Citi Open: Rublev Making Most Of His Court Time And Down Time, Too

Andrey Rublev (photo: Peter Staples/Citi Open)

WASHINGTON, August 6, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

It’s never easy for anyone, even if you’re Andrey Rublev, the No. 1 seed in the men’s draw at the ATP 500 Citi Open in Washington, D.C., to have to play two full matches in one today. Yet, Rublev did and he won both of them in straight sets to advance to Saturday evening’s semifinal against the surprising 96th-ranked Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, who has strung together a series of impressive wins this week against four higher-ranked opponents: American Jenson Brooksby, No. 11 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia, No. 7 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia and No. 16 seed Daniel Evans from Great Britain. All but the Khachanov win required three sets – and being on court for three hours-plus is something Nishioka has become used to this week, heat and humidity be damned.

When Rublev came to his post-match press conference just before 10:30 p.m., after he had defeated American wild card J.J. Wolf, 6-2, 6-3, the World No. 8 from Russia looked tired but also happy. He was also hungry, too.

“Of course, I’m happy to be for second time in semifinal at Washington,” Rublev said. The first time was four years ago in 2018, when he reached the semis before losing to de Minaur. “Obviously, I’m happy and I want to do my best [Saturday] to see if I can go farther.

“So, yeah, we’ll see. It’s a long ay. It’s really late. Waiting for my dinner,” he added, smiling.

Because of heavy rain that cancelled play Thursday evening, the top-seeded Rublev had to compete twice on Friday, first to complete the third round and then to play his quarterfinal-round match. Here’s how Rublev’s day went for him in a nutshell: First, at noon, he defeated No. 13 seed Maxime Cressy, 6-4, 7-6 (8) in under two hours on John Harris court. Then, he returned in the evening to face Wolf in the Stadium and won in straight sets, lasting just under 90 minutes. His opponents provided a contrast in playing styles. That’s because Cressy plays serve and volley, while Wolf enjoys engaging in long rallies.

In between his two matches, Rublev passed his time in a variety of ways: by having lunch, taking a shower, seeing his physio, enjoying a nap. Winning both of his matches economically, both in sets and in time, on a another hot and humid day in the nation’s capital city was beneficial for Rublev.

“Its part of the sport,” Rublev said in his press conference. All in all, he’s done pretty well. He hasn’t dropped a set all week as he pursues his fifth career ATP 500 title and first in the United States. “I think that’s the fun thing about it, that you don’t know what to expect. Suddenly, you will have two matches in one day. Then, you have to play at this time, but because the matches, I don’t know, gets long, long, long, you delay and delay and you start really late – and it’s like you cannot adjust, I think. It’s just the way it is.”

When all was said and done, Rublev made the most of his day – on the court where he was focused – and off it where he could share a late-night confession with the media.

“I didn’t eat healthy,” Rublev admitted. “I eat some, yeah, some sushi with the sauce and then coffee with a Pepsi. Then I fell asleep. I wake up when was rain. I took one more coffee.”

By this time, Rublev is smiling as he recollects his day.

“Then I was waiting for the match.”

For Rublev, it was time well spent.

Nick at Night: Kyrgios + Tiafoe = one great night of tennis

Nick Kyrgios and Frances Tiafoe love to entertain fans as much as they love to play and win. Friday evening at the Citi Open, the mercurial Aussie who won an ATP 500 singles title here in 2019 and the American local favorite from nearby Hyattsville, Md., both put on quite a late-night show for fans that would have even made American late-night TV hosts Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Fallon envious.

During their two-hour, 29-minute quarterfinal showdown on the Stadium court, the 63rd-ranked Kyrgios and No. 10 seed Tiafoe took to the court around 10:30 p.m. and entertained fans well into the night. There were plenty of tweeners and drop shots – and dazzling winners that made the wait worth it. There were even high-fives shared between Tiafoe and front-row baseline fans.

Kyrgios finally won the quarterfinal match at 12:58 a.m. – the latest tournament finish of the week – after fighting off five match points during a 26-point, second-set tie-break. There was plenty of tension and excitement, in which Tiafoe brought up five match points while leading 6-5, 8-7, 10-9, 11-10, and 12-11. Yet, Kyrgios saved all of them – three of them with winners, including an ace at. 6-5, a backhand down-the-line winner at 8-7 and he had the audacity to hit a drop shot at 12-11 but it did the trick. Eventually, Kyrgios won the tie-break on his own fourth set point.

Final score: Kyrgios def. Tiafoe, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (12), 6-2. Krygios slammed 35 aces, hit 55 winners to just 20 unforced errors, saved all three break points he faced and outpointed Tiafoe 116-105. Meanwhile, Tiafoe countered with 14 aces and 29 overall winners to only 14 unforced errors.

Just after 1 a.m. local time, Kyrgios was asked how he was able to endure two matches on another hot and humid day in Washington, D.C. “It wasn’t easy, to be honest,” he admitted. “Playing Reilly this morning in the heat was not ideal. Came out fast and strong, got it done. Then, I was able to just get some rest and eventually just pull through.

“An amazing match with Frances. I knew it was going to be crazy. I’m just glad that today’s over and I can get some rest.”

Krygios was asked how it felt being the center of attention with Tiafoe, especially with saving so many match points. He said: “Yeah, look, I don’t even think about it as match point or not. At the end of the day, if I lose, I lose. I’m going to shake that person’s hand and say, ‘Too good.’

“That’s all I did. I put myself in a position to stay in the match, and I felt, my experience, he was getting the crowd up and involved early on. I wasted a little bit of energy early.

“It’s tough conditions out here. You lose a lot of fluids out here, and my serve towards the end kicked up to another gear. I felt like I had fresh legs at the end. Serving 130 in these conditions is pretty helpful. I’m really happy where I’m at.”

Kyrgios has now reached the semifinals or better in five of his last six tournaments. Next, he faces No. 115 Mikael Ymer of Sweden who, while the late, late show was in full motion in the Stadium, must have seemed on another planet. That’s because Ymer was playing and beating 54th-ranked American Sebastian Korda, 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, in front a just a few hundred spectators on the Grandstand court, just a few strides away from the Stadium on the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center grounds.

Ymer recovered after squandering a double-break lead at 5-2 in the second set. He led 5-1 in the final set before he finally won with his eighth break of Korda on his fifth match point.

Kanepi, Samsonova beat the heat, win quickly

Not only did Kaia Kanepi became the first Estonian to reach a Citi Open final with her lopsided 6-3, 6-1 victory over Australia’s Daria Saville Saturday afternoon. The 37-year-old is also into her first WTA final since early last year and seventh overall. She’s just a win away from her fifth career title and it would be her first since 2013 at Brussels.

In the other semifinal, Liudmila Samsonova, the 60th-ranked Russian who grew up training in Italy, swept past 95th-ranked lucky loser Wang Xiyu of China in 67 minutes to win 6-1, 6-1.

On Sunday, the two power-hitting righties will meet in WTA 250 title match.

The 37th-ranked Kanepi in her Citi Open debut, seeded sixth and the only seeded player remaining, powered her way to an easy win over the 88th-ranked Saville. The Russian-born Australian needed a medical time out to relieve a lower back condition, which didn’t help her cause. However, Kanepi wasn’t to be denied on another sunbaked afternoon in D.C. Despite coming from a very cool part of the world, Kanepi has warmed up to the summer climate in D.C. just nicely.

Kanepi powered her way past Saville by hitting 18 winners and making just five unforced errors. She won 80 percent of her first-serve points and outpointed Saville 54-30. It was her 19th match win of the season, her highest total since 2013.

“I think I played my best match today,” Kanepi said in her press conference. “Everything was very smooth for me. I think I had a lot of lines. It’s tough to do it every day, so I think today was a good day for me.”

The 23-year-old Samsonova took care of business quickly in her match, as if she had a dinner reservation in Georgetown she didn’t want to cancel. She had already cancelled going to play qualifying at the National Bank Open in Toronto. So, why not continue enjoying her deep run to her first hard-court final in Washington, D.C.?

Samsonova, who won her first WTA title last year at Berlin, put herself in contention for another title thanks to hitting 17 winners to only five unforced errors against Wang, who was appearing in just her second career WTA semifinal. Samsonova took advantage of her opponent’s 16 unforced errors and never faced a break point until the last game of the match.

En route to the final, Samsonova has scored wins this week against World No. 10 and second seed Emma Raducanu, World No. 30 and fifth seed Elise Mertens and No. 69 Ajla Tomljanovic before beating Wang.

Looking ahead to Sunday, Samsonova has a 1-0 head-to-head advantage over Kanepi after beating her title match opponent at Wimbledon last year in the first round.

Pegula and Routliffe win women’s doubles title

No. 1 seeds Jessica Pegula and Erin Routliffe had never played together before the Citi Open, but maybe they should consider doing it more often.

On Saturday afternoon, Pegula and Routliffe did double duty, playing both a semifinal and final over a four-hour period and won their won their first title as a team. The American-New Zealand duo defeated No. 4 seeds  Caty McNally of the United States and Anna Kalinskaya of Russia, 6-3, 5-7, 12-10, in an hour and 37 minutes on John Harris court. Pegula and Routliffe outpointed their opponents 71-64.

Earlier, Pegula and Routliffe reached the final after the No. 3 seeds Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic and Monica Niculescu were forced to retire due to a back injury suffered by Hradecka. Pegula and Routliffe led 6-0, 5-2 after 53 minutes. They hit 13 winners, converted four of eight break points and outpointed their opponents 49-25.

Around the Citi Open

With consecutive days of rain delays, it’s wreaked havoc with the tournament’s backlogged schedule, in which many players – including Nick Kyrgios, Andrey Rublev, Sebastian Korda and Frances Tiafoe – saw double duty.

With a more favorable forecast Saturday, in which the temperature was expected to reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit under mostly cloudy skies, the women’s singles semifinals – Daria Saville vs. No. 6 seed Kaia Kanepi followed by Wang Xiyu vs. Liudmila Samsonova – dominated the afternoon session. The evening session, starting not before 7 p.m. (1 a.m. Sunday Central European), features the men’s singles semifinals – Nick Kyrgios vs. Mikael Ymer followed by top seed Andrey Rublev vs. Yoshihito Nishioka.

In addition, the men’s doubles draw will include a semifinal between No. 4 seeds Ivan Dodig and Austin Krajicek vs. Rohan Bopanna and Matwe Middelkoop. Also, it will be busy day for Kyrgios as he’s still alive in doubles teamed with Jack Sock. They will play a twice-postponed quarterfinal match against Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. The winner will play Tiafoe and Alex de Minaur in the other semifinal.

Saturday’s Citi Open order of play

By the numbers

Of the top 10 men’s seeds, only two – No. 1 Andrey Rublev and No. 10 Frances Tiafoe – made it as far as the quarterfinals. On the women’s side, of the eight seeds who began the week, only No. 6 Kaia Kanepi remains.

“Quotable …”

“Tired, obviously playing two matches again tomorrow, singles and then doubles afterwards. You know, this week has been difficult with rain and with just late matches, drug testing, everything. So, it’s been really tough to just get a good sleep.”

Nick Kyrgios, during a flash interview with the ATP following his three-set, quarterfinal victory over Frances Tiafoe, describing his emotions at 1 a.m.