Turbulent Day for American Tennis as Nine Get Ousted at Citi Open Including No. 2 Seed Stephens
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite home soil advantage, it was a rocky day for American tennis players on the grounds of the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. as nine players went out in the first round of play on the men’s and women’s side.
In the biggest stunner of the day, 19-year-old Sloane Stephens went down to world No. 88 Olga Puchkova in very uncharacteristic form, 7-5, 6-3. From her first service game, Stephens was broken and it continued downhill through five more breaks. She continued to send balls long and mid-way through the second set, she seemed void of energy, just standing in frustration looking to her team in the stands after errors.
But Stephens herself isn’t that worried about Monday night’s performance, citing the quick turn around from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., the differing courts and her poor practice in the days prior to her match.
“Leading up (to the match), I didn’t practice that great,” admitted Stephens. “I just wasn’t feeling the ball that well. Sometimes you just have tough days like that. Unfortunate that it came today and I couldn’t really get it together.”
Physically, she “felt fine,” even joking that “when I’m injured I play great, and then when I’m healthy I can’t hit a ball right.”
Looking forward to the US Open, she feels the home pressure is inevitable based on her recent Slam results, but chooses to focus on her game, saying “I don’t care anymore” about the buzz.
“Everyone is going to be like, ‘You should do really well here because you’ve done well in all of the Slams,’” commented Stephens. “If I lose first round, you guys, just don’t be upset.”
Earlier in the day in just his fourth tournament of the year, Mardy Fish continued his comeback on unsteady ground as he found himself down a set against Australian Matt Ebden, 6-2. He opened up the second set by winning a 22-point game, breaking Ebden three times before taking it 6-1, and closing it 6-3 in the final set.
A sober Fish arrived in press, feeling healthy and “satisfied to win,” but he admitted to being drained of energy.
“It’s a process. Fitness is a big a part of playing, and sometimes that spells trouble for me … My expectations as far as winning the tournament are pretty low. I’m just enjoying competing right now.”
2002 champion James Blake also faced a tough opponent in another fellow Aussie, Marinko Matosevic, except the end results didn’t favor the American as he went down 6-2, 7-6(6).
“I never really got any real rhythm at all on my serve, and that made all the difference in the first set,” said Blake. “I got back into the second set, and had my chances … but missed it.”
Despite the early exit, Blake still has fond memories of the tournament, and enjoys the support he gets from fans
“(Washington, D.C.) was the first tournament I ever won,” he said. “It was an unbelievable week beating one of my idols, Andre Agassi in the semis. And really fond memories of beating Paradorn Srichaphan in the final.”
So, what is next for the 33-year-old father?
“I don’t know. Right now, that’s a tough question. I don’t feel great about the way I played today. My plan has always been, play through the summer and then see where I’m at. See where my body is at, where my head’s at, how I’m feeling, how much I want to travel, how much I still enjoy it all — if my body allows me to keep going.”
Monday play also included a late night win by 21-year-old Melanie Oudin. However, seven additional Americans failed to reach the second round, including Steve Johnson, Denis Kudla, Rhyne Williams, Rajeev Ram, Christian McHale, Jessica Pegula, and Beatrice Capra.