At Citi Open Media Weekend, The Players Spoke And The Press Listened

Reilly Opelka (photo: Ryan Loco/Citi Open)

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

As qualifying draw action for the Citi Open ATP/WTA combined event took place over a sun-soaked weekend at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in northwest Washington, to round out the final berths for the main draws, some of the marquee names in the tournament field were on the practice courts drawing plenty of attention, such as reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu and seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams. Meanwhile, Andrey Rublev, who is the top seed in the men’s draw, also drew plenty of attention from fans wanting to catch a glimpse.

Others, like Taylor Fritz, Jessica Pegula, Reilly Opelka and Simona Halep held court with the media, away from the commotion of the sold-out crowds. Some fans filled the stands of the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Stadium and the smaller outer courts, watching up-and-coming players attempt to qualify, while others wandered the grounds hoping to snatch a selfie with or an autograph from their favorite player. Twenty-three-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, although not entered in the Citi Open, made a surprise visit to the nation’s capital city to hit with her older sister Venus, who plays her first-round match Monday evening in the Stadium. It caused quite a pandemonium by the practice courts in a good way.

Meanwhile, in the Citi Open merchandise mart, sales of the familiar oversized yellow tennis balls that many thrust at players to sign were brisk.

Here’s a sample of what some of the players shared with Tennis TourTalk during the Media Day weekend press conferences:

Emma Raducanu on what she’s learned about herself over the past year since winning the US Open:

“The results I’ve had in the past year wouldn’t have been terrible for any 18-, 19-year-old. I have to take a step back and give myself a pat on the back, as well.

“This year was always going to be pretty tricky, trying to find my feet at this sort of level. I skipped every stage basically. I went from playing a few [ITF] 25s to playing the Top 10 [in WTA 250s, 500s and 1000s], playing the slams and everything. Still managed to win a round or two in some bigger events. I’m quite proud of myself in that way.

“I’ve learnt that I’m pretty resilient. I’ve pretty much been knocked down every single week literally in front of everyone, get back up every single time.

“It’s just a fun learning experience for me.”

Taylor Fritz on how much of a confidence boost he gained from beating Rafael Nadal to capture the Indian Wells crown in March, and if it helped prepare him to face Nadal at Wimbledon (a match which he lost in five grueling sets):

“Yeah, I mean, I felt like the biggest takeaway from that match was just kind of mentally; I proved to myself that I could kind of get over that hurdle of one of the extremely big names. I’ve had a lot of big wins and I’ve played a lot of good matches, but never against Djokovic, Rafa, Federer. I think that’s kind of like a big mental hurdle to get over.

“I think it helped me in the Wimbledon match. I was really excited for that match. I felt really confident about that match. It sucks it didn’t go my way in the end.

“I definitely, like, had it in my mind that I could win. Just kind of believing that and knowing that is a huge part of being able to beat any of those guys.”

Simona Halep on changing coaches from Darren Cahill to Patrick Mouratoglou:

“I will not compare [them] because they are super different. What I can say in this moment, it’s the best thing that could happen to me, to meet Patrick. He has super energy. He’s super kind. So, it means a lot for me to work with people like this.

“All his experience and all his advice are amazing. So, I’m enjoying a lot this period. He brought me back to love tennis, to love working, which never happened before. Now, I’m just giving my best every day. We don’t have expectations in order of results. We just have expectations to work hard and to improve.

“We will see what we can do together.”

Reilly Opelka on how he developed an outside interest in fine art away from the tennis court and whether his time would allow a visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington:

“Just being in Europe, spending a lot of time … Tennis takes up a good amount of my life, but not all of it. We practice two hours a day, I’m in the gym, then my day is done. Times in Europe where I had five, six hours in a row with nothing to do. That’s kind of how I got into art, going to museums on my downtime.

“Actually, I haven’t been to any museums in D.C. just because last year was difficult, a lot of things were still closed, we didn’t have the event the previous year. This will definitely be my year to do it.

“My favorite museum [in the world] is probably the Prado museum in Madrid. That’s one of my favorites. But, yeah, I’ll definitely have some time this week for sure to stop by.”

Jessica Pegula, who won her first WTA title at the Citi Open in 2019 while ranked 79th, on how winning it enabled her to advance her career – she’s now ranked World No. 7 – and what it will take to be able to maintain that success:

“I’ve gone through a lot of challenges. Obviously, I think being healthy is huge, especially in today’s game. I think the game is improving so quickly every week, I feel like everyone’s always getting better and the level’s getting higher.

“Really, like, taking care of my body very seriously because I’ve been through a lot of bad injuries and I know what it’s like. You can see when girls get hurt, they’re out for three to six months or something, it’s really difficult to come back.

“It’s not that easy. The level just keeps kind of growing and you’re playing catch-up more or less.To me, I don’t want to do that. Like I said, I’m not 17. I’m not old – I’m 28 – so I don’t want to really want to waste any time doing that. I already did enough of that.

“Health has definitely been, like, the main priority I’d say, just coming from all my injuries. That in itself gives me a lot of confidence, it gives me the ability to go out and perform and train at my best every single day. I think that starts to add up after a long period of time.Me being able to keep that consistency just gives me confidence. It kind of just goes all together. Like I said, it’s like building blocks.

“Throughout the year there’s been times where obviously mentally you’re really tired and stuff like that. I don’t know, I think I’ve just been able to, I don’t know, embrace the grind of every single day and really enjoy it. Yeah, I think that’s just helped a lot the last three years.There’s been a lot of ups and downs, but it’s been good more or less.”

Around the Citi Open

Monday’s Citi Open order of play