The marquee match everyone wanted
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.
Primetime at Citi Open
Nick Kyrgios def. Frances Tiafoe 6-7, 7-6, 6-2
The two went the distance in a battle that started with fun and admirable sportsmanship, evolved to antics and fiery outbursts to fan and umpire alike, and ended later than most DC nightclubs.
The Aussie led the first tiebreak 5-2, but Tiafoe stormed back to win five straight points with a little help from his unraveling opponent. Remonstrating with his box, he dropped a few expletives that the umpire must not have heard. This would bubble over later.
A thrilling second-set tiebreak saw Tiafoe miss out on six match points, answered each time by Kyrgios until he won 14-12. By that point the Maryland native had had enough of Nick's outbursts going unpunished. Tiafoe ripped the chair umpire as they rested for the third set.
Despite Kyrgios's rabid following, the crowd was firmly behind its local hero without villainizing the tour's bad boy. Except for a few moments when fans yelled out at him.
The tale of the tape says it all. Both players converted about 80% of their first serves, but Tiafoe had to play his second serve considerably more often. Pivotally, he could only win 57% of them, to Kyrgios's 85%. That's one reason Tiafoe never could break him.
The reigning US Open champion is out: Raducanu. Ludmilla Samsonova prevailed in the tiebreak 8-6 and then used that momentum to run away with the second set.
A fine tournament for J.J. Wolf, the Buckeye who surely will be invited to the big dance in New York now. The first game of the second set, after that interminable wait for the stadium light tower to work again, showed his mettle as well as what he would have to do to stay toe to toe with the No. 1 seed. Sometimes Rublev would wind up that forehand crosscourt, and it was clear he was on a different level.
Rublev, to his credit, attributed his victory more to less time on court for him, and Wolf's almost full doubleheader today.
As it Happened
Nick Kyrgios def. Reilly Opelka, Stadium Court
Man, is it tough to have to resume a match up 0-30 with a break opportunity on your hands. And correspondingly it’s even less of a picnic to have to start the resumption serving at 0-30. There is no time to get in the groove—it’s immediately crunch time. It is a study in mental preparation.
From there, the match marched inexorably. Big serves from both gents—indeed, Opelka had blasted the hardest serve of the tournament until now, at 143 MPH.
Both played at a blistering pace. It was almost an unspoken agreement to get off the court as quickly as possible. Kyrgios has two more matches today, luckily not until the sun has set. Opelka also literally hustled off the court when the match was finished, sparking rumors that he might not have been feeling well.
Turns out to have been nothing more than a practice session for Kyrgios, who was to meet DC local Tiafoe for a much-anticipated night session. Judging from the crowd support for the Aussie against an American here, there may well be many in Kyrgios’s corner tonight despite Tiafoe’s roots.
Around the Grounds
Not one of the few “Aussie Aussie Aussie…” chants I heard today was met with its proper response.
Looking at the WTA prize money, you may think Citi officials have skimped with such a small increase overall (0.70%) and a huge decrease for the champion (22% down) from the last version of the full tournament in 2019, well before Covid and soaring inflation. But I admire what the tournament has done in bolstering the prizes for qualifying, first and second round losers. A first round loser will take home 27% more than in 2019. This is a step in the right direction toward making the tours a viable living for players ranked 100-300. If football can support 1,800 millionaires, MLB 750 roster players and soccer untold thousands, a global game like tennis ought to be able to bring 300-600 players a comfortable living. Don’t be fooled by something like the 33,000 USD prize for the champion at this WTA 250 event, the fourth- or fifth-tier for the tour.
Yesterday the radio commentators discussed golf at length because the “ATP and WTA seem like one big happy family” next to the PGA and LIV rifts. What prompted it? PGA Tour player Daniel Berger’s father Jay coaches Reilly Opelka.
I spotted French Open doubles semifinalist Matwé Middelkoop sheltering from the rain in the press box staircase tower when a fellow Dutch family started chatting with him about the embassy and his tennis. We laughed about the upside-down flag. They haven't fixed it.
My respect for Emma Raducanu went up today. It's a rule among the media that we don't mingle with the players hanging out at the ping pong tables and lounging on the patio furniture. Their privacy is to be respected. However, during the downpour Emma was in a friendly chat with a young reporter (not me) until it drew the ire of a tournament official. The players know what's harmless and warm, and what's got an ulterior motive. The Brit was kind to engage.
Coming Up on Saturday
Women's Semifinals: Daria Saville v Kaia Kanepi, 2 pm
Xiyu Wang v Ludmilla Samsonova, 3:30 pm
Men's Semifinals: Nick Kyrgios v Mikael Ymer, 7 pm
Andrey Rublev v Yoshihito Nishioka, 9 pm
What to do when you’re here
Dulcezza’s gelato, found in Market Square, takes the top ice cream honor convincingly, smooth and milky, with added fruit sorbets for those of you who want something lighter and cool. There is also a tempting Italian tiramisu-style Mascarpone & Berries flavor. Jubilee, with carts stationed outside all around the stadium ring-walkway, provides the hand-scooped, hard ice cream for those who crave that style. The only issue is that Dulcezza will cost you $14. Jubilee is in the $6-9 range.
One of the very few steps backward for the Citi Open’s fan experience is the new Citi Lounge. What used to be open-air and accessible to all, boasting slightly more upscale food and drink offerings, now requires a Citi card to access. But that in itself is not the issue, as I’ve lauded American Express’s card-required amenities in New York for a decade now. It’s not elitist to require a Citi credit or debit card. It’s that there’s no real improvement in the dining or amenities from last year. It’s the same lounge, now in a closed tent with air conditioning. It could have been much more. Still, if you’ve had enough brats and pizza, decide for yourself with their pasta, veal meatballs, or creative cocktails.
I guess I come to praise Citi and bury them today. A Citi card will get you 10% discounts on concessions here, and Citi will donate the discounted amounts, up to $20,000 total, to WTEF, the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation, which is dedicated to serving under-resourced DC youth. My question is, are the funds coming from Citi, or from the vendors? Who is recouping the vendors? It would be a truly incredible gift for Citi to be providing for the discount and the donation.
Summer Reading List
If the WTA’s prize money structure got you thinking, read how the tours’ distribution of prize money needed overhauling in the New York Times’ seminal piece.
Take a look at the prize money for the Citi Open at Perfect Tennis.
The next Vin Scully is undoubtedly honing his or her craft at Cape Cod’s finishing school for broadcasters.