A Few Surprises But Plenty Of Good Tennis On Display At Citi Open

Felix Auger-Aliassime (photo: Citi Open)

WASHINGTON, August 2, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

With nine seeded players and four #NextGenATP stars in action during the third round of the Citi Open at Rock Creek Tennis Center in northwest Washington, there were plenty of quality offerings on Thursday’s order of play to satisfy all kinds of tennis fans’ appetites.

Among them, rising Canadian star Felix Auger-Aliassime and sixth seed Marin Cilic from Croatia, a former semifinalist here in 2010 and 2015, met for the first time during a late-afternoon match in the main stadium. The ninth seed Auger-Aliassime, who is in second place in the ATP Race to Milan, advanced impressively a day earlier over rocket-serving Reilly Opelka in his Citi Open debut, while Cilic survived a double tie-break scare against Marius Copil to move into the next round.

Against Cilic, Auger-Aliassime had an off day and lost 6-3, 6-4. He owned up to his defeat and said, “I don’t know what it was, but I couldn’t figure it out, and it was just really tough out there today. It was just – in every way, I just felt like I couldn’t even play close to what I’m able to.

“I don’t know exactly what I’m going to take from (this loss) for sure. Not a lot of things from today. I mean, every loss for sure is an opportunity to improve. Today has shown that I need to improve a lot of things still, but I’ll just take the days that I have before Rogers Cup to see what I can work on before starting there.”

The 6-foot-4, thin, 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime has drawn plenty of attention in the nation’s capital city in being introduced to tennis fans in person for the first time. After doing press following his win against Opelka on Wednesday, he was the guest on “Tennis Talk with Rennae Stubbs,” a nightly, engaging tennis conversation show for Citi Open fans in the Market Square hospitality area. There, Auger-Aliassime carried himself in a mature and poised but engaging way. His friendly demeanor shown brightly. Even after losing to Cilic on Thursday, Auger-Aliassime answered questions during his news conference in polite and respectful manner.

“I think that’s just how I want to be known, that’s how I want to be remembered when I finish my career. That’s how I want to handle myself on the court,” said Auger-Aliassime, who is the son of a Togolese tennis instructor and a French Canadian school teacher.

At the end of their conversation, Stubbs told the large gathering, “He’s an amazing young player and person. Keep your eye on him.”

Doubles (finally) getting its just due

Much has been recently written about the elevation of doubles at this year’s Citi Open, thanks to the desire of new tournament owner Mark Ein to highlight it. On Monday night, for instance, doubles was showcased during prime time on the main stadium court featuring the “dream team” of Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas against World No. 1s Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both from Colombia, who recently lifted their first Grand Slam trophy at Wimbledon. On Wednesday afternoon, Andy Murray, a former No. 1 in singles, alongside his older brother, Jamie, faced Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, both skillful doubles specialists, in a match held in the stadium. Both matches drew decent-sized and appreciative crowds despite the rarity of seeing first-round doubles played on a big stage.

“It’s out there, the product – it’s a good product,” said Farah with Cabal by his side, talking to reporters after their win Monday. The two are a very formidable team, win or lose. “There just needs to be more attention. That’s the only thing. Obviously Murray helps, Kyrgios, Tsitsipas helps, but even when they’re not playing, there’s a good level being played out there. We just need (the media), the ATP, the social media, the Instagram to promote those things. If they do that, they’re going to have a good product to sell.”

Murray’s recent return to the sport from hip surgery earlier this year has been widely followed. His older brother, Jamie, said of their on-court reunion, “I think … for us, to get the opportunity to come out and play tennis again together was really special. Yeah, really excited to get another match. Hopefully get out and get to play on center court, again. It’s a great showcase for doubles. It was a lot of fun.” The Murrays next match will be against the No. 3 seeds Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus on Friday.

“With few exceptions, a doubles match is still only as attractive to tournament schedulers as its singles star power,” wrote Ben Rothenberg, New York Times tennis correspondent, earlier this week.

The tournament’s smallest venue, Court 5, is being used exclusively for doubles and on Wednesday, alone, there were four Top 20 doubles players in action in a single match: Mate Pavic, Bruno Soares, Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau. Later, there were matches featuring the World No. 2 duo of Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo as well as current French Open champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies.

On Wednesday evening, the Grandstand was filled to capacity for fans yearning to see American teen sensation Coco Gauff play doubles with her U.S. Open juniors partner Catherine McNally. Gauff and McNally, who both represent the future of American women’s tennis, didn’t disappoint, either. In just 56 minutes, the duo reached the semifinals with a 6-0, 6-3 win over Hsieh Yu-Chieh of Taiwan and You Xiaodi of China. Though Gauff’s singles run ended after the first round, she’s remained a popular drawing card all week long, whether competing or off practicing her serve and ground strokes on a side court.

Meanwhile, Cabal and Farah held court on the intimate Court 4, the fourth-largest venue with bleacher seating on only one side, against Aussies Alex de Minaur and John Peers on Thursday. The Colombians’ luck ran out and de Minaur and Peers advanced with a 6-7 (6), 7-6 (4), 10-6 win to move into the semifinal round.

Around the Citi Open

• Americans Christina McHale and Catherine McNally had never faced each other before they met on Stadium Court Thursday afternoon. Each had reached the final 16 only once with neither of them advancing to the quarterfinal round. Something had to give on another hot, sunny day in the “Battle of the C-Macs.”

The 19-year-old McNally, fighting congestion, emerged with a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 victory to join two other Americans – Jessica Pegula and Lauren Davis – in Friday’s quarterfinal round.

“One thing I admire that Christina does is she’s just very feisty, she never gives up, and she competes really well. I wasn’t feeling 100 percent, so I’m super happy that I was able to fight, push through, and just mentally get over that hump and not think about my body and just play my game,” said McNally during her news conference.

In other second round WTA action, winners moving into Friday’s quarterfinals were: Camila Giorgi of Italy, Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, and the lone remaining seed, fourth-seeded Hsieh Su-Wei from Taiwan, who beat 19-year-old Russian qualifier Varvara Gracheva, 7-5, 4-6 ,7-6 (6).

• Top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios shared the spotlight during Thursday’s evening session on Stadium Court where both won to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals. Tsitsipas defeated Jordan Thompson from Australia, 6-3, 7-6 (4) by winning 78 percent of his service points and saving all four of the break points he faced, while Kyrgios defeated his World Team Tennis from the Washington Kastles, Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, 6-2, 7-5 in 75 minutes.

Earlier in the day, No. 13 Kyle Edmund beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who previously took out No. 2 seed Karen Khachanov on Tuesday. Edmund rallied for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win to set up a quarterfinal matchup against lucky loser Peter Gojowczyk of Germany.

By the numbers

• Coming into his third-round match with No. 16 seed Frances Tiafoe, third seed Daniil Medvedev held an undefeated (10-0) winning streak against Americans going back to August 2018. His last loss to an American opponent came against Steve Johnson at Eastbourne. Medvedev was sharp if not consistent in winning 6-2, 7-5 for his 32nd tour win this season and advancement to Friday’s quarterfinals. Afterward, Tiafoe, who suffered a minor foot injury Tuesday and aggravated it against Medvedev, pulled out of next week’s Rogers Cup at the advice of his doctor in order to rest.

John Isner came into his third-round match with No. 10 seed Benoit Paire of France with a 26-10 career win-loss record in Washington. Yet, the American No. 1 hasn’t won a title in the nation’s capital city. On Thursday evening, the No. 5 seed and three-time Washington finalist lost to Paire, 7-6 (3), 6-3, on John Harris Court, thanks to Paire’s 12 serve aces. While Isner does consistently well at select tournaments and his 15 career titles have come at six different events, including five at Atlanta, four in Newport, two in Auckland and Winston-Salem and individual titles at Houston and Miami, winning Washington remains a mystery and he’ll have to wait another year.

• Thanks to cooperative weather – not to mention good tennis in this ATP 500/WTA International combined event – Citi Open officials announced that through Wednesday overall attendance is up over 20 percent from last year, and even merchandise sales are increased by 50 percent.

What they’re saying

• No. 137 Norbert Gombos from Slovakia on going from being a lucky loser, replacing injured fourth seed Kevin Anderson, to becoming a quarterfinalist and facing the unpredictable Nick Kyrgios in the main stadium, all in a matter of 48 hours: “I was so happy I could play. Finally, I can feel the crowd and finally feeling like I’m a pro. I’m happy to play in such a great venue.”

On Thursday, Gombos ended the good run of form of 61st-ranked Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, coming from behind to win 1-6 6-3, 7-6 (4) in two hours and seven minutes in front of a spirited Grandstand crowd.

• No. 8 seed Milos Raonic of Canada spoke following his 6-4, 6-4 loss to Germany’s Peter Gojowczyk, on his disappointing performance: “I just didn’t play well, didn’t serve that well. I got close on a bunch of his games, but couldn’t make it count when it was the most important. Just quite a disappointing performance, but in tennis I guess the good thing is you have next week to look forward to.”

Thursday results

Men’s singles / third round
No. 1 Stefanos Tsitsipas d. Jordan Thompson, 6-3, 7-6 (4)
No. 10 Benoit Paire d. No. 5 John Isner, 7-6 (3), 6-3
LL-Norbert Gombos d. Miomir Kecmanovic, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4)
Nick Kyrgios d. Yoshihito Nishioka, 6-2, 7-5
No. 6 Marin Cilic d. No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, 6-3, 6-4
No. 3 Daniil Medvedev d. No. 16 Frances Tiafoe, 6-2, 7-5
LL-Peter Gojowczyk d. No. 8 Milos Raonic, 6-4, 6-4
No. 13 Kyle Edmund d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4

Women’s singles / second round
Camila Giorgi d. Rebecca Peterson, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
Zarina Diyas d. No. 5 Lesia Tsurenko, 6-4, 6-4
No. 4 Hsieh Su-Wei d. Q-Varvara Gracheva, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (6).
WC-Catherine McNally d. Christina McHale, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3

Men’s doubles /quarterfinal
Alex de Minaur/John Peers d. No. 1 Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (4), 10-6

Women’s doubles / quarterfinal
No. 3 Anna Kalinskaya/Miyu Kato d. Naomi Broad/Sharon Fichman, 6-4, 3-6, 10-4
No. 2 Wang Yafan/Zhaoxuan Yang d. Jessica Pegula/Shelby Rogers, 6-2, 6-2

Friday’s schedule

Stadium / from 2 p.m.
LL-Peter Gojowczyk vs. No. 13 Kyle Edmund
No. 6 Marin Cilic vs. No. 3 Daniil Medvedev
Not before 7 p.m.
No. 1 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. No. 10 Benoit Paire
LL-Norbert Gombos vs. Nick Kyrgios

John Harris Court / from 2 p.m.
No. 4 Maria Sanchez/Fanny Stollar vs. No. 2 Wang Yafan/Zhaoxuan Yang
Not before 3:30 p.m.
Jean-Julien Rojer/Horia Tecau vs. Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
Not before 5 p.m.
Andy Murray/Jamie Murray vs. No. 3 Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus
WC-Coco Gauff/Catherine McNally vs. No. 3 Anna Kalinskaya/Miyu Kato

Grandstand / from 2 p.m.
Jessica Pegula vs. Lauren Davis
Q-Anna Kalinskaya vs. Kristina Mladenovic
No. 4 Hsieh Su-Wei vs. WC-Catherine McNally
Camila Giorgi vs. Zarina Diyas