Teenagers Not Named Coco Gauff Gaining Attention At Citi Open, Too

Stefanos Tsitsipas (photo: Michael Dickens)

WASHINGTON, August 1, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

With top seeds Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys each making early exits from the Citi Open – eliminated during Tuesday’s first round – and 15-year-old American teen sensation Coco Gauff’s singles run ended, attention turned to the other four teenagers, who are still alive in the women’s singles draw of this WTA International event taking place at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in northwest Washington.

There’s a pair of American 17-year-olds in Hailey Baptiste and Catherine McNally, both showing poise and talent above their years, joined by a couple of 18-year-old elders, Iga Swiatek of Poland and Varvara Gracheva from Russia. Two of them remain after Wednesday’s play – McNally and Gracheva – and both of them will be in action on Thursday hoping to reach the quarterfinals if they win.

Although the 66th-ranked Swiatek lost to 79th-ranked American Jessica Pegula, a 2016 Citi Open semifinalist, 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, in the Grandstand opener, they were only separated by seven points. Looking back, there’s much to like about this future star.

Baptiste, a Washington native, drew a plum assignment on Stadium Court against Kristina Mladenovic of France on Wednesday night. It followed her triumph over the No. 2 seed Keys, a former World No. 7, in which she rode a powerful serve to her first WTA main draw victory.

As they met at the net, Keys gave Baptiste a playful head rub. All was good between them. “We both train a lot in Orlando at USTA. She’s somebody I’ve always looked up to,” said Baptiste, in what was believed to be her first news conference on a big stage in front of media. “ I guess it was kind of like a big sister kind of rub.”

More to the match, Baptiste, a product of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in nearby College Park, Md., said, “I was really focused, I didn’t let anything get to my head.”

To Baptiste’s credit, she pushed the more experienced Mladenovic, who has one career title and is more well-known for ascending to World No. 1 in doubles earlier this year, to three sets before losing 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in two hours and five minutes. Next, Mladenovic faces qualifier Anna Kalinskaya of Russia, who defeated 2016 Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

Finally, there’s Gracheva, who is ranked No. 211 and will face the highest remaining seed in the draw in Hsieh Su-Wei Thursday evening in the Grandstand. There’s a 15-year difference in age between the fourth seed from Taiwan and Gracheva.

If it seems like the Citi Open has been a tournament none of the American women want to win, you might be onto something. Take No. 3 seed Sofia Kenin, for instance. She walked out for her second-round match against fellow American Lauren Davis as the highest remaining seed after both No. 1 Stephens and No. 2 Keys unexpectedly fell  in the opening round – and lost, too. Kenin and Davis fought back and forth over two hours and 40 minutes with Davis emerging as the winner, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. Next, she will face Pegula in Friday’s quarterfinals.

“I love playing here every year,” said Davis. “It’s the first tournament the hard court season. It’s like five hours from home, which is Cleveland. It feels somewhat like home for sure, after being in Europe for two months. So, I definitely love being here.”

Tsitsipas: Introspective introvert who hits a mean backhand, too

World No. 6 and top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas finally played his first singles match in this ATP 500 event and the Stadium Court provided a fine backdrop for the 20-year-old from Greece to showcase his Federesque one-fisted backhands. Although there was not as much buzz as the previous night, when Jo-Wilfred Tsonga electrified the crowd with an upset of No. 2 seed Karen Khachanov, it was because Tsitipas and American wild card Tommy Paul were playing at the same time as mercurial Nick Kyrgios, who was holding court next door on a smaller-but-packed John Harris Court while taking out No. 11 seed Giles Simon, 6-4, 7-6 (5).

As it happened, Tsitsipas beat Paul, 6-3, 7-5, in an efficient one hour and 25 minutes, aided by seven service aces and three breaks of his opponent’s serve. In the second set, the Greek came from 3-5 down and won the last four games of the match. He put it away with a nice overhead winner.

“I was a bit nervous in the beginning,” said Tsitsipas, who was playing in his first singles match since losing in the first round at Wimbledon a few weeks ago. “I thought about this match a lot. I locked myself in my room for three days – three days in London – just sitting there doing nothing. I was very upset (about losing at Wimbledon). After that, I went on vacation for almost two weeks and I think that was enough to recharge my batteries before coming here.”

In the end for Tsitsipas, “doing nothing” really meant doing something like reading books and being on the computer. “Just those two things. I was reading The Alchemist, and an autobiography about Roger Federer.”

Tsitsipas earned himself a return Stadium engagement for Thursday evening against 46th-ranked Jordan Thompson of Australia, who advanced over JanLennard Struff of Germany, 6-7 (8), 6-4, 7-5, in two hours and 33 minutes.

#NextGenATP stars making everyone take notice

Besides Tsitsipas, there are other #NextGenATP stars playing in the nation’s capital city this week, including ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime from Canada, and 12th seed Alex de Minaur, fresh off his title win Sunday in Atlanta.

Auger-Aliassime rebounded to beat big-serving (22 aces) Reilly Opelka of the United States, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, thanks to firing 12 service aces of his own and winning points on his serve 77 percent of the time. Asked by Tennis Channel after his win what’s the biggest change in his game since reaching the Top 25, Auger-Aliassime responded, “I’ve improved my serve. This year, I’ve been very consistent serving well on all surfaces.”

Meanwhile, de Minaur, who was a finalist a year ago, fell to 122nd-ranked lucky loser Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, 6-3, 7-6 (6). The 122nd-ranked Gojowczyk won 76 percent (28 of 37) of his first-serve points and outpointed the Australian 75-68. De Minaur is still alive in the doubles draw teamed with fellow Aussie John Peers.

Around the Citi Open

• Men’s fourth seed Kevin Anderson withdrew before his first match against No. 66 Adrian Mannarino of France citing right knee pain. He was replaced by 137th-ranked lucky loser Norbert Gombos of Slovakia. Anderson, a 2017 Citi Open finalist, has seen limited action this year and none since losing to Guido Pella in the third round at Wimbledon.

• Speaking of lucky losers, sometimes it all works out for the better. Consider Norbert Gombos, who was a late substitute for injured fourth seed Kevin Anderson (see above). The 137th-ranked Gombos took charge in his match with Adrian Mannarino and outlasted the Frenchman 6-4, 7-6 (9) in one hour and 48 minutes on John Harris Court. Gombos lost in the final day of qualifying Sunday and had been waiting for a chance, which came shortly before Wednesday’s 1 p.m. match.

“I’m so happy that I can play here in this tournament and practice with the best players in the world,” said Gombos, who woke up Wednesday morning expecting to come to the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center to practice with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Soon after, he was notified by the tournament referee of Anderson’s withdrawal.

“I’m happy to play, again I’m happy for my win,” said Gombos, glad he’s back in the tournament and thriving. The downside, though, is he had to cancel his plans to fly home to Slovakia on Thursday.

Gombos moves into the third round against an in-form 61st-ranked Miomir Kecmanovic from Serbia, who won for the second straight day. He came from a set down and fought off Pierre-Hugues Herbert to pull out a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) win. Kecmanovic captured the tiebreak on an overturned line call to get the win. “I was just trying to stay calm. Thank God there’s challenges,” he said, feeling happy and relieved.

Now, it presents quite an opportunity for the 19-year-old Kecmanovic since he won’t face either Anderson or Mannarino, as expected. “I’m happy I was able to push through and win again,” he said. “I’ve never played (Gombos), but, obviously, he’s not bad since he’s in the third round. Hopefully, I can play a little bit better than today, maybe stay consistent, and hopefully win.”

• Through the luck of Wednesday’s order of play, Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Benoit Paire were scheduled back to back on the intimate Court 4. Paire spent some of his prep time before his match against 172nd-ranked qualifier Marc Polmans of Australia [won by Paire, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5)] sitting with Herbert’s team in the front row of the bleachers cheering for his fellow-countryman. With arguably the most identifiable facial hair in tennis that makes it difficult to maintain any sense of anonymity, spectators walked past him during changeovers without a gaze.

By the numbers

• No. 160 Anna Kalinskaya of Russia, a former junior World No. 3, snapped a 12-match losing streak in WTA main-draw events that goes back to Gstaad 2017, when she beat Nao Hibino of Japan on Tuesday. While she’s sailed through qualifying at this level 10 times, including at four Grand Slams, her main draw success has been limited. However, her bid for her second career Top 50 against No. 8 seed Monica Puig was a success – and a long time coming, too, as her first Top 50 win goes all the way back to an upset of Caroline Garcia in the first round of Kuala Lumpur in 2017.

• Thirteen of John Isner’s 15 career titles have been won in the United States – 10 of them on hard courts. The American No. 1 and fifth seed came into his second-round match against 44th-ranked Hubert Hurkacz of Poland with a 25-10 lifetime record in the Citi Open, but is still looking to lift his first trophy here after finishing runner-up three times (2007, 2013, 2015). Isner beat Hurkacz 6-4, 6-4 to advance to Thursday’s third round.

“I think at a certain point in the match, I started to play really well,” Isner said. “Probably 3-all in the first set, I started to pick it up. I was, in my opinion, fortunate to even be at 3-all. So, I’m happy with the win.”

What they’re saying

Andy Murray, on his comeback from hip surgery earlier this year: “I’m in a much better place now than I was last year Even though I was winning singles matches, physically I just feel so much better. I have no pain. It’s not restricting me in any of the shots I’m hitting. I’m still maybe a little bit slow. I’m hoping that’s something that comes back with time.”

Murray and his older brother Jamie, won their first-round doubles match against Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, both from France, 6-4, 6-7 (7), 10-5 to advance against No. 3 seeds Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Michael Venus of New Zealand, who defeated Germany’s Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, 6-3, 3-6, 10-7.

Wednesday’s results

Men’s singles / second round
No. 1 Stefanos Tsitsipas d. WC-Tommy Paul, 6-3, 7-5
Jordan Thompson d. No. 14 Jan-Lennard Struff, 6-7 (8), 6-4, 7-5
No. 10 Benoit Paire d. Q-Marc Polmans, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5)
No. 5 John Isner d. Hubert Hurkacz, 6-4, 604
LL-Norbert Gombos d. Adrian Mannarino, 6-4, 7-6 (9)
Miomir Kecmanovic d. No. 15 Pierre-Hugues Herbert, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5)
Nick Kyrgios d. No. 11 Gilles Simon, 6-4, 7-6 (5)
Yoshihito Nishioka d. No. 7 David Goffin, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (5)
No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime d. Reilly Opelka, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4
No. 8 Milos Raonic d. Q-Tim Smyczek, 6-1, 6-4
LL-Peter Gojowczyk d. No. 12 Alex de Minaur, 6-3, 7-6 (6)

Women’s singles / second round
Jessica Pegula d. Iga Swiatek, 5-7, 6-4, 6-1
Lauren Davis d. No. 3 Sofia Kenin, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4
Q-Anna Kalinskaya d. No. 8 Monica Puig, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4
Kristina Mladenovic d. WC-Hailey Baptiste, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3

Men’s doubles / quarterfinal
No. 2 Lukasz Kubot/Marcelo Melo d. Q-Matthew Ebden/Nicholas Monroe, 6-2, 5-7, 10-2

Men’s doubles / first round
Jean-Julien Rojer/Horia Tecau d. No. 4 Mate Pavic/Bruno Soares, 7-6 (9), 2-6, 10-7
Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan d. WC-Treat Huey/Denis Kudla, 6-4, 2-6, 10-7
Andy Murray-Jamie Murray d. Nicolas Mahut/Edouard Roger-Vasselin, 6-4, 6-7 (7), 10-5
No. 3 Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus d. Kevin Krawietz/Andreas Mies, 6-3, 3-6, 10-7

Women’s doubles / quarterfinal
WC-Coco Gauff/Catherine McNally d. Hsieh Yu-Chieh/You Xiaodi, 6-0, 6-3

Women’s doubles / first round
Naomi Broady/Sharon Fichman d. Beatrice Gumulya/Jessy Rompies, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 10-5
No. 4 Marie Sanchez/Fanny Stollar d. Quinn Gleason/Ingrid Neel, 4-6, 6-4, 15-13
No. 2 Wang Yafan/Yang Zhaoxuan d. Alison Bai/Elixane Lechemia, 6-0, 6-3

Thursday’s schedule

Stadium / from 2 p.m.
WC-Catherine McNally vs. Christina McHale
Not before 4:30 p.m.
No. 6 Marin Cilic vs. No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime
Not before 7 p.m.
No. 1 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Jordan Thompson
Nick Kyrgios vs. Yoshihito Nishioka

John Harris Court / from 2 p.m.
No. 13 Kyle Edmund vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
No. 8 Milos Raonic vs. LL-Peter Gojowczyk
No. 16 Frances Tiafoe vs. No. 3 Daniil Medvedev
No. 10 Benoit Paire vs. No. 5 John Isner

Grandstand / from 1 p.m.
Rebecca Peterson vs. Camila Giorgi
Zarina Diyas vs. No. 5 Lesia Tsurenko
LL-Norbert Gombos vs. Miomir Kecmanovic
No. 4 Hsieh Su-Wei vs. Q-Varvara Gracheva

Court 4 / from 2 p.m.
No. 3 Anna Kalinskaya/Miyu Kato vs. Naomi Broady/Sharon Fichman
No. 1 Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah vs. Alex de Minaur/John Peers
Jessica Pegula/Shelby Rogers vs. No. 2 Wang Yafan/Yang Zhaoxuan