DC locals Tiafoe, Baptiste provide fireworks
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.
The world's first combined ATP 500 / WTA 500 event ushers in unprecedented interest in the Mubadala Citi DC Open. Seven top-10 ranked players signed up to be here.
Local product Frances Tiafoe edged past his doubles opponents on Monday in a 10-7 match tiebreak before taking top billing at Primetime on Tuesday. He did not disappoint, defeating Aslan Karatsev in two tight tiebreak sets, making him 3-0 in tiebreaks so far in DC.
Hailey Baptiste stormed to a quick first-set win before Karolina Pliskova righted the ship in the second. It came down to the third, when Baptiste proved her mettle and took down the once-World No. 1. That sets up a dream Round of 16 meeting between the Washington native and Coco Gauff tonight.
The biggest crowd on an outer court of the day belonged to Andy Murray, playing doubles with Daniel Evans. Fans were sitting on the grass trying to sneak a peak underneath the windscreens.
Primetime at the Mubadala Citi DC Open
Karatsev played a brilliant match, as evidenced by Renee Stubbs' enthusiastic approval as he left the court, to a tepid but polite response for the Russian from the otherwise raucous DC crowd.
Kevin Durant came out from courtside to praise Tiafoe's performance. How's his tennis game? "Non-existent," he joked.
The screams for Tiafoe after winning points were different from the electric roar that Nadal received two years ago and the frenzied merrymaking of Kyrgios fans. These were more like Beatles shrieks, giddy excitement that can't be contained.
Madison Keys followed by saving three break points in the tightest moments of her first set against Qinwen Zheng and making tidy work of the second set to move on.
Stadium: JC Shang def. Ben Shelton
"We've known each other since we were kids, so it was always going to be hard," Shang told Renee Stubbs after the match.
Points were relatively short in this contest, at least until deep in the third. So was the first set at barely 25 minutes. Shelton, the recipient of the sparse, early stadium crowd’s affection as the American, struggled to swing out of his sleeve to connect on those big lefty forehands. Shang’s service games
The match also had a methodical feel totally opposite of most of yesterday’s stadium and marquee doubles matches.
The last games of the first set signaled Shelton’s turnaround. He held to get to 2-5 and then broke early in the second set before throwing it away the next service game. But after three break points he converted again at 4-2 and saved three of his own—the latter two with excellent whipping forehands to pull Shang wide to his left—to invigorate the partisans. It wasn’t enough when Sheng ground out the next two.
Shelton was banging that first serve around 131 mph at times. Meanwhile Shang hit a 74 mph changeup in the late stages.
The point of the match came when Shang was defending the break at 15-40. Shelton came in after a tense exchange and hit a vicious approach to Shang’s backhand corner that took him outside the sideline. His pass was sublime, a curling stroke that nipped the corner. Once again, however, it wasn’t enough as Shelton ran off from there to take the set.
Set three returned to the methodical march, with 40-0 games and wild swings from the returner to try to see if any punches would land. After just an hour and thirty minutes
Shelton's double-fault at 3-4, 30-all provided the final set's first moment of truth. He cornered Shang on the forehand side but missed his crosscourt razor wide to drop serve and give his opponent the chance to serve it out, which he did.
Shang knew it was a hurdle to have so much time off for his old friend, who'd had a bye and clearly "had a slow start," the winner said. As for him, playing extra helped; having defeated the Ecuadorian Gomez yesterday, these are his first back-to-back wins on the ATP Tour.
Stadium: Marta Kostyuk def. Bianca Andreescu (Monday)
So many oddities took place that I was astounded. An errant ball stuck the cap off a front-row spectator. Andreescu hit a wrong-footed tweener that made you wonder how she didn't injure herself. Then when the Ukrainian seemingly surrendered a point as Andreescu smashed an overhead, the former's nonchalant racquet flick produced an incredible drop shot that no one could believe became a defensive winner. (Andreescu, stunned, audibly laughed.) But by far the most controversial was the case of the heckling fan.
In the rich suites, a man repeatedly jeered Andreescu and cheered her misses. Late in the third set, she missed a second serve thanks in part to his ill-timed exclamation. Immediately she wheeled and screamed, "Shut up!" at the offender. Then the Canadian demanded the referee remove him before she would continue. They did so, but the damage had been done. Concentration rattled or not, she went on to lose in a tiebreak.
This is an upsetting epidemic not merely for reasons of sportsmanship. Another tennis player, Mardy Fish, competing for a pro-am golf championship a few weeks ago suffered a similar act by a fan who had bet against him. As sports betting entrenches itself deeper and deeper into our now legal culture, fans at especially quiet sports like golf and tennis will seek to influence the outcome by hook or by crook. I'm not sure what evidence there is in this case, but I do know this. The last time I encountered such brutality in a fan at the DC Open, it was because he had bet against the object of his derision.
Around the grounds
Elina Svitolina refused to shake the hand of Vika Azarenka following her primetime victory on Monday. The Ukrainian repeated the drama (or avoided it again, depending on your view) of Wimbledon's fourth-round match between the two. While the capital of the former Empire treated the Belarusian harshly, the capital of the free world did not. I tend to take the view that sportsmanship is sacred, but I also won't pretend to know the feelings of the Ukrainians.
Grigor Dmitrov, who founders early every single time I see him, fought an hour-long first set that wasn't as taxing as the length indicates. But the tiebreak was tense, with McDonald, who's done well here in the past, coming within two points of winning. The Bulgarian No. 5 seed ran away in a rapid second set, 6-2.
The first win in nearly two years for Jennifer Brady means she will face Madison Keys, a rare treat on the Harris court.
Kei Nishikori, who put on an impressive semifinal run two years ago here, had to withdraw, blaming the knee that's been giving him problems for some time now.
Sadly there is no chance of a repeat men's champion, as Nick Kyrgios hasn't played since Wimbledon and just withdrew from the Canadian Open. I did see Kokkinakis slip into a player car with his girlfriend and entourage after morning workouts---he needed all his wits to slip past Taro Daniel 6-4 in the third.
Mike, a tournament marshal originally from Kent, UK who sat with me in the press box, described his work on site making certain authorized personnel access certain areas, his love for golf, and his thoughts on the new Washington football ownership. "It really needs to be at RFK, the stadium," he said. "FedEx is so hard to get to and back from, but I did enjoy seeing Coldplay there once." He's in his third year volunteering in DC.
What to watch: Wednesday Preview
Gael Monfils v Alexander Bublik on Harris, approx 6 pm. It's a beautiful day on Harris in the early evening on Wednesday, with this match and also the comeback of Jennifer Brady and Madison Keys to follow in primetime.
Andy Murray v Brandon Nakashima, 4 pm, Stadium
Hailey Baptiste, who had to qualify, plays Coco Gauff in the most anticipated match of the day. 7 pm, Stadium
Taylor Fritz v fellow American, qualifier Zachary Svajda, primetime's second match at the Stadium.
What to do when you’re here
Market Square returns with the old favorites, including the frontrunner to win the ice cream championship again, Dulcezza, and its various Italian coffee selections. Newcomers include healthy options, like fruit cups at the Kids Kafe and an incredible number of salads and wrapped sandwiches. The guida cheeseburger is loaded and fantastic, and the Square still has the best selection of higher-quality craft brews and cocktails.
Rest in peace, Pepe the food truck. The Portuguese-Spanish fare is replaced with the Stella Artois Pommes Frites truck, serving up the grounds' best fries to go down smoothly with that Belgian pils. It's symbolic of the overall more corporate, global feel that many remarked about the sponsor tents this year and that you'd expect from an Emirates-powered sponsor (it may seem ironic, but the Portuguese food was local).
That is not to say the exhibitions of DC's best are gone. By no means.
A dessert overhaul has taken place. Van Leeuwen mounts the challenge to Dulcezza and Jubliee with not only cheesecake ice cream bars but a truck of its own serving scoops of hard ice cream, an addition this time around. But the big name around the Swamp is Georgetown Cupcake. Get each flavor at the former Biergarten, now a brat-less collection of shaded seating and a deeper menu including grilled chicken and a smoked meat sandwich. I think I will take the Pokemon approach to Georgetown Cupcake and try to catch 'em all this week.
More on the exclusive Citi Lounge experience with when this former JP Morgan banker can sneak past the guards.
Mubadala Watch last only two days
Having never heard of the new tournament sponsor partnering with Citi, I wagered how long it would take before we learned its line of business and other details. Could we make it through the whole week? On day one at its ingenious marketing set-up outside the stadium I learned it partners with global sport and means. They even taught us multiple correct pronunciations (Moo-BA-Da-La or Moo-BOTTLE-La among them) and that it means "exchange" in Arabic.
Within ten minutes on day two, though, the silence was broken by the stadium's PA announcer. The sovereign investment fund headquartered in Abu Dhabi manages about 276 billion USD in assets---100 billion in the US.
Summer Reading List
Fashion watch: Bright colors especially among the women have been in vogue, with Andreescu shining in a turquoise blue dress. The NFL is also returning more and more to the bright, vibrant colors and classic, polished looks. I hope it is not only a retro movement but a trend across all sport still reeling from the ominous tones of trying to intimidate everyone in the 2000s. Among the retros introduced these last weeks, the Eagles must be the best. But look how impressive the Oilers / Titans, Seahawks, and Bucs are.
Prize money for the ATP side is just over 2 million USD. Check out the history of the tournaments (mostly the men's side) from the ATP. The women draw from a 780,000 USD fund, which is more than three times the size of last year's. Given the bump up to a 500 level event, that's no surprise.