Wild Night In D.C. At Citi Open: Sold-out Krygios-Tsitsipas Match Was A Box Office Smash

Nick Kyrgios (photo: Michael Dickens)

WASHINGTON, August 4, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Saturday evening’s featured men’s semifinal at the ATP 500 Citi Open, between top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and mercurial Nick Kyrgios, was a box office smash that proved entertaining and gave fans a lot to whet their appetites. Played before a sell-out crowd of 7,500 tennis-hungry spectators at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in northwest Washington, there were plenty of acrobatic tweeners and assorted trick shots from Kyrgios followed by a second-set meltdown by the sometimes polarizing Aussie that ended with a smashed racquet – even a special shoe delivery for Tsitsipas by Kyrgios, thanks to the Greek’s on-going problems with broken shoelaces caused by court friction. In short, there was plenty of high drama interspersed with some tremendous tennis displayed by both players.

Tennis needs more matches like this one.

At the completion of their two hour and seven minute spectacle that was characterized by trick shots coupled with some amazing rallies, the 52nd-ranked Kyrgios emerged with a satisfying 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7) win over World No. 6 Tsitsipas, his dream team doubles partner this week in the nation’s capital. All was good between the two when they embraced at the net. Then, Kyrgios, whose live ranking shot up 18 spots to No. 34, lofted a forehand deep into the upper deck of the stadium in celebration of reaching Sunday’s final.

Kyrgios will try for his sixth career ATP title – and second this year following his win in Acapulco – against No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia, who had no trouble against lucky loser Peter Gojowczyk from Germany, winning handily 6-2, 6-2 in only 55 minutes in a less dramatic semifinal. It will be the second meeting between Kyrgios and Medvedev (the first was won by Kyrgios in Rome on clay this spring).

If it seemed that the serious-thinking Tsitsipas and Kyrgios, ever the entertainer in good times and bad, were having too much fun, well, they were. But by the time of their third-set tie break, things turned dead serious. Obviously, both wanted to win, but it seemed like there was a competition within a competition throughout the evening, too. Here’s just a sampling of highlights worth considering:

• Kyrgios hit his first tweener just two points into the match, which he did flat-footed at the last possible second, directly from the baseline.

• He fired the first of his 19 rocket-like aces, delivered with pinpoint accuracy, on his very first serve of the match.

• At 1-1, 0-15, in the first set, Kyrgios won a point by the sheer genius of improvisation: striking a most acrobatic drop shot while simultaneously jumping straight up in the air.

And all that happened just in the first 10 minutes. You had to be there – or at least watching it on TV – to appreciate what unfolded. By the time it ended, both players finished with identical statistics in many key indicators. Each placed 64 percent of their first serves in play, each won 45 of 58 (83 percent) first-serve points, each won 16 of 33 (48 percent) of their second-serve point, each broke the other’s serve twice. Total points were dead even at 91.

“I was thinking about (the drama) during the match that people loved the competition that both of us brought into the court,” said Tsitsipas, who will ascend to World No. 5 by the time he arrives at the Rogers Cup in Montréal for the next stop in the lead up to the U.S. Open. “So, I believe it’s very good for the tournament to have matches like this.

“Nick in my opinion is underrated, and yeah, I guess the rivalry between me and him looks bright, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to face each other plenty of times in the future.”

And what did Kyrgios think when he was asked during his news conference? He said: “I’ve beaten one of the best tennis players in the world, and I’m doing it my way. And I’m never going to stop doing that. I think people can draw inspiration from that. I think, don’t listen to anyone, just back yourself and believe in yourself, and that’s all that matters.”

Even in defeat, McNally gained positive recognition

American teenager Catherine McNally didn’t put any expectations on herself at this week’s Citi Open WTA International event that’s viewed as a quality tune-up for the U.S. Open. Instead, she quietly went about improving her game round by round, and with each win the 150th-ranked McNally gained recognition from both her peers and fans alike.

“I’m not really surprising myself because I know that I’m capable of doing this,” said the 17-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio, after she beat the lone remaining seed, Hsieh Su-Wei during Friday’s quarterfinal round. “So, I’m just super happy that I’m going out there, enjoying it, executing my game really well.”

It’s been a busy week for McNally, not only because of advancing through the singles draw, but also she’s been playing doubles with American teen sensation Coco Gauff, where they reached the final against No. 4 seeds Maria Sanchez from the United States and Fanny Stollar of Hungary, and won convincingly 6-2, 6-2.

“For me, it’s just a huge week because I got my first main draw win in singles and doubles,” said McNally, who gave props to Gauff. “Yeah, I mean Coco’s run was obviously unbelievable. I’m super proud of her. I think that just kind of put a fire in my belly that showed me I can do the same thing.”

In her semifinal against 62nd-ranked Camila Giorgi of Italy, played Saturday afternoon in the main stadium at Rock Creek Tennis Center under partly cloudy, 89-degree conditions, McNally fell behind early and never recovered. She lost 7-6 (5), 6–2.

Despite her slow start, McNally maintained her composure and gained the support of the mostly-American crowd, which lifted her as she leveled matters at 5-all. Soon, Giorgi won the first set in a tie break.

From there, McNally’s luck ran short as the intensity of the afternoon heat necessitated a timeout during the fifth-game so she could receive treatment on her hip. Then, with her back figuratively against the wall, McNally valiantly fought off two match points in the seventh game. But Giorgi’s experience rewarded her with the victory that was played out over one hour and 30 minutes, and the 27-year-old Italian advanced to Sunday’s final, where she will face another American in Jessica Pegula.

“I played a good match, very good,” Giorgi said. “I mean, I tried to be more aggressive than usual, so it was good. I think it’s the training. It’s about practice and improving every day.”

Pegula reaches second WTA main draw final

In the first semifinal, unseeded and 79th-ranked Jessica Pegula, the forgotten American in the women’s draw with all of the attention being focused this week on Coco Gauff – not to mention the first-round upsets suffered by top three Americans, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and Sofia Kenin, who were seeded first through third, all in the first round – advanced to just her second career final with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over qualifier Anna Kalinskaya of Russia.

“I don’t really think I look at myself compared to them,” said Pegula, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., who has battled injuries throughout her professional career. “I know I’m 25, and like right now that seems like apparently a veteran because there’s girls like 15 beating people, which is amazing.” That would be Coco Gauff that Pegula is referring to. “Right now, I’m hitting my stride that maybe I could have hit a few years ago.”

Pegula’s fired nine aces, won points on 81 percent of her first serves, and was broken just once. She broke the 160th-ranked Kalinskaya three times during the one hour and 38 minute match and outpointed her opponent 69-84.

“I didn’t start off serving very well and it kind of got better throughout the match,” said Pegula. “In the third set, I was winning my service games pretty easy. So, I knew if I could just focus on my first serve, I would get a chance to break her.”

Pegala maintained an upper hand against Kalinskaya by saving all four break points she faced en route to winning the first set. Then, with the encouragement of a coaching visit from Patricia Tarabini, saying “just be patient,” and with Nick Krygios, clad in a colorful blue Philadelphia 76ers jersey, cheering her on from the players’ box, the young Russian leveled things to force a deciding set. However, Pegula rebounded in time, and in the final set she jumped ahead to a 4-0 lead by breaking Kalinskaya on both of her service games. From that point on, the outcome was never in doubt.

Now, Pegula has achieved something that’s been absent in her C.V.: reaching the final of a WTA main draw for the first time since Quebec City last year. She was asked by Tennis TourTalk if she had a preference whom she would play in Sunday’s final – Giorgi or McNally?

“No, it doesn’t really matter who I play; I’ve played both of them before,” Pegula said. “I haven’t played Camila in a long time. … Every match, you never really know, and you just go out there and do the best you can.”

Gauff and McNally win first WTA doubles title

American teenagers Coco Gauff, 15, and Catherine McNally, 17, won their first WTA main draw doubles title in front of a full house on John Harris Court, beating No. 4 seeds Maria Sanchez of the United States and Fanny Stollar of Hungary, 6-2, 6-2.

“We know we have the game to win,” Gauff said after she and McNally advanced with a semifinal win over No. 3 seeds Anna Kalinskaya from Russia and Miyu Kato of Japan a day earlier. “We didn’t go into the tournament seeing how far we can go. We went into the tournament with getting to the finals on our mind.”

Gauff and McNally dominated Saturday’s final by outpointing Sanchez and Stollar 57-36. Upon securing the victory, both of the teens jumped up and down together in giddy fashion. During the on-court awards ceremony, they lifted their first trophy together proudly.

During her final news conference of the week, Gauff reflected on her accomplishments with McNally sitting next to her on the podium. “I thought this week was super good,” she said. “Before the tournament, we were lucky enough to get a wild card, and I’m glad that we were able to get that and we were able to take advantage of this opportunity.” McNally chimed in by saying: “It means so much to both of us. … I was taking it match by match, and I’m so happy that we were able to get the title.”

A few moments with Nick Kyrgios

Think what you will of Nick Kyrgios, but he helps sell tickets and puts people in seats. Each of his appearances at this year’s Citi Open have been at night. On Monday, he was part of the doubles dream team with Stefanos Tsitsipas, who faced No. 1 seeds and Wimbledon champions Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. Although they didn’t win, they put on an entertaining show. The rest of the week, Kyrgios has been a nightly fixture, slotted into the 7,500 seat main stadium at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center for all but one of his singles matches. Thanks to Kyrgios, Friday and Saturday evening’s night sessions both sold out.

After his quarterfinal victory Friday, he said: “We have the joke in the locker room that that’s the graveyard shift, last on center court. But I kind of like it, especially in D.C, the crowd has been awesome. I’m just happy I’ve been able to produce some good tennis. Going out there and enjoying myself. It’s been fun.”

Around the Citi Open

The men’s doubles final on Sunday will be contested between the unseeded team of Jean-Julien Rojer from the Netherlands and Horia Tecau of Romania against No. 3 seeds Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Michael Venus from New Zealand.

During Saturday’s semifinal round, Rojer and Tecau prevailed over the Australian pair Alex de Minaur and John Peers, 6-4, 6-4, while Klaasen and Venus knocked out No. 2 seeds Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo from Brazil, 6-2, 7-6 (2). The second semifinal match was decided by a second-set tie break and Klaasen and Venus were the steadier pair under the pressure of the afternoon heat. Plus, they communicated better than their opponents when it mattered most.

Klaasen and Venus, who have reached four finals this year and lifted the trophy at Halle, were asked by Tennis TourTalk what makes them a successful combo. After all, they’ve compiled wins this week over French Open champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies from Germany, then beat Andy and Jamie Murray from Great Britain, both in three sets. Speaking for their team, Klaasen said the key to winning is good communication. “We’re learning all the time. We’ve gotten better from every loss.” Lately, though, Klaasen and Venus have been winning more than losing.

What they’re saying

• American teenagers Coco Gauff and Catherine McNally, who played both singles and doubles at the Citi Open, described what the week’s been like for them, especially in reaching the doubles final.

McNally: “This is only our second event together. I think it just shows that we play really well together and our games mesh together really well.”

Gauff: “I really enjoy playing with Caty. I feel like she really knows how to play doubles. Like I’ve learned a lot from her on the court.”

• Stefanos Tsitsipas on what it means moving up to World No. 5 in the rankings: “This one position might not feel a lot for some … but for me it really means a lot because there has been a lot of hard work behind it. Just a lot of suffering in general.”

More Tsitsipas on Kyrgios: “Some people love him, some people hate him. I believe we need people like him in the game, otherwise everything becomes too serious. Yeah, he’s fun. I’m serious, as well, when I play. I try to get the best out of my game by being focused and having a game face. But yeah, he has said some good things about me, and I appreciate that.”

Saturday’s results

Men’s singles semifinals

Nick Kyrgios d. No. 1 Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7)
No. 3 Daniil Medvedev d. LL-Peter Gojowczyk, 6-2, 6-2

Women’s singles semifinals

Camila Giorgi d. WC-Catherine McNally. 7-6 (5), 6-2
Jessica Pegula d. Q-Anna Kalinskaya, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1

Men’s doubles semifinals

Jean-Julien Rojer/Horia Tecau d. Alex de Minaur/John Peers, 6-4, 6-4
No. 3 Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus d. No. 2 Lukasz Kubot/Marcelo Melo, 6-2, 7-6 (2)

Women’s doubles final

WC-Coco Gauff/Catherine McNally d. No. 4 Maria Sanchez/Fanny Stollar, 6-2, 6-2

Sunday’s schedule

Men’s doubles final / Stadium, noon
Jean-Julien Rojer/Horia Tecau vs. No. 3 Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus

Women’s singles final / Stadium, NB 2 p.m.
Camila Giorgi vs. Jessica Pegula

Men’s final / Stadium, NB 5 p.m.
Nick Kyrgios vs. No. 3 Daniil Medvedev