Coco leads American women onto primetime stage
Tennis Central senior writer Michael Augsberger delivers his notes from our home tournament in DC: What you don't see unless you're there. Read it all at our magazine, The Tennis Curator.
Everyone came to see Top 10 sensation Coco Gauff in the night's featured match. She closed out a tougher second set against local qualifier Hailey Baptiste who had strung together two straight victories against the Top 50 for the first time in her budding career.
On the Harris court, two other American women provided another much-anticipated storyline. Madison Keys had a fight on her hands against inspirational returner Jennifer Brady but cruised in the second set 6-4, 6-0.
Tonight will be a night to remember. Taylor Fritz won as expected in the nightcap, handling multiple break points with mettle. That means he will play Sir Andy Murray in primetime, following Frances Tiafoe and JC Shang.
Despite the scoreline, Svitolina and Kasatkina played entertaining, strategic groundstroke tennis in the stadium's highlight of the day. Ukrainian flags dotted the arena.
Felix Auger-Aliassime was upset in two incredibly tense tiebreaks by Japan's Yosuke Watanuki.
Most of the stadium matches were straightforward, evidenced in the evening's closing time, around 10 pm. Only rain-outs finish that early. Murray and Svitolina won in straight sets, while Bencic won handily.
Primetime at the Mubadala Citi DC Open
Baptiste struggled with an abdominal muscle injury that eventually forced her to withdraw from the doubles competition. The story of the match really came down to Baptiste's first serve percentage, 38%, which must have been a product of the pain. It is nearly impossible to win defending your second serve that often.
If the Fritz-Svajda match was ever going to flip on a turning point, it was at 2-2 in the second set when the American faced 0-40 on serve. He won five straight to stifle the comeback bid.
We haven't seen the last of Jennifer Brady, who teams with Madison Keys in doubles today.
Stadium: Elina Svitolina def. Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-2
Another no-handshake affair spiced up by Svitolina's 7-0 prior record against her Russian competitor despite Kasatkina's on-paper higher billing and recent, career-high rise into the top 15. Meanwhile Svitolina is just returned from having her first child with husband Gael Monfils, scheduled to play two hours after his wife. It would indeed be eight in a row for Svitolina, whose similar game is just that much superior to Kasatkina's.
Both players made sharp decisions in a cat-and-mouse, more clay-style match with longer points than we've seen heretofore on the Stadium court. One reason Svitolina is a Wimbledon and US Open semifinalist is her patience. Kasatkina backed her up with a lob mid-first set, just after Svitolina's first break. The Ukrainian hit an overhead but simply played to reset the point to Kasatkina's backhand, instead of smashing it. A few points later, Kasatkina chose a precise lob pass to Svitolina's backhand that landed a yard within the baseline for a winner.
There were times when I thought Kasatkina had lost her resolve, like when she mis-hit at 0-40 at the close of the first set. But then she put it together to challenge to get back into the match, even down 1-4 in Svitolina's marathon service game. When Svitolina finally held, it seemed to wrap up the match.
A buzz filled the stadium as the women bashed groundstrokes back and forth, the later it got and the closer Andy Murray came to taking the court.
Kasatkina's send-off was the most cordial of all the Russian players so far. Our games really offer the opportunity for sportsmanship to triumph over enmity, so while I acknowledge the complex feelings in Ukrainians' decision to forgo the postmatch ritual, I think it misses this opportunity to show on a world stage how to confront civilized conflict as opposed to physical aggression. A handshake does not signal that all is well, condoned, or even forgiven. It is difficult to set contempt for one's opponent aside especially after the agony of defeat. Like going to the moon, a handshake would mean all the more because it is difficult.
Stadium: Belinda Bencic def. Lauren Davis 6-1, 6-3
This match once would have had the promise of drama: American qualifier Davis once made the final in Washington and has taken Bencic to three sets twice depsite losing all three of their previous bouts. She also dispatched the likes of Sloane Stephens already this week. But these days the gap in level is too gaping.
Davis struggled to maintain the pace with the Swiss Olympic gold medalist in the sleepy opening set. She came into her own early in the second set, ripping a change of direction forehand down the line for a gorgeous, unexpected winner at 1-1, 40-15. Then she hit an ace to get out of another spot of bother at 2-2, 15-30.
Bencic just had too many chances early in games, though, to pressurize the American. At 3-3 she won four straight points to get the break and then served out the match easily.
Around the grounds
I met Julia from the WTA Tour this morning. The Torino native played seriously as a teen but joined the Tour as a data collector recently. She was especially surprised at the severe weather last week, usually preferring Miami (like Lauren Davis, who says it's her favorite tournament) to here, but the unseasonably mild temperatures this week have been welcome. It can get unbearably humid and Australia-like in heat, but it has been pleasant this week, a boon for the competitors.
Thanasi Kokkinakis and Ugo Humbert battled on Harris to a first-set tiebreak that the Frenchman took, and after a quick turnaround for the Aussie, they were deadlocked again in the third set. Humbert got the break he needed to advance, as the Adelaide native could not survive yet another nailbiter.
It was beyond standing-room-only for Christopher Eubanks on the grandstand court, taking place concurrently with Kokkinakis-Humbert and Svitolina-Kasatkina. Eubanks hit 28 winners to Sho Shimabukuro's 12 for the major difference in the match.
Auger-Aliassime was one of my favorites to emerge victorious on Sunday. He will be ruing the missed chances he had against Watanuki, who won 84% of his first serve points. Neither served particularly well, but the nerves prevented any breaks---both were 0/3 on break opportunities, rarities in the two sets.
Frances Tiafoe's doubles match followed Eubanks on the Grandstand, and as most cleared out during the interval, a good portion of smart-money fans remained to secure their seats. Paired with Poland's Hubert Hurkacz, he took on third seed lloyd Glasspool and Harry Heliovaara. The favorites edged the crowd favorites in a second-set tiebreak.
Hurkacz is the No. 4 seed in singles whom Michael Mmoh upset on Tuesday. Born in Saudi Arabia, reared in Florida, Mmoh's family has roots in Washington DC and is being followed closely here by the locals.
What to watch: Thursday Preview
Frances Tiafoe v JC Shang, 7 pm. Shang played exquisitely in the stadium pressure on Tuesday to take down Ben Shelton. Tiafoe, like the Capitals or the Nationals, is playing at home.
Taylor Fritz v Andy Murray, approx 9 pm.
Jessica Pegula v Peyton Steams in another all-American matchup, approx 4 pm.
The most entertaining man in tennis isn't Nick Kyrgios, it's Gael Monfils, and he delivered again Wednesday with an upset of the No. 6 seed Alexander Bublik. His grandstand match will be a tough ticket to secure as he goes up against Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands, 3 pm.
What to do when you’re here
First report on Georgetown Cupcake---not all it's cracked up to be. The icing is creamy on the vanilla birthday version, but the cake more or less dry. Time for a new flavor to try today. Go instead for the gelato or affogato.
The sin of omission: Gone are the radio earpieces that stream match commentary into fans' heads. Provided by Citi in years past, like the ones that American Express smartly distributes in New York, they were invaluable for fan experience and promotional value. This is a step backward for the DC Open that needs to be addressed next year.
In the Citi Lounge this week you can catch interactive player interviews while you take a break from the (albeit milder) heat. Christopher Eubanks chatted with ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert in the afternoon. "My favorite Eubanks story," BG said, "was when we heard some Eagles music on the stadium speakers and then I played him some Springsteen. He had never heard any of it before!"
Eubanks was asked about a figure of legend in Georgia Tech tennis, where he played, that drew laughter. "No one knows for sure whether he really existed," he said.
You'll need a Citi card of any sort to get into the Lounge, located between the former Biergarten and the southern entrance to the grounds. Once there, you can find some of the favorites that are available elsewhere (like Georgetown Cupcake and the grilled chicken sandwich) or more refined fare you can't get elsewhere. Luckily for those with good taste, it seems focused on Italian. A tomato bisque, rigatoni, spaghetti with ricotta are the main attractions.
Summer Reading List
An excellent recap of the scene featuring Frances Tiafoe, Christopher Eubanks, and their doubles partners at a mid-workday opening match and its meaning for Black tennis. From Ava Wallace at the Washington Post.