Kyrgios the champion again in Washington
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.
Ludmilla Samsonova took the WTA title in a match with only three breaks of serve, and facing only one break point herself. It is her second title on tour, and first since Berlin last June.
For the men's final, a businesslike Nick Kyrgios kept his cool against the troublesome lefty, Yoshihito Nishioka to keep alive his singles-doubles bid to be the first to win both events in DC.
Primetime at Citi Open
Nick Kyrgios def. Yoshihito Nishioka, 6-4, 6-3
This one held all the promise of polar extremes converging, and viewing how each player would deal with the distinct challenge. Would Kyrgios spiral having to constantly hit one more shot, like Rublev? What might save the Aussie in this case is that his game is well-rounded; he can slice and drop shot it up with anybody. But would he have the proper patience? On the other side, would Nishioka finally meet someone who can just blast him off the court, and neutralize his mind games, pluck, and levelheadedness?
Kyrgios seemed focused to start. He played a smart drop shot in one rally, and he stayed patient, determined not to make the mistakes that the everyone lying in Nishioka's wake did. He grabbed the first break in the opening game, and aced the lefty three times to the deuce court in his service game to consolidate it.
The Aussie plays so fast. Part of it is his lining up quickly to serve. Also watch him after he's broken an opponent---he harnesses his energy to hold serve once he's up in a set. Playing to win does not mean playing to win every point.
The first outburst came at 3-2, 15-all, when Kyrgios should have put away a volley. He missed it wide and yelled something about "2017". But because he was able to polish off two later drop volleys, the drama was quelled. For now.
The first dash of flair came at 5-4, 15-0. He lazily blocked a short ball with perfect touch. A point later, what looked like another flashy drop shot actually was strategic---he brought Yoshi up, then lobbed easily to the backhand side, opening up a passing shot. Another ace later, making seven total, Kyrgios closed out the first set.
Kyrgios broke early again in the second. Serving at 40-30, after losing a point at net that upset him, the Aussie, holding three balls with more coming to him from the ball kids, drew laughs from the crowd and even from Yoshi. "This is how he handles the pressure," is how Thanasi Kokkinakis described it to John McEnroe once at the Laver Cup. He has to make light of it to escape it. A service winner saved the game for him on the next point and consolidated the break.
Yoshi may not be as fresh, has done more running here, and played the longest match of the tournament in the quarters at 3:30 to get here. After longer points he's understandably been slower to return to the fight.
First they introduced the players too early, before they were in the hallway waiting to enter the court. Then Luke Jensen just could not get Yoshihito's name pronounced correctly when introducing him onto the court. "How disrespectful!" said the fan seated in front of me.
Old World Team Tennis teammates squared off in the city they once represented. These two players, incredibly, were teammates for World Team Tennis's Washington Kastles in 2019.
As It Happened
Ludmilla Samsonova def. Kaia Kanepi, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3
This is the windiest day in the sun we've had all week, and it certainly affected the players.
Holding serve was a walk in the park until 5-4. One blink and it was over. Samsonova went for too much on a forehand she was backing up on at 30-40, the first break point of the match. It sailed wide to give Kanepi the set, 34 minutes in.
Some players feel restricted by sweat bands, Sophie says on the air, but she cannot believe how Kanepi has eschewed a hat in this heat: "It keeps you ten degrees cooler." Interesting to me, since I wore a hat all through my baseball career but dislike it for tennis. Samsonova is the one without armbands, but the discussion reminds me of running into her outside the players' tent: She had serious knee-band tan without the thin ring she is now wearing on court.
In the second set, Kanepi was changing speeds on her first serves well to keep her opponent off balance. Some were 110---others 95. But she was the first to face a break point in the set at 3-3, thanks in part to a double fault. Samsonova converted, and both players were 1-for-1 on break opportunities. She collected her poise after double faulting in her attempt to back up the break, and Kanepi raced through the final game, giving up another break.
Neither player requested the ten-minute heat break after the second set. It was especially surprising that Kanepi did not take the opportunity to reset herself. She'd won just one or two points in the last three games.
Why do we try to force things ourselves when our opponent is clearly unraveling? Samsonova stepped into the first serve in Kanepi's service game to start the set, missed wildly, and gave Kanepi life where there was none. By the time it was 3-2, both had found their form in their service games, though the Estonian called for the trainer.
Tour inside info: Samsonova did not get into the Toronto 1,000-point event because her ranking was too low at the cut-off. She had planned to play in qualifying there. Then she made the final here, precluding her from getting to Toronto for qualies, which started already. The ATP provides exemptions into the main draw for players who get caught in some situations like this, but in this specific case from a 250 event to a 1,000, the WTA does not.
Kanepi emerged to save herself right after the medical timeout, but she could not fend off the break in the following service game. Samsonova served out the match, resolved to stay calm after Kanepi took the first point.
Notes from a Fine Week
Stadium emcees gave props to the fans filling the unshaded seats all throughout the week. It might not have registered differently in the record books, but it felt so much hotter this year than last year.
If it wasn't a coming-out party for Yoshihito Nishioka, it was a reminder to look out for him at the US Open.
Even the broiling Citi Open mascot, a giant tennis ball with blue arms, a superhero's Citi cape, and a red cap that resembles a Phillies' more than the Nats', must go through security when entering the grounds. "Will he fit?" a guard asked as the mascot approached the scanners. He did, barely.
As much as I love New York, and Ashe Stadium is electric when the big names are pushed to dramatic finishes, it can feel corporate in the nosebleeds there. To really enjoy it, you have to sit, at the highest, in the mid-tier. Otherwise the players seem like ants, and motion is flattened---you can't tell how high the ball is above the court. Tennis was not meant for such a large arena. It's why the other cathedrals of tennis are much smaller. Here in Washington, you can see many of the world's best up closer than at the Slams. Dimitrov on Court 4 with just a few rows of seats? Halep practicing . Sure, you can get close at the US Open, but there are more fans jockeying for position. You're under a grandstand, or on top of one, basically as far removed as during a match. In this stadium, in every seat you can see perfectly, feel the intimacy, and get a jolt of electricity.
What to do when you’re here (next year)
As a connoisseur of stadium burgers and pizzas, I have found the world champion. Ten times better than the competition from the US Open's food court, the margarita pizza in Market Square would be a legitimate pie out on the town. Most places give you a cold, soggy square that's been infrared-warmed for an hour. This is a beacon for all sporting events to emulate.
Summer Reading List
How well have these analyses of tennis's television commentators held up? Judge for yourself. They're supposedly from 2005, and the responders are certainly dated (Spadea, Rusedski...), but what strikes me is how many of the names we still listen to. I loved Patrick and Cliff's chemistry at the Masters events too, but ESPN just gets better and better with its entire team, including Fowler, Evert, Fernandez, Goodall, Shriver. In terms of commentary, they've always been miles ahead of Tennis Channel. And don't forget the prowess of my Notre Dame comrade Ted Robinson.
Citi Open chairman Mark Ein's interview when the tourney returned from the pandemic-forced hiatus last year.