Win Or Lose, Kyrgios Always Comfortable Playing For An Audience

Nick Kyrgios (photo: Michael Dickens)

WASHINGTON, August 4, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Nick Kyrgios returned to Washington, D.C. this week as the defending champion of the Citi Open. The talented and personable – but sometimes misunderstood – Aussie won his sixth career title in 2019 before the ATP 500 hard court tournament was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday evening, Kyrgios was featured on Stadium Court against 107th-ranked American Mackenzie McDonald in a first-round contest. It was just his 12th match of 2021 – and, although Kyrgios entertained the appreciative crowd with an underarm serve and a tweener early in the opening set and hit some beautifully-angled volleys for winners that drew great applause, at times his rustiness showed. The steadier McDonald capitalized on a couple of service breaks – one in each set –and that proved to be a difference maker during their one hour and 17-minute match.

McDonald won 6-4, 6-4, putting away the contest on his third match-point opportunity to move into Wednesday’s second round against No. 13 seed Benoit Paire of France. He hit 23 winners and committed just 10 unforced errors while Kyrgios put up 20 winners and hit 17 unforced errors. Although Kyrgios served nine aces, he also recorded six double faults and went zero-for-five in break-point conversions against McDonald.

“It’s good to be back, obviously, especially at these tournaments where I’m extremely comfortable and there’s a lot of crowd,” Kyrgios said on Sunday during a media sit down after arriving in Washington, D.C. “The first time I came on site [Sunday], everyone was kind of embracing me. Felt like I was playing almost in Australia. I feel complete comfortable here.

“I think it’s awesome. I think that’s fore sure my favorite part of being back on tour, just seeing the fans, seeing the support.”

When Kyrgios won the Citi Open title two years ago, beating Daniil Medvedev in the title match in two tie-break sets after prevailing against Stefanos Tsitsipas by saving a match point in the semifinals, he drew a lot of attention – and some criticism – for seeking out service advice from court-side fans.

“The positive is, I don’t take any tournament for granted. I don’t take any match for granted any more,” the 26-year-old Kyrgios said. “I try and soak in as much as I can. Just the practice, being around the courts, being at the highest level.”

After losing to McDonald, Kyrgios admitted: “I don’t really feel like my body and my mind quite understand the severity of some points here or there because I haven’t played that much. …

“The more tennis I play day in, day out, hopefully I’ll get some momentum, get back to some of the old tennis that I can play. As of now, I can’t be too hard on myself.”


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When Kyrgios isn’t playing tennis, which he considers a part-time occupation, he draws plenty of personal satisfaction from being around a tight-knit circle of friends as well as from playing basketball and video games.

“I just feel like I’m just really at my own pace. I feel like I’m not really competing with anyone,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m trying to climb up the rankings or win any tournaments. I enjoy now playing just for fun. I really do enjoy just being around fans, just talking with them, getting to know what they do. It was just, like some touching moments that I remember, my favorite parts of my career, just being with fans.”

The Citi Open represents just the fifth tournament that Kyrgios has played in this season and eighth in the past two years after spending much of 2020 at home in Canberra, Australia, during the worst months of the pandemic. There’s an upside to it all, though. By playing less, Kyrgios is enjoying tennis more.

“I’ve only played five tournaments [this year],” said Kyrgios, whose world ranking has dipped to No. 77 due to inactivity. He’ll be back on court Wednesday evening playing doubles with Frances Tiafoe against Croatian silver medalist Ivan Dodig and doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna of India. “I could be an absolute disaster or it could be a lot of fun,” he said.

Regardless, with Kyrgios on court, expect the unexpected and expect it to be memorable and entertaining.

“You look at any kind of tennis social media, they’re posting about me every couple of weeks,” Kyrgios admits. “Look, deep down I know I’m great for the sport. You need personalities like that. I give back to every tournament I’m involved in. I do as much as I can for them.”

Tiafoe and Kudla: Friends and family day at the Citi Open

Frances Tiafoe and Denis Kudla are two of the familiar faces of U.S. men’s tennis, especially around the nation’s capital city. Each trained at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in nearby College Park, Maryland, about eight miles from the Citi Open’s northwest Washington site at Rock Creek Tennis Center. Earlier this season, Tiafoe beat Kudla 6-1, 6-3 in the final of the Nottingham, Great Britain grass-court event.

Now, both have returned to play their home event on the ATP Tour. Kudla, 28, who grew up in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., beat Spain’s Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3 in two hours and 20 minutes in the opening match on Stadium Court Tuesday afternoon. The 103rd-ranked Kudla hit 36 winners – including 12 aces – and outpointed No. 92 Lopez 112-93. Next, he will face fellow American and No. 10 seed Taylor Fritz Wednesday afternoon on Stadium Court.

“My record here is pretty horrendous, I was 0-11 before I won my first match,” Kudla chuckled. “Everyone knows about it. Match [today] went great. I was a little bit nervous, I wanted to play well in front of everyone. I feel like I know half of the stadium. I love you guys so much!

“I would take this over a Slam (laughs). Once I settled my nerves in, I stayed on serve, then got an early break. I was able to hit my shots. … Today, I thought I served really well and stayed on offense. I thought that’s what helped me win.” 

Meanwhile, the No. 16 seed Tiafoe, ranked 53rd, anchored the evening session in the stadium against fellow American Jenson Brooksby in a second-round match and was upset 7-6 (4), 7-5, in one hour and 53 minutes. Just back from playing in the Olympic Tennis Touranment, Tiafoe is also playing doubles this week at the Citi Open with Nick Kyrgios.

“It’s going to be a super fun week,” Tiafoe said during a pre-tournament media session. “I’m really excited. Hopefully, I can go for a nice run here. That would definitely mean a lot to me. This is one of my staples of the year, so I’m ready for it.”

Tiafoe, 25, was asked what advice he would give other juniors who aspire to play on the pro tour. He said: “Never think any dream is too big. I think everything is achievable if you put your mind to it. Ultimately, day to day, play as much tennis as you can and enjoy the game.”

Kei Nishikori: Fan favorite hopes to keep Olympic momentum going

Japan’s Kei Nishikori, the 2015 Citi Open champion, is a fan favorite in Washington, D.C. He is one of 14 players in the singles draw who played in last week’s Olympic Tennis Tournament in Tokyo.

The No. 67 Nishikori became the first man to reach three consecutive Olympic Games quarterfinals and had the deepest run of any of the Citi Open Olympians. He knocked off fifth seed Andrey Rublev, Marcos Giron and Ilya Ivashka before losing to top-seeded Novak Djokovic.

Despite the quick turnaround, Nishikori played solidly against American Sam Querrey and won 6-4, 6-3 Monday evening by taking advantage of three service breaks to advance to the second round against No. 9 seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan on Wednesday.

“I was really tired after coming from Japan and wasn’t sure if I was ready today but on the court, I was fine, playing really good tennis,” Nishikori said during an on-court interview following his victory. “First match is never easy. I wasn’t expecting 100 percent but I hope I can keep going like this.”

Nishikori acknowledged his familiarity with playing Querrey, whom he had faced 10 times before Monday. His Citi Open win gave him a 7-4 edge in their career head-to-head.

“Yeah, we have played a lot. It’s been many times. It’s not easy playing Sam. He has a great serve and especially this surface he has more time to play but … I returned pretty good in those games and I’m very pleased how I played today.”

Tuesday’s Citi Open results

Wednesday’s Citi Open order of play

Around the Citi Open

• Second seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, who arrived at the Citi Open fresh off his Olympic Games experience in Tokyo sporting  a new career-high ranking of No. 15, defeated No. 88 Andreas Seppi of Italy, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, to improve to 24-15. After losing to Seppi at this year’s Roland Garros, Tuesday afternoon’s Citi Open triumph provided him with a feeling of revenge. He hit 25 winners – including nine aces – and converted five of 12 break points. Auger-Aliassime outpointed Seppi 84-70 to move into Thursday’s third round against 130th-ranked American wild card Jenson Brooksby.

• In their first ATP Tour-level meeting, No. 12 seed Sebastian Korda of the United States clinched his  7-5, 6-4 second-round victory over No. 61 Vasek Pospisil of Canada by firing his 11th ace of the one-hour and 28-minute match. The 45th-ranked American, who improved his season win-loss record to 22-10, will face either No. 5 seed Jannik Sinner or No. 69 Emil Ruusuvuori in the third round on Thursday.

• No. 7 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain advanced to the third round with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 64 Marcos Giron of the United States, in which he outpointed the American 68-49. Next, Norrie will play either No. 9 seed Alexander Bublik or No. 67 Kei Nishikori.

• American wild card Brandon Nakashima, whose ranking soared to No. 89 after reaching back-to-back ATP 250 finals at Los Cabos and Atlanta, advanced to the second round with a 70-minute 6-3, 6-3, win over No. 72 Alexei Popyrin of Australia for his ninth win in his last 11 hard-court matches. The #NextGenATP rising star from from San Diego, Calif., celebrated his 20th birthday in grand style by firing eight aces, winning 80 percent (28 of 35) of his first-serve points and saving both break points he faced against Popyrin. He outpointed his opponent 63-43. Next, Nakashima will play No. 6 seed Dan Evans of Great Britain in Wednesday’s second round.

• No. 69 Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland recovered from a first set wobble against 158th-ranked qualifier Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India and won 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 in an hour and 27 minutes to advance to Wednesday’s second round against No. 5 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy. Ruusuvuori, who was a quarterfinalist in Atlanta last week, outpointed Gunneswaran 73-53 and gained victory on his sixth match-point opportunity.

• No. 83 Tennys Sandgren of the United States, fresh from playing in the Olympic Tennis Tournament last week, hit 10 aces and beat another Olympian, No. 80 James Duckworth of Australia, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, in one hour and 32 minutes to move into the second round against No. 14 seed Lloyd Harris of South Africa on Wednesday.

• No. 81 Steve Johnson of the United States advanced to face No. 3 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia after beating 204th-ranked qualifier Ramkumar Ramanathan of India, 6-3, 7-6 (0) in an hour and 24 minutes. Johnson out-aced his opponent 11-10 and outpointed Ramanathan 75-59.

• No. 86 Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania upset No. 15 seed Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, 6-3, 6-2 in an hour and 25 minutes, taking advantage of 10 double faults and outpointing his opponent 77-57 to reach the third round against either No. 3 seed Alex de Minaur or No. 81 Steve Johnson.

• Qualifier Elias Ymer of Sweden, ranked 168th, rallied from a set down to beat No. 62 Jordan Thompson of Australia, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, that lasted two hours and 53 minutes and finished with both players yelling at each other over an alleged double-hit by Ymer that was ruled in his favor by the chair umpire, who had to separate the two combatants. Despite the loss, Thompson outpointed Ymer 109-107, but the Swede moves into the second round against another Aussie, No. 11 seed John Millman on Wednesday.

By the numbers

• When Rafael Nadal walks out on Stadium Court Wednesday night to play Jack Sock, he becomes the 22nd current or former World No. 1 in the 52-year history of the Citi Open to compete in Washington, D.C. The only four No. 1 players to never play at the Citi Open? Current World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Nadal’s coach Carlos Moya, 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras and two-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten.

• American Jenson Brooksby‘s two Citi Open wins, over Kevin Anderson of South Africa on Monday and Frances Tiafoe of the United States on Tuesday evening, improved his win-loss record in all competitions – including main draw and qualifying matches at Grand Slams and on the ATP Tour, ATP Challenger Tour and ITF World Tennis Tour – to 36-7.

• On Monday, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios dropped 250 of his 500 points from his 2019 Citi Open title victory and fell to No. 77 – his lowest spot in the FedEx ATP Rankings since he reached the 2014 Wimbledon quarterfinals as a 144th-ranked wild card.

“Quotable …”

“Different players can do different things. You look at Casper [Ruud]. To win three back-to-back tournaments is not easy at all. He’s got amazing discipline, obviously a great player. I never cut down his tennis. Great player. That works for him. It’s that’s what’s going to work best for his career, that’s great.

“Some players to like have fun, do it their way. I think it’s important to have both. I think it’s important to have a balance of both. I do think the sport of tennis has really struggled in the past embracing personalities, embracing people that do it differently. I think they’re starting to warm up to it.”

Nick Kyrgios on describing Casper Ruud’s recent on-court success and how it relates to his own.


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