Citi Open Q&A: Rhyne Williams Talks Embarrassing Moments, Keeping His Cool on Court and More

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Twenty-two-year-old Rhyne Williams captured his first win at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. as he defeated good friend Robby Ginepri in the grueling heat, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. (Gallery at bottom)

Rhyne Williams in action on Day One of the Citi Open in Washington, DC

Rhyne Williams in action on Day One of the Citi Open in Washington, DC

The pair went our for dinner Friday night in D.C. joking about the possibility of having to play each other in yet another tournament, after Williams most recently defeated his fellow American to win the Dallas Challenger in February.

Williams acknowledged how tough of a competitor Ginepri was again today.

“I played Robby so many times, we know each other’s game so well,” said Williams.  “I knew it was going to be tough from the first point. We always have battles. He likes to run me side to side, I’ve noticed. So it was fun to get to play him again.”

Despite the nine aces, the Tennessee native admitted to having some right shoulder trouble the past couple of months and feeling “a little banged up right now,” but is hoping it’s nothing serious. He plans on checking it out sometime after this week’s tournament, but not before attending his sister’s wedding next weekend.

So what if Williams happens to make a deep run at the Citi Open and is forced to miss his sister’s wedding?

“She’ll probably be pissed,” he laughed. “But I have to do it!”

I sat down with the charismatic, funny and level-headed Williams as he talked about his family’s tennis legacy, his love for Chipotle and his most embarrassing moment among other topics. Get to know one of American tennis’ rising stars!

What is your most memorable moment?
I’ll probably say qualifying for the US Open last year. Not only qualifying but I got to play Andy Roddick on Ashe stadium. That was a blast. To feel that environment for my first time — I’ll never forget that. …. That’s by far my favorite tournament.

How did you first start playing tennis?
My mom taught me tennis. She was top 100 in the world, so she taught me when I was 7 or 8 years old. We got out there a couple of times per week. I also played a lot of basketball and baseball growing up, but decided on tennis. Everybody (in the family plays.) You wouldn’t believe it. It’s overwhelming at times, but they’ve done a good job letting me do my thing. My cousin is with me all the time, and that’s been great. We’ve been not only family, but best friends. We grew up across the street from each other, hit every day growing up. No one knows me really as well as Christopher does.

If you were hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite and why?
(Laughs) I would invite Roger (Federer) – he’s my all-time favorite. I guess I have to throw a female in there too. I’ll go with Ana Ivanovic, another one of my favorites. And then, I’ll probably invite my best buddy, Tennys Sandgren.

What is one thing that scares you?
Flying. I used to never, never be fazed. But lately, I can’t even handle a little bump. I freak out, grab an armrest. I’m terrified now; it’s awful.

Rhyne Williams_Citi Open_27 July 2013-6What are two things you couldn’t live without?
Chipotle …

There are a few in D.C.

Yes, we went. I’ve been.

Already?

Yea. (Laughs) … So, Chipotle … and college sports.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be doing?
I would probably be playing baseball. That was my first love. The first thing I picked up was a baseball bat and gloves. My dad and I used to throw the baseball around and have batting practice.

What is your most embarrassing moment?
(Laughs) I was playing a Future in Spain a long time ago — I think I was 16 years old. And there was a pretty good crowd; I was playing one of the hometown favorites and everyone was cheering for him. I was acting like an idiot. I think I ran for a dropshot, didn’t get it. Got mad. Kicked the net and my foot got stuck in the net. I fell down on the court and everyone in the crowd erupted into cheers. I actually injured my tailbone from doing that. I was hobbling around the rest of the match and ended up losing. I deserved it. (Laughs)

What’s the secret to keeping your cool on court now, after being somewhat notorious for smashing racquets and such?
Don’t jinx it! (Laughs) Maybe I’m just growing up, I don’t know. It’s such a day-by-day thing. Some days I really love being out there. Some days I just can’t stand it. That’s why I have Christopher to try and keep me happy and calm out there.

Sometimes there’s just no turning back (from an outburst), but sometimes I can catch myself before it gets out of hand. But I have been better. It really just depends if I’m mentally fresh, then I’m probably going to hold it together. If I’m worn out or something is bothering me off the court, then maybe I’m more likely to smash a racquet or something. But I’ve been working on it really hard for sure.

What are your goals for the year in terms of progress or ranking?
I really want to make the push for the top 100. I think I’m already really close. But if I do end up breaking that, I don’t want to be satisfied with that. I want to stay inside the top 100, and be in all the Grand Slams without having to qualify.

That’s where I want to be the rest of my career. I think it’s doable. I still have a lot of work to do and a lot of growing up to do, but I think I’m on the right track. And I see guys like Steve (Johnson), Jack (Sock) and Denis (Kudla) who have all done it. We’re all pushing each other up the rankings, and that’s so great about having peers that are trying to do the same thing you are. You want to push yourself to stay on pace with them. It’s been nice having a group – we’re all friends and good buddies — who are doing the same thing as you.

Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.

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