Citi Open: Tiafoe Super Excited To Play At Home

Frances Tiafoe (photo: Ryan Loco/Citi Open)

WASHINGTON, August 3, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

American Frances Tiafoe, who grew up in nearby Hyattsville, Md., said the Citi Open is the one week he circles in every year. He’s super excited to be back in the Beltway, super excited to be playing at home in the ATP 500 hard-court event that is the kick-off to the US Open Series of North American hard-court events.

Earlier this week, Tennis TourTalk asked Tiafoe during his pre-tournament press conference if it’s more difficult or less difficult to be able to play a big tournament in his hometown. Also, Tiafoe was asked how important is it now that crowds are flocking back to tennis tournaments around the world for him to be able to play in front of an audience again.

“The crowd perspective is what I absolutely love,” he said. “I think last year here was one of the, like, the first time we played in packed arenas. Loved it.

“Yeah, I’m such a huge fan of playing at home. I just love playing at home. It’s good and bad. Obviously, everyone roots for you, but everyone is wanting your time. [I’m] kind of managing that.

“Everyone here, the owner of the event is a great friend of mine, Mark Ein. I love the guy. It’s good to be back. Everyone wants me to do so well. I know everyone from credential people to media people, everyone I just want to put on a show and go deep.

“This year, I’m really looking forward to it.”

On Monday, Tiafoe roamed the grounds of the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in order to watch his friend and fellow American Hailey Baptiste play against women’s No. 1 seed Jessica Pegula. It is a match the 2019 Citi Open champion and current World No. 7 would win 6-2, 6-2.

“I just had to go out there and show love, show that I’m here with her,” Tiafoe said, smiling. “She’s got great potential. She can do a lot of great things. But, yeah, everyone’s journey is going to be a little different. … She definitely has the game. I just hope she puts it all together.”

The 27th-ranked Tiafoe, seeded 10th this week and following up on a semifinal run at the Atlanta Open, has been putting it all together lately, which has extended to the doubles draw, too. Tiafoe and Alex de Minaur of Australia knocked off the No. 1 seeds Rajeev Ram and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, 6-4, 1-6, 10-2 on Tuesday. Everything seems to be looking up for the likable Tiafoe.

Wednesday evening, Tiafoe won a featured Stadium court match against 156th-ranked wild card and fellow American Christopher Eubanks, 6-3, 7-6 (2). In their most recent meeting, in the first round of last year’s US Open, Tiafoe prevailed in four sets.

Ajla Tomljanovic: ‘My Tennis Life’

Croatian-born Aussie Ajla Tomljanovic is not only personable, she’s also become popular for being one of the featured stars in the ongoing Tennis Channel online series “My Tennis Life,” along with American tennis player J.J. Wolf.

After Tomljanovic advanced to the second round with a straight-forward 6-1, 6-4 victory over Sloane Stephens of the United States in the Stadium Tuesday afternoon, she sat for a cordial press conference with tournament media that included Tennis TourTalk.

As the five-minute give-and-take with reporters was winding down, Tennis TourTalk asked Tomljanovic to share a little bit of insight about what it’s been like having Tennis Channel chronicle her life on and off the tennis court.

“It’s funny, because I feel like in the States, obviously, a lot of people this week have come up to me and said, ‘Oh, I love watching your tennis life on Tennis Channel,'” she said in a bit of a self-deprecating tone of voice but smiling all the while.

“I get almost surprised because I totally forget that people actually watch it. I just put a lot of effort into sending in videos and stuff and getting as much interesting content as possible because certain weeks, you know, it’s really boring, my life.

“Like, I just train, I eat. So, I try to mix it up and make it fun.

“Weeks like here are good. I still haven’t filmed a lot, so I will probably, you know, get on it today and tomorrow.

“It’s really nice when people, like in person, tell me that they like watching it. It gives me motivation to keep going.”

Kyrgios is big for box office, period.

Let’s face it, Nick Kyrgios is big office wherever he plays – at the Grand Slams and, certainly, in Washington, D.C., where he won the 2019 Citi Open final over Daniil Medvedev.

This week, Citi Open fans are getting to see the talented but often-mercurial one up close and personal as the Aussie is playing both singles and doubles. As such, he’s been the featured attraction on the Stadium court three straight evenings. On Monday, he and Jack Sock teamed together to win their first-round doubles match over No. 3 seeds Marcelo Arevalo-Gonzalez of El Salvador and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands. Then, on Tuesday, Kyrgios won his first-round singles match over 2014 NCAA champion Marcos Giron from the United States. On Wednesday evening, Kyrgios will be back entertaining crowds against No. 14 seed Tommy Paul, another American.

Tuesday evening, fans flocked to the practice courts and stood three-deep or more to watch Kyrgios, who was decked out in a black NBA-style basketball jersey, hit about an hour before his match against Giron.

Thanks to Kyrgios’ appeal, both Tuesday and Wednesday sessions sold out. The Stadium holds about 7,500 fans – and the tournament put a few hundred additional grounds passes on sale to handle the abundant fan interest.

Kyrgios was asked in press after beating Giron about his his decision to play doubles only last week in Atlanta and how it’s prepared him for singles this week.

“I think playing doubles is always, especially playing with a good friend [Thanasi Kokkinakis], it’s always enjoyable,” he said. “But for me, I’d rather play doubles and have that kind of competitive juices flowing rather than going out there and practicing.

“I feel like it’s obviously more stimulating for me to go out there and compete and obviously still play for money. To pick up another title with Thanasi, it’s huge.”

Marino first to reach Citi Open quarterfinals

Canada’s Rebecca Marino, who two days ago defeated American legend Venus Williams, became the  first to reach the Citi Open women’s quarterfinals. On Wednesday afternoon on the John Harris court, the 111th-ranked Canadian defeated the 68th-ranked Andrea Petkovic of Germany, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. It earned Marino her first WTA quarterfinal berth in four years.

No. 1 seed Pegula upset by Saville

No. 88 Daria Saville provided the biggest upset of the day when she defeated No. 1 and 2019 Citi Open champion Jessica Pegula, 7-5, 6-4, on Stadium court. Saville saved nine of 10 break points and outpointed Pegula 71-67. The victory, her second Top 10 win of the season, advanced the 28-year-old Australian into the quarterfinal round against Canada’s Rebecca Marino.

Around the Citi Open

• No. 2 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, playing his first match since losing in the first round to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at Wimbledon, faced Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori for the first time – and got more than he bargained for: he lost. While Hurkacz came in with a 14-6 win-loss record on hard courts this season, his lone title in 2022 has been on grass in Halle. Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Ruusuvuori, ranked 46th, arrived at the Citi Open in with a 12-7 hard-court record – and beat the World No. 11 Hurkacz, 6-4, 7-6 (3), to advance to the third round against No. 115 Mikael Ymer of Sweden, who eliminated No. 15 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

“I like the hard courts, for sure. Yesterday was a tough match – I didn’t play my best – and somehow I got through it. I gave myself an extra chance today,” said Ruusuvuori, who needed three sets to beat Mackenzie McDonald of the United States on Tuesday. “Today was much better.”

Ruusuvuori overcame 10 aces from Hurkacz and won 77 percent of his own first-serve points. He saved all four break-point chances from Hurkacz. Ruusuvuori outpointed his opponent 73-65.

“I just was able to hang in there in the first couple games. He had an early break point, but then I was able to keep that service game and give myself a chance to break him and I was able to use it and then just try to keep my own serve,” Ruusuvuori said in during his on-court interview inside the Stadium court. “I didn’t have many chances until the [second-set] tie-break and then I got a look at a couple second serves and [made] a couple deep returns, so that gave me the chance.”

• No. 9 seed Holger Rune of Denmark, at age 19 the youngest in the Citi Open men’s draw, advanced to the third round with a solid 6-3, 6-2 win over Benoit Paire of France that was over in 77 minutes on the Grandstand. The 19-year-old, 28th-ranked Dane won 82 percent of his first-serve points and saved all four break points he faced. Rune converted three of five break-points against the 112th-ranked Paire and outpointed him 68-51.

Rune said he thought he handled the 87-degree heat as best as he could. “It was really hot, but it was the same for both players,” he said. “We’re both Europeans and we really don’t have this kind of heat. I thought I handled it really well out there. Obviously, the first match is never the easiest one. I had to go through a little pain, but I did it and I played well in the important points.”

Next, Rune will play 99th-ranked American wild card J.J. Wolf, who took out No. 6 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, despite 20 aces from the Canadian lefty.

• Popular New York Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor, whose team is in D.C. playing the Washington Nationals this week, stopped by Rock Creek Park Tennis Center Tuesday. While attending the Citi Open, Lindor had a chance to meet Hubert Hurkacz, Jack Sock and Tommy Paul.

“It was really cool meeting him,” Paul told the ATP Tour website. “I haven’t met many baseball players, but I told him I might go to a game if I have time. I actually payed baseball a little bit when I was really young, same position as him. So, it was cool. I’ll probably pay attention to him playing a little bit more now.”

Lindor also renewed his acquaintance with Frances Tiafoe, whom he met at last year’s US Open.

“We’ve been cool for a little bit and kept in touch,” Tiafoe said, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “The main thing I like about him is I like his swag; how cool he is and how he supports players in other sports.”

Wednesday’s Citi Open ATP results

Wednesday’s Citi Open WTA results

By the numbers

American Jack Sock, ranked 105th, can re-enter the Top 100 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for the first time since October 2018 with a win over fellow American Maxime Cressy Wednesday evening. Sock is 11-7 lifetime at the Citi Open and was a 2017 semifinalist.

“Quotable …”

“When my dad coached Radek Stepanek – he won here in 2011 – I came here three times when I was a kid, when I was 13-15. Nothing’s really changed. I recognized all the same people. It’s really cool to come back and see everyone. I really feel at home here.”

Sebastian Korda of the United States, during a conversation with reporters including Tennis TourTalk, following his first-round, 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory over Ilya Ivaska at the Citi Open.