito Nishioka d. Dan Evans, 6-4, 6-1
Reilly Opelka d. WC-Christopher Eubanks, 6-4, 7-6 (3)
LL-Peter Gojowczyk d. Andrey Rublev, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 7-6 (2)

Women’s singles / first round
Rebecca Peterson d. No. 1 Sloane Stephens, 6-2, 7-5
Camila Giorgi d. Q-Sachia Vickery, 6-2, 7-5
Zarina Diyas d. Coco Gauff, 6-4, 6-2
No. 4 Hsieh Su-Wei d. Kirsten Flipkens, 6-4, 6-3
WC-Catherine McNally d. Zhu Lin, 6-4, 6-2
No. 8 Monica Puig d. WC-Allie Kiick, 6-4, 6-2
Kristina Mladenovic d. Shelby Rogers, 6-4, 6-4
WC-Hailey Baptiste d. No. 2 Madison Keys, 7-6 (4), 6-2

Men’s doubles / first round
Alex de Minaur/John Peers d. WC-Leander Paes/Jack Sock, 7-5, 6-2
Q-Matthew Ebden/Nicholas Monroe d. Nikola Mektic/Franko Skugor, 2-6, 6-3, 13-11

Women’s doubles / first round

Hsieh Yu-Chieh/You Xiaodi d. No. 1 Anna Blinkova/Katerina Siniakova, 2-6, 6-2, 10-8
No. 3 Anna Kalinskaya/Miyu Kato d. Eugenie Bouchard/Sofia Kenin, 6-0, 6-2
Jessica Pegula/Shelby Rogers d. Elena Bogdan/Rosalie Van Der Hoek, 6-2, 5-6, 10-7

Wednesday’s schedule

Stadium / from 2 p.m.
Hubert Hurkacz vs. No. 5 John Isner
Not before 4:30 p.m.
Andy Murray/Jamie Murray vs. Nicolas Mahut/Edouard Roger-Vasselin
Not before 7 p.m.
No. 1 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. WC-Tommy Paul
Not before 9 p.m.
Kristina Mladenovic vs. WC-Hailey Baptiste

John Harris Court / from 1 p.m.
No. 4 Kevin Anderson vs. Adrian Mannarino
Reilly Opelka vs. No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime
No. 8 Milos Raonic vs. Q-Tim Smyczek
No. 11 Gilles Simon vs. Nick Kyrgios
Jordan Thompson vs. No. 14 Jan-Lennard Struff

Grandstand / from 1 p.m.
Jessica Pegula vs. Iga Swiatek
Lauren Davis vs. No. 3 Sofia Kenin
No. 8 Monica Puig vs. Q-Anna Kalinskaya
Hsieh Yu-Chieh/You Xiaodi vs. Coco Gauff/Catherine McNally
Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan vs. WC-Treat Huey/Denis Kudla

Court 4 / from 1 p.m.
Miomir Kecmanovic vs. No. 15 Pierre-Hugues Herbert
No. 10 Benoit Paire vs. Q-Marc Polmans
LL-Peter Gojowczyk vs. No. 12 Alex de Minaur
Yoshihito Nishioka vs. No. 7 David Goffin
Alison Bai/Elixane Lechemia vs. No. 2 Wang Yafan/Yang Zhaoxuan

Court 5 / from 1 p.m.
No. 4 Mate Pavic/Bruno Soares vs. Jean-Julien Rojer/Horta Tecau
Naomi Broady/Sharon Fichman vs. Beatrice Gumulya/Jessy Rompies
Quinn Gleason/Ingrid Neel vs. No. 4 Maria Sanchez/Fanny Stollar
Kevin Krawietz/Andreas Mies vs. No. 3 Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus
Q-Matthew Ebden/Nicholas Monroe vs. No. 2 Lukasz Kubot/Marcelo Melo