Citi Open: Saville Has A Different Kind Of Appreciation For Tennis

Daria Saville (photo: Ryan Loco/Citi Open)

WASHINGTON, August 5, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Daria Saville had an extra bounce in her step as she strode into her press conference Wednesday afternoon after knocking off Citi Open top seed and defending champion Jessica Pegula of the United States, 7-5, 6-4, in Washington, D.C.

Immediately, the 88th-ranked Saville was asked how it felt to beat a quality opponent such as Pegula?

Saville, born Daria Gavrilova in Moscow but now an Australian citizen who married fellow Aussie tennis player Luke Saville last December, broke into a smile for reasons that would become apparent during her 10-minute conversation with the press.

“Feels pretty good,” said the 28-year-old, who also beat Swedish qualifier Mirjam Bjorklund earlier in the week. “I was really excited to play against a Top-10 player again. It was a great challenge. To get away with a win is even better.

“You know, I feel like, okay, I feel like I’m playing really good tennis right now. I’m excited for more.”

On Friday, Saville played her quarterfinal-round match against another tournament surprise, 111th-ranked Canadian qualifier Rebecca Marino, who eliminated American legend Venus Williams Monday evening and followed it with a three-set win over No. 68 Andrea Petkovic of Germany on Wednesday afternoon. Saville won 6-1, 7-5 in an hour and 19 minutes, which included a three hour rain delay. She advanced to Saturday’s semifinal against No. 6 seed Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. It’s her first WTA semifinal since 2018 at Acapulco.

Saville’s second-round victory against the World No. 7 Pegula from the United States was her second Top-10 win season. Tennis TourTalk asked Saville what she learned about herself from a break-through win as well as if she prepared any differently knowing she was going to be playing against the top seed and defending champion.

“It doesn’t matter who I played; I would prepare the same,” Saville explained. “Obviously, different tactics, depending on who I play.

“But, I think I stayed really composed today. Like I said before, I managed the energy really well. I was pretty proud of myself the way I served it out in the first and second set.”

Saville let out just a simple fist pump with her racquet still in her right hand, keeping her celebration subdued after beating Pegula. “Yeah, for sure. I was dying out there. Like it was really hot,” she said, smiling. “I just came from Melbourne, and it was winter and we were training indoors.”

To prepare for Washington’s summer heat and humidity, where a 95-degree Fahrenheit day can feel like 105 degrees on the tennis court, Saville spent a training week in Orlando, Fla. to prepare her better for the Washington, D.C. climate. “But to be fair, I practiced in the morning, like early mornings to avoid the heat,” she said. “Today it was very, very hot for me, but I think it’s hot for everyone. So, I was, like, if I’m hot, she’s hot, everyone’s hot. So, get on with it.”

What kind of recovery did Saville undergo after beating Bjorklund, a match that lasted more than three hours? “I did ice baths, nutrition, I had a massage. The next day I hit for like 30 minutes and, you know, it was pretty light. Like 10 minutes of it, I was hitting with my coach’s daughter. She’s like 13. Just having fun. You know, like more than just to feel better like, you know, be more active, because if I was just going to stay in bed all day, I would get even more stiff. … It was a pretty chill day.”

Saville broke a three-match losing streak with her win over Bjorklund in the first round and following her win against Pegula improved to 14-11 on the season, including 11-6 on hard courts. The Citi Open represents her third quarterfinal of the season. Perhaps, best of all, she’s remained healthy following a lengthy absence last year due to an Achilles injury that required surgery to repair. Saville, once ranked as high as No. 20, began the season ranked 421st. Her jump to No. 88 represents the biggest ranking improvement on the WTA Tour this season.

“Before having surgery, I was actually really excited to have the surgery, because I have been struggling with the Achilles injury for a long time, and the reason why I didn’t have the surgery was because there wasn’t enough damage,” Saville recalled. “Then, when there was enough damage, I was, like ‘Yes, finally!’

“The reason why I really wanted that surgery, I was like, this is just not giving me a chance to see my whole potential. … I was hurting.

“Now I’m like, ‘Okay, you have a chance now every week to see how far you can go, how much improvement you can make.’ Like these little wins I take every single day or every single week. You know, today, even though I won the match, there were other things that I’m proud of myself.

“So, yeah, I have kind of [a] different appreciation for my job, for the sport, and I really, really enjoy it. I do really like tennis, so I really wanted to come back and get out and about and travel again and play tennis, yeah.”


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Nishioka ‘feeling wonderful’ after three wins in Washington

Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka has maintained a quiet footprint this week, letting his racquet do his talking. After stringing together back-to-back victories at the beginning of the week of the Citi Open over last week’s Atlanta Open finalists Jenson Brooksby of the United States and Australia’s Alex de Minaur, the 96th-ranked Nishioka beat No. 7 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (1) Thursday in one of just three matches that were completed before heavy rain and thunderstorms cancelled play at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center.

Nishioka’s win advanced him to Friday’s quarterfinals against No. 16 seed Daniel Evans of Great Britain. It’s his second ATP Tour quarterfinal of the season and 15th of his career.

“Feeling wonderful,” Nishioka, 26, said, quoted by the ATP Tour website, after winning just his eighth tour-level match of the season. “From the first round, a very tough opponent [Brooksby]. And then de Minaur, we always play tough matches with each other. Everybody knows he is fast, and I am fast. So, everyone is thinking ‘who is faster?’ It was a battle yesterday.”

Nishioka’s match against Khachanov was a contrast in height – the Japanese No. 2 is just 5-feet-7 and Khachanov stands 6-feet-6-inches tall. Nishioka used this to his advantage to finally beat the tall, 24th-ranked Russian. He outpointed Khachanov 102-86.

“I never beat him, Khachanov, from when we were juniors,” Nishioka said. “I lost last year in the Olympics against him. Today, I really wanted to bat him. It was a very, very close match but today I figured out how to beat him.

“Today was a crazy hot day. We both were a little bit tired for sure. I love long rallies; he doesn’t like it. He wants to hit big forehands, but I tried to keep making him run for balls and move him. … It was, I think, a mentality battle.”

Around the Citi Open

• Top men’s seed Andrey Rublev kept his serve-and-volley opponent Maxime Cressy in check and overcame the French-born American’s 14 aces by hitting 24 winners and making just six unforced errors en route to a 6-4, 7-6 (8) win in an hour and 42 minutes on John Harris court Friday afternoon. The match was originally scheduled for Thursday evening in the Stadium but never reached court. It was rescheduled after dall evening matches were cancelled due to heavy rain.

Rublev outpointed Cressy 74-72 to advance to the quarterfinal round against J.J. Wolf of the United States. The 99th-ranked American wild card fought off No. 9 seed Holger Rune of Denmark to win their two-hour, 35-minute battle, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, in back of eight aces and five service breaks. Wolf, a collegiate star at Ohio State University, is through to his first tour-level quarterfinal.

Meanwhile, Rublev remains in the hunt for his fourth ATP Tour title of the season, while Cressy dropped to 1-3 against Top-10 opponents this season.

• American Sebastian Korda eliminated No. 5 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, in a third-round match spread over two days because of rain and, lucky for the No. 54 Korda, he closed out his two-hour, 16-minute match – his first meeting against Dimitrov – shortly before play was suspended by lightening strikes in the area.

Korda struck five aces and won 73 percent of his first-serve points. He saved six of seven break points and converted four of 17 breaks against Dimitrov. Korda outpointed his opponent 97-86 to advance to a quarterfinal meeting with No. 115 Mikael Ymer of Sweden Friday night, weather permitting.

• No. 10 seed Frances Tiafoe of the United States has reached his first Citi Open quarterfinal. It took two days, but it was well worth the wait for the nearby Hyattsville, Md. native, who had plenty of friends and family on hand to cheer for him. He beat No. 8 seed Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, in two hours and 12 minutes on John Harris court. Tiafoe struck 12 aces and broke his opponent’s serve six times in 15 opportunities.

Tiafoe outpointed van de Zandschulp 99-89 to advance to Friday evening’s last eight against unseeded and 63rd-ranked Nick Kyrgios of Australia who resumed his third-round Stadium court match against No. 4 seed Reilly Opelka of the United States and won the 75-minute match 7-6 (1), 6-2. Although Opelka won the tally of service aces 13-12, there was more to this match than just powerful serves. The 2019 Citi Open champion Kyrgios won 88 percent of his first-serve points, saved the only break-point he faced and outpointed Opelka 64-49.

• Women’s No. 4 seed Victoria Azarenka reached her first quarterfinal since Adelaide in January with her 7-6 (7), 6-2 victory over Tereza Martincova of the Czech Repubic on Grandstand court. The former World No. 1 from Belarus converted four break points and outpointed Martincova 87-76 for her fourth victory in her last five matches and 16th of the season.

After being banned from playing Wimbledon because of Belarus’ support of Russia in the war against Ukraine, Azarenka sat out the entire grass-court season and is playing her first tournament since the French Open.

Next, Azarenka will return Friday evening to play 83rd-round Chinese lucky loser Wang Xiyu in the quarterfinal round.

• No. 6 seed Kaia Kanepi, who at age 37 is the oldest remaining in the women’s draw, rallied for a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 71 Anna Kalinskaya of Russia in two hours and 32 minutes on Stadium court under 90-degree Fahrenheit conditions. The 37th-ranked Estonian, first into the semifinals in her Citi Open debut, struck 12 aces – nine of them in the opening set – and hit 48 winners to 22 unforced errors. She converted six of 13 break-point chances and outpointed Kalinskaya 114-99.

“It was a very tough match,” Kanepi said during a post-match press conference. “It was so hot on the court. … I don’t know how I managed to win. Just tried to play my game, but [Anna] also played her game really well.”

Next, Kanepi will face either No. 88 Daria Saville of Australia or No. 111 Rebecca Marino of Canada, who played later Friday.

Friday’s Citi Open ATP results

Friday’s Citi Open WTA results

By the numbers

Of the seven American men ranked in the ATP Top 50, only one of them remain in contention for the Citi Open title: No. 24 Frances Tiafoe.

“Quotable …”

“I think that it took me a while, but right now I most enjoy the challenge of continuously coming back and getting back up. Getting yourself out of rock bottom, really, a lot of times repetitively. I think it’s a fun challenge and I think I have twisted my perception of it.

“I’m not viewing it as a negative thing anymore. I’m just seeing, okay, like the adds are not great right now, but what can I do to turn it around. Then the reward that you feel after a win, knowing that you have come through that, it means a lot more.”

– No. 2 seed Emma Raducanu of Great Britain, during her Thursday post-match press conference, reflecting on being a Grand Slam champion as a teenager and managing her expectations the past 12 months.