Halep On Citi Open: ‘You Can Feel The Vibe’

Simona Halep (photo: Peter Staples/Citi Open)

WASHINGTON, August 1, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

The Citi Open, one of just five combined ATP/WTA events held in the United States, begins anew Monday in Washington, D.C. It’s one of the premier summer events in the nation’s capital city. Dating back to 1969, the Citi Open benefits the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, the tournament’s non-profit owner and beneficiary. The idea behind the tournament was to make pro tennis assessable for all athletes and fans in Washington.

While the ATP tournament is one of 13 elite 500-level events worldwide – and the only one held in the United States – the WTA 250 event marks the return of women’s tennis to Washington after a three-year respite. Both Citi Open events will take place at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in northwest Washington, the longest-running professional tennis event at the same site in the United States.

As the week-long Citi Open commences following a sold-out qualifying weekend, the honor of playing the first main-draw match of the tournament in the William H.G. FitzGerald Stadium goes to two-time Grand Slam champion and current World No. 16 Simona Halep of Romania, against 120th-ranked qualifier Cristina Bucsa of Spain beginning at noon (6 p.m. Central European).

The Stadium order of play also includes two other afternoon matches: an all-American match between Denis Kudla and qualifier Michael Mmoh followed by Andy Murray of Great Britain against Mikael Ymer of Sweden. Then, under the lights, it will be American legend Venus Williams, now 42, who received a wild card into the main draw, against qualifier Rebecca Marino of Canada followed by a doubles tussle featuring Nick Kyrgios of Australia teamed with American Jack Sock against Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands.

In all, there are 22 first-round men’s and women’s singles and doubles matches (10 men’s singles and two men’s doubles, eight women’s singles and two women’s doubles), plus a continuation of a men’s doubles qualifying draw match that was suspended by rain Sunday evening on Monday’s schedule.

The Citi Open represents a homecoming for Halep, who is playing in Washington for the first time since 2017, when she reached the quarterfinal round. It’s been 134 days since Halep last played on a hard court. She has a new coach in Patrick Mouratoglou, too.

“It’s really nice to be back,” the third-seeded Halep said on Saturday during her Media Day press conference. “I love this tournament. All the people are welcoming me – they’re super nice. So, yeah, I’m happy to be here.”

Halep was asked how she would compare the Citi Open in Washington to other tournaments. Just exactly what is it that she finds appealing?

“I love people here. They are super friendly; they are super nice. All the kids are asking for pictures. You can feel the vibe,” she said, smiling.

“I like the conditions. Not the weather because it’s too hot, but the conditions. Everything around this tournament is beautiful.

“It’s a great tournament. I’m happy it’s back for the WTA.”

No. 1 seed Pegula feels at home at the Citi Open

The last time there was a WTA event at the Citi Open, three years ago, it was won by Jessica Pegula of the United States. The native of Buffalo, N.Y., whose family owns the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League and the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League, is now the top-ranked American woman at World No. 7. She’s back at the Citi Open as the top seed and looks forward to defending her title.

Pegula revealed during a Media Day interview session over the weekend that she feels right at home playing in the Citi Open. “I think every player kind of has that one tournament, few tournaments, where they love to play,” she said. “This tournament, I’ve always just had good vibes here.”

Monday afternoon, Pegula will play 20-year-old Hailey Baptiste, a Washington, D.C. native ranked No. 148, in a first-round match between two Americans.

“I’ve always played well here,” Pegula, 28, said. “I’ve always had really good results here in the past. Even before I won the tournament, I had some really good wins here.”

Pegula admitted that after winning the 2019 Citi Open title, it gave her confidence that “I can be at this level and win at this level, perform at this level day in and day out.”

Early this season, Pegula was a quarterfinalist at both the Australian Open and French Open. Also, she was a finalist at the WTA 1000 Mutua Madrid Open. Fast forward, the Citi Open represents her first tournament since rising to become the American No. 1.

“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy to think,” Pegula said. “I guess it was a goal, but at the same time I think my goal every week is just to, like, I’m always working on things and getting better. I’m always focusing on that.

“It’s so cool to be going into the American swing, U.S. swing, with that kind of next to my name. It’s really special.”

Top seeds advance from men’s qualifying draw

The top three men’s seeds from the weekend qualifying draw have advanced to berths in the Citi Open main draw. No. 1 seed Taro Daniel of Japan scored a pair of straight-set wins over Americans Noah Rubin and Alex Rybakov. No. 2 seed Dominik Koepfer of Germany and No. 3 seed Michael Mmoh of the United States both won twice – neither dropped a set – and advanced to the 48-player main draw. Also moving on were No. 6 seed Wu Tung-Lin of Taiwan, No. 8 seed Borna Gojo of Croatia and No. 9 seed Yosuke Watanuki of Japan.

• Moving into the women’s main draw were: No. 2 seed Rebecca Marino of Canada, who rallied to beat Sachia Vickery of the United States, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3; No. 4 seed Cristina Bucsa of Spain, No. 5 seed Mirjam Bjorklund of Sweden and unseeded Louisa Chirico of the United States. No. 1 seed Wang Xiyu of China, who lost to Chirico, was added as a lucky loser.

Around the Citi Open

• Livesport Prague Open champion Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic withdrew from the WTA 250 main draw singles due to a change of schedule. She was replaced in the draw by lucky loser Wang Xiyu of China, who was the top-seeded player in qualifying and lost on Sunday.

• No. 2 seed Emma Raducanu, who will open against qualifier Louisa Chirico of the United States, is also playing doubles on tour-level for the first time. She teams with Clara Tauson of Denmark and will play No. 3 seeds Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic and Monica Niculescu of Romania.

• Raducanu is working this week on a trial basis with a new coach, Dmitry Tursunov, who most recently coached current World No. 2 Anett Kontaveit and previously guided Aryna Sabalenka, who is ranked 6th.


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Monday’s Citi Open order of play

By the numbers

Andy Murray began the season ranked 134th in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Today, Murray is ranked World No. 50. The former World No. 1 from Great Britain is 7-2 lifetime at the Citi Open, where he was a 2006 finalist and made the quarterfinals in 2018, his most recent appearance in the singles draw. Murray opens against Mikael Ymer of Sweden on the Stadium court at 4 p.m. local time (10 p.m. Central European), with the winner advancing to play No. 15 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia.

“Quotable …”

“We’ve all grown up together. We’re all really close friends. At the same time, we all definitely want to be better than each other. It’s been an extremely healthy kind of competition between us for a long time. We all just keep getting better and better, so I think it’s going to continue like that.”

Taylor Fritz of the United States, the top-ranked American man at World No. 12, during a pre-tournament press conference Sunday, on whether other U.S players push him to want to improve.