McDonald and Nishikori go into the night
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.
McDonald will play Sinner for the crown after a classic night session in which he dug deep and defeated former champion Kei Nishikori. Sinner required mettle to escape disaster in his first set but breezed through the second against crowd favorite Jenson Brooksby.
Nishikori and McDonald go into the night: 6-4, 3-6, 7-5
McDonald on what it means to him to get to his first ATP final: “I’m trying to downplay, or I guess downplay a little bit, try to keep my cool. I guess that's what's really helping me, not make the moments too big, getting too high or too low, staying focused, knowing the values behind it.”
That same mental coolness was key as the physical toll accrued in the late stages. “Physically, especially in the third,” McDonald said, “I could tell both of us were digging deep in there. Mentally I think I just hung in there really well. You know, I made good decisions towards the end. I think going for my shots at the end there was big. It paid off.”
Yet atypically for the quiet American, he allowed himself to bellow a roar upon seizing match point after three hours of play.
It was genuinely cool as the match began, 6:20 pm, especially with the breeze blowing. With somewhat slower conditions, we saw some expected longer points and many break opportunities in the first games. Nishikori needed eight minutes to hold serve before being broken the next time, for 2-1.
Kei turned on the jets in the first set when it so easily could have been 4-1, but McDonald stifled the turnaround with a break of his own, starting with a rapid reply to Nishikori’s stirring backhand return winner, propelling the American to the first set win. The residuals of that push steered the second set toward the Japanese, and from there it was a mental battle with the pressure on both, a step by step climb, slow, until McDonald pulled ahead at the very last.
Sinner v Brooksby: 7-6, 6-1
The second set score did not tell the story. It felt like it was on a knife’s edge until perhaps the last game. Such was the specter of the first set over the second in the players’ and fans’ minds.
Sinner saved three break points in a row at 5-6 in the first to force a tiebreak, then sailed away with the tiebreak and eventually with the second set. And this, after missing out on a break chance of his own, which Brooksby saved with a drop shot.
Brooksby disguises that dropper so well as a result of his backswing being exactly the same for both backhand topspin shots and slices. It’s as if he can decide at the very last moment to slice or punish it.
The Italian returned well, or at least defended well. Despite the difficulty in breaking serve, Brooksby could not find an ace all match.
Around the grounds
It’s not just Stadium Court, as the tournament has abbreviated and no one will tell you. It’s the William R. Morris Memorial Stadium, named for a DC real estate businessman whose family was involved in the Washington tennis scene. He gave $500,000 toward the 1988 completion of the luxury suites and stadium, marking the change from intimate and quaint along Kennedy and 16th NW, to holding the interest of the ATP Tour and keeping the tournament here in DC.
Former USTA president and pro player Katrina Adams looked somewhat lonely at her book signing outside Market Square. It was a difficult day for it—rain reducing the number of fans on site, and almost everyone who was here deciding to head to the stadium for Sinner-Brooksby. Later she made up for it, joining the radio commentators during the night session.
They’ve covered up Pegula’s name, again! Unveiling time Saturday night, then? She backed up her invitational win in 2019 with a repeat over Coco Gauff.
The tournament does history right. Connors and BJK on the stadium facade. PMac, who used to play here often, the new stadium DJ tonight. And the three-star retro Citi Open logo gear is fire.
What we’re reading
A history of the current iteration of the Citi Open grounds and stadium from 1988. Mark Ein had to “reimagine” the fan experience when he took over as chairman much as these initial builders and financiers had to reimagine an “intimate and quaint” facility as a grand arena.