Semifinals to savor
Updated: Aug 16
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.
Kaia Kanepi heads to her tenth WTA final, sixteen years after her first, seeking her first triumph since 2013.
Both WTA semifinals were dominated by their victors. Liumilla Samsonova cruised against Xiyu Wang to the second WTA final of her career, while Kanepi simply would not miss against Daria Saville, who at times offered resistance she could not quite replenish.
Yoshihito Nishioka stunned the No. 1 seed, a tempestuous Andrey Rublev who lacked the patience to think his way through the baseliner's challenge, in straight sets to make a bid for the biggest title of his career.
Kyrgios had reached the final in his last tournament, Wimbledon. He did so again here by stomping on the gas pedal in the first-set tiebreak and never looking back for Mikael Ymer.
Primetime at Citi Open
Yoshihito Nishioka def. Andrey Rublev, 6-3, 6-4
One experienced pundit near me in the press box noted how it seemed Kyrgios did not respect Ymer until the tiebreak. However, I felt even more strongly that Rublev did not respect Nishioka. The No. 1 seed lost control, screaming primally, smashing his racquet, and looking on the verge of tears during changeovers. Childish. To me he felt he did not belong in such a battle with the 96th-ranked player on the tour who had not defeated a Top 10 player in 2022 until now. Rublev was not willing to think his way through the maze Nishioka laid for him.
Man, I cannot tell you how much I wish there had been a Rublev press conference.
A player like Nishioka, at 5-foot-7 and 141 pounds, feeds off the negative energy that a better player emits. He used that well, and every confident fist he pumped just twisted the knife that much further.
I saw the Japanese up close in his second-set tiebreak against de Minaur in the second round, where was a point away from elimination. If anyone has the discipline to play long points, come to net when he needs to, and stay calm no matter the stakes, it's him. It could serve him well against Kyrgios, another hot head.
Nick Kyrgios def. Mikael Ymer, 7-6, 6-3
All of Kyrgios's matches have been some of the shortest in the tournament, except when he was pushed by Tiafoe. But even that two-tiebreak, three-set quarterfinal was played relatively expediently.
Ymer spent the match returning serves from two yards behind the "Washington, D.C." wordmark on the court. With Kyrgios dialing second serves at 120 MPH or more, it's not easy to see why.
The first disciplined point Kyrgios played came late in the tiebreak, a probing exchange in which neither player could risk missing an impulsive . It was thrilling, almost clay-court tennis. After the Aussie won the point, he never looked back.
Many more errors in the early stages for Kyrgios. "Unsettled," was how the commentary team described him, aptly. The mind has never been his strength, either. He really ought not to be approaching Ymer's forehand side as he has.
The stadium was full for Nadal last year, every seat occupied before the first ball, something I'd never seen before. Tonight, it was almost full a few games in.
The un-coached Australian warmed up with Jack Sock before the match to the largest practice court crowd that gathered this week. They had a doubles match to play together after this semifinal finished.
As It Happened
Kaia Kanepi def. Daria Saville, 6-3, 6-1
Radio commentators, and I agree, pinned the difference today on Kanepi's accuracy when given pace, and the Australian's unwillingness to use the slice or to change the depth of her rally balls. Saville through up her arms time and again when Kanepi hit another line with a booming forehand.
Kanepi fired out of the blocks with a quick break, such that the crowd lustily cheered . The difference in class seemed stark at first. The 37-year-old is a seven-time Slam quarterfinalist, and it showed. Saville, nine years junior, lacks the pedigree. But in the third and fourth games Saville sorted her nerves and started attacking Kanepi more aggressively, to her benefit. One break was erased, and when she held for 3-2 after a brilliant pass and an inside-out winner, the energy changed. But Kanepi was too far ahead by that point in the first set.
Once Kanepi held for 4-2, Saville pulled up, appearing to be clutching her right hamstring. Eventually she went indoors for treatment.
Serving to start the second set, Saville blasted a running forehand up the line. But the limber Estonian stretched out to half-volley a drop shot winner from behind the baseline. Beautiful, but eventually meaningless after Saville took four straight points.
As It Happened
Ludmilla Samsonova def. Xiyu Wang, 6-1
As much as the first semifinal was one-sided from the off, this one was even more.
Wang took a bathroom break to reset herself after the first set. She apparently also decided to come out swinging with nothing to lose, hitting harder serves and going for winners with abandon. She aced Samsonova twice in the first game. But that second serve at 66 MPH or so is just too much of a liability here.
Around the Grounds
The official tagline has changed. The tournament is still the beloved "Washington's summer tennis tradition," of course, but they've gone a little more emotionally driven this year with "Heart of the Nation, Love of the Game". Which do you prefer?
It is always interesting to learn from the best how to handle situations on court where you're kept waiting. I once had to wait twenty-five minutes up 5-0 for the sprinklers to water the clay court at a tournament. Some players would lose their minds. Kanepi, leading 4-2 during Saville's treatment, stayed warm by hitting serves.
Also, sometimes playing an injured opponent can be mentally fatal. Take advice from Kanepi: "I'm just trying to think about what I'm trying to do." In English at least, Kaia is a bit short. Pairing her with an ebullient emcee trying to extract some more description from her in the on-court interview looked painful for her.
Coming Up on Sunday
Women's Final: Kaia Kanepi v Ludmilla Samsonova, 2:30 pm
Men's Final: Nick Kyrgios v Yoshihito Nishioka, 5 pm
What to do when you’re here
The radio commentators pulled a Tony and Mike move, dropping the name of The Palm, a legendary steakhouse in DuPont Circle where they dined the night before. Yet I can do you one better. The top Italian spot in town is literally across the 19th Street from there: I Ricchi, a Tuscan restaurant.
As always, one of the best parts of walking the Rock Creek Park grounds is that the amenities are not just typical concourse food, but rather selections from interesting DC-area favorites. I ran past the Dolcezza in the CityCenter outdoor mall this morning.
For those of you visitors to DC (like me), the tournament hotel and very likely the closest is Omni Shoreham, which actually borders Rock Creek Park. But if you want a little more tourism and luxury in your trip, you have many choices within walking distance of the National Mall, like the Conrad Washington DC, located in the same complex as Tiffany's and where a number of Citi Open officials and bank executives are staying to attend the tourney.
Speaking of hotels, if you frequent the tournament sponsor Four Seasons, you may appreciate the $80 caviar dish at the only vendor I haven't mentioned yet, the Garden Lounge. With its cocktails and mixed-drinks bar, it has a more adult, fun yet well-to-do vibe. Folks were singing along to "Old Time Rock n Roll" when I arrived.
Consider supporting the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation. Have you wondered why the Market Square and Players' Lounge floor is artificial turf? It's because the rest of the year these facilities are indoor courts where kids learn to play the game.
Summer Reading List
Pickleball is tennis's little brother---lovable, young, annoying. L. Jon Wertheim ESQ dives into its love-hate rivalry with tennis, as well as updates on Novak's prospects for New York. Everyone has an opinion.
Sarah Larson of The New Yorker also discusses pickleball and its polarizing qualities.