Wild Final But Sinner Is The Winner At Citi Open

Jannik Sinner (photo: @CitiOpen/Twitter)

WASHINGTON, August 9, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Jannik Sinner earned the biggest title of his young pro career Sunday evening in Washington, D.C. – literally and figuratively – and with it came a very big prize money check, too. By the end of Sinner’s two-hour and 52-minute, hard-fought victory over Mackenzie McDonald in the title match of the Citi Open, not only did he triumph 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, but it was also his first ATP 500 title and his third tour-level singles crown won in less than a year.

While the 19-year-old Sinner from San Candido, Italy, who is a week shy of turning 20, was far from his best – he committed 36 unforced errors of which 22 of them were on his backhand and converted just five of 21 break points – he never gave up. Sinner, who hit 34 winners – including nine aces – and outpointed McDonald 118-114, kept his sights on a simple goal of winning his second title of 2021.

En route to the title, the fifth-seeded Sinner defeated Emil Ruusuvuori, Sebastian Korda, Steve Johnson and Jenson Brooksby – all in straight sets. The only set he lost all week was the second set to McDonald during the final that was played at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in northwest Washington, D.C. on a sunny and warm (90-degree Fahrenheit) summer evening.

By winning the 2021 Citi Open singles title – the first Italian to do so in the event’s 52-year history – Sinner earned a hefty pay check of $350,755 and, just as important, he leaves the nation’s capital and heads to the National Bank Open presented by Rogers in Toronto with 500 new ATP rankings points, which will lift him to a career-high ranking of No. 15 this week. Additionally, Sinner is the youngest ATP 500 champion since the category was created in 2009 – the only teen to win an ATP 500 title – and he’s the youngest Italian to break into the Top 15.

“For me, what I’m trying to do is trying to work hard, trying to understand many things, and I think that’s the most important thing when you’re young,” Sinner said this week. He came to the Citi Open on a four-match losing streak and strung together five straight victories. “In one way, it’s working good, as always. Couple of weeks maybe are not so good, like maybe the weeks before here, but, you know, you have to accept every solution. Obviously, trying to enjoy, even if you lose some matches, trying to enjoy every, yeah, every day that we have on court.”

Meanwhile, although the 26-year-old unseeded McDonald didn’t join other Americans such as Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick in the champions ring on Stadium Court, he will see a big boast in his earnings – $178,500 for reaching the final – plus 300 ATP rankings points, which lifts him from 107th at the start of the week to No. 64. Not to mention, McDonald will arrive in Toronto with a special exemption into the main draw and a ton of confidence from a week in which he earned wins over Nick Kyrgios, No. 13 seed Benoit Paire, Ilya Ivashka, Denis Kudla and 2015 Citi Open champion Kei Nishikori to reach his first ATP Tour-level final.

McDonald was asked what it meant to finally play in an ATP final, especially after coming back from a terrible hamstring injury that he suffered two years ago. “Yeah, it means a lot. My biggest goal, results-wise, I wrote down, was win a 250 and ATP title. This is one step closer that I have been to that.

“Yeah, it means a lot. I’m trying to downplay, or I guess downplay a little bit, try to keep my cool. I guess that’s what really helping me, not make the moments too big, getting too high or too low, staying focused, knowing the values behind it.”

During Sunday evening’s final, McDonald saved 10 set points in the opening stanza from 2-5 down. He leveled the set at 5-all, saving the first six set points he faced, and fought off four more two games later before Sinner, whose serve was broken twice after only dropping serve three times in his first four matches, finally pulled out the 67-minute first set.

Then, after being broken three times in the opener, McDonald went to work, moving gracefully about the court – surprising everyone, including Sinner, with his serve-and-volley prowess that proved effective – and settled in ready to keep up the fight. He held his serve in all five of his second-set service games to even the match at a set apiece.

Next, from double championship point down at 2-5, McDonald continued to be tough as nails with nerves of steel at a time that Sinner was having trouble with his first serve and with his confidence. McDonald evened the set score at 5-all after he broke Sinner in the ninth game. However, the young Italian with plenty of mental fortitude of his own followed with a love hold that included his ninth service ace to push ahead 6-5. Finally, Sinner put away the victory and secured the title on his third try.

While McDonald made the final a very tough one that was characterized by his scrappy shotmaking – which produced 27 winners but yielded 49 unforced errors – and unrelenting resolve, in the end it was Sinner’s experience of playing in title matches that served him well.

“I dug as deep as I could,” McDonald said after collecting the runner-up trophy. “I left it all out there. So, I’m pretty happy with my performance.”

During his post-match press conference, Sinner described dealing with both the mental and physical aspects of a championship match. He said: “I think it’s tough with mental, because I had a lot of chances. I couldn’t use it because first he was playing better in the crucial moments. But I tried to work for one more chance and for one more chance and trying to break him like this.

“It was a little bit of a roller-coaster, to be honest, because I started well in the third set. I tried to going a little bit up with the rhythm, trying to play a little bit faster. I broke him like this. And then, trying to serve it out I had two match points, and then after I was not serving well. He was returning well.

“[I was] trying to stay I mentally strong and, obviously, physically if you’re playing nearly three hours. I played doubles this week. So, as I said yesterday, [at 19 years old] if you play really long, you recover fast. So, obviously, it is physical, but I think most likely it was mental.”

Klaasen and McLachlan win Citi Open doubles title

Two years ago, Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Michael Venus of New Zealand won the Citi Open and compiled a 35-19 record in 2019. Fast forward to Sunday and they’re on opposite sides of the net.

The No. 4 seeds Klaasen (ranked 23rd) and doubles partner Ben McLachlan of Japan (ranked 38th) wrapped up an undefeated week in which they did not drop any sets and beat the No. 2 seeds Venus (ranked No. 20) and Neal Skupski of Great Britain (ranked 16th), who were previously collegiate teammates at Louisiana State University, 7-6 (4), 6-4, in an hour and 46 minutes.

It was the first title of the season for Klaasen and McLachlan following their quarterfinal run at Wimbledon last month. They’ve reached three semifinals this year at ATP 250 events in Santiago, Chile; Estoril, Portugal; and Geneva, Switzerland. Last year, they won the bett1HULKS Championship in Cologne, Germany, in their debut as a team. Individually, the Citi Open represented Klassen’s 18th tour-level title and it was the seventh for McLachlan.

The winners, who battled back from down 3-5 in the opening set, won 84 percent of their first serves and saved eight of nine break points they faced while breaking their opponents twice. Klaasen and McLachlan outpointed Venus and Skupski 70-65.

“It’s is a fantastic feeling,” Klaasen said after the victory. “To finally get over that hump, as we have lost a couple of semifinals, it is nice to have finished it off. Especially, here in Washington, where I won the title in 2019, it was nice to come out here and do it again.

“In the second set, we were hanging on for dear life and we were probably the worse team. But being together for a year now, the experience probably helps.”

Pegula wins Citi Open Women’s Invitational

The Citi Open Women’s Invitational concluded Saturday evening with an exhibition match between Americans Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, who won the WTA Citi Open title in 2019. Pegula won 4-6, 7-5, 10-8 and received a winner’s check for $25,000.

The Women’s Sports Foundation was the beneficiary of the event and received a $50,000 donation from the Citi Open, Citi, and the Mark and Sally Ein Foundation.

By the numbers

At age 19, Jannik Sinner became the third-youngest champion in the Citi Open’s 52-year history, behind American Andy Roddick, who won in 2001 at age 18, and Argentina’s Juan Martín del Potro, who was 19 when he won in 2008.

“Quotable …”

“When you play against the best, you have to go out on court and really have to play your best tennis.

“I think there is still much work to do, to be honest. A lot of experience to put in, working hard as we are doing now, and you know, trying to play important matches, important matches and important moments of a match. Today I think I had a lot of them. I can learn many things about today.”

Jannik Sinner on what winning his third title in the past year says about his level of play.