WASHINGTON, D.C. — Argentine Juan Martin del Potro returned to Washington, D.C. after a three year hiatus to claim his third Citi Open title against American John Isner, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. (Finals gallery at bottom)
“It’s amazing, I’m so happy to win here once again,” the 24-year-old stated after the final. “When you win a tournament its special, its big. After Wimbledon to be my first time on hard court it means a lot. I am looking forward to Montreal, Cincinnati, and the U.S. Open. It gives me a lot of confidence to keep trying and get closer to the top guys.”
The soft-spoken Argentine struggled returning Isner’s solid serves and baseline shots in the first set, and realized that he needed to step further back out of the court in order to play his own game. He then kept Isner to only one ace per set for the remaining two sets.
Though disappointed, the American didn’t take the loss hard. After playing nine matches in eleven days, Isner admitted that his body wasn’t as fresh as he’d like it to be.
“I was a little tired out there,” said Isner. “It was one of those things where my body felt fine but my legs weren’t quite there. I wish I felt a little bit better out there but at the same time I could have been a 100% and still could have not won that match. That just speaks on how good he is. He was better today and my hats off to him. He was the better player.”
When asked about where Del Potro stacks up to the current top four ATP players, without hesitation, Isner praised the Argentine’s game, saying he was just a hair behind Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, and the third favorite to win the U.S. Open.
In Del Potro’s press conference, he was told what Isner had commented regarding his chances at this month’s Slam, and the Argentine almost looked embarrassed, sweetly and sincerely returning the favor.
“He’s going to be a favorite too, for sure,” Del Potro said. “On the hard court, Isner is really good player. His game is improving day by day. He has a good advantage to take the opportunities to go farther.”
In the women’s singles final, Magdalena Rybarikova successfully defended her title defeating a newly-healthy Andrea Petkovic, 6-4, 7-6(2). On court, the Slovakian called Washington, D.C. “home” after never having lost a match on the surface, and admitted it was not an easy run.
“This year when I saw the draw I thought, ‘Yeah, this is going to be very tough,'” Rybarikova said. “I would have been happy to make the quarterfinals and play Kerber. But every match I was playing better and better, then I beat Kerber, which was a huge win for me. That gave me a lot of confidence.”
Petkovic meanwhile reached her second final of the year after Nurnberg and feels her game is in a better place.
“It was a pretty good week – all in all I’m quite satisfied,” Petkovic said. “I would have loved to win the title here to really feel like I’ve completely come back, but I’m really okay. She played really well.”
“Magda was really stepping up her game, not missing a lot and not giving me many free points. It was a really difficult match but all the credit to her, she really deserved to win the title today.”
In the men’s doubles final, the duo of Nenad Zimonjic and Julien Benneteau won their second doubles title as a team against Mardy Fish and Radek Stepanek.
“It feels really great to win such a big tournament,” said Zimonjic. “It’s a 500 series, and not just that, it was a really strong field. It didn’t have easy matches here. Very good teams played. To come after a long break, to come this strong and win the tournament without losing a set is really the best way you want to come back to the tour.”
“It was a lot of fun for both of us to play. We had a great time here on the court, off the court, and hopefully this will help us for the upcoming three tournaments that we’ll play.”
Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Set against the backdrop of downtown Washington, D.C., this week’s Citi Open has brought some of tennis’ most recognizable names to the tournament, including Juan Martin del Potro, Tommy Haas and the youngest player in the women’s draw, 17-year-old newcomer and American Taylor Townsend.
It was a full schedule on tap with both men’s singles semifinals set on stadium court, along with one women’s semifinal and one men’s doubles semifinal. The rest, including the women’s doubles final, was scheduled on the first grandstand court.
There has been some discussion in player press conferences this week regarding scheduling differences between the men’s and women’s draws, and how the women are not being scheduled as equally on stadium court. It seems though that most players understand why. The men’s event is a 500-level while the women’s is a lower-tiered International-level, and several players — including females — commented that men tend to bring a bigger draw and whoever the tournament believes would be a bigger draw will be the match scheduled on stadium court. Logical enough but still questionable reasoning on some level.
That being said, the men’s doubles semifinal between the pairing of Julien Benneteau and Nenad Zimonjic against University of Virginia alumni and Citi Open defending champions Treat Huey and Dominic Inglot, took precedence over the women’s doubles final between 2012 Junior Wimbledon Girls’ Doubles champions Eugenie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend and Shuko Aoyama and Vera Dushevina.
In front of a decent-sized crowd, the first-time partnering of Aoyama and Dushevina were crowned champions in women’s doubles.
After the match, the only ones called into press were the runners-up, Bouchard and Townsend, as the media room was mostly empty and at the men’s doubles match. The winners gave no press conference.
With her longer history on tour than her counterpart, Bouchard was visibly disappointed in the presser but still sincere in answering questions. Townsend, on the other hand, looked as if she was on cloud nine. She seemed to have just been excited to reach a pro final and was relishing the moment despite the quick loss. I asked her about the contrast in the presence of young players on tour between the men’s and women’s side and she gave an insightful and rather mature answer.
“I think it’s a lot different for the men than the women,” Townsend replied.”The men mature at an older age and we mature younger. So I think it’s a lot easier for us — at a young age — to hang with the older players because our bodies mature faster. The men are so strong and it takes them a few more years to get caught up to that level, especially to get into that top shape.”
As the first men’s doubles semifinal started between top American John Isner and a newly-resurgent Dmitry Tursunov on stadium court at 3:00pm to looming clouds, doubles partners Grigor Dimitrov and Michael Llodra (and his youngest son, Teo!) took to the practice courts.
As the Bulgarian stretched, a shirtless Llodra kicked a soccer ball around with his 6-year-old son. All week, the youngster could be spotted on the tennis court hitting some impressive shots and his soccer head-butting and kicking skills didn’t disappoint. After Dimitrov finished his stretching, he jumped into the mini-soccer game and ended up losing — happily obliging to do push-ups on court as the loser.
Heading onto stadium court for Isner-Tursunov, the first set was dead even, and ended up going to a tiebreak. Four exchanges of serve and some patience by the Russian and he got the unexpected upper hand, taking the first set. Tursunov diminished his double faults count from his matches earlier this week, and ran Isner laterally until the American hit long or into the net. On several occasions, Tursunov bullied the American’s backhand before pulling the trigger forcing Isner into an error with a running forehand.
During the changeover, sprinkles began falling but the players decided to continue on without any exchanges with chair umpire Magdi Somat. As the drops increased in intensity during the first game, Isner had a break point on Tursunov’s serve and slipped, slamming a forehand into the net. Instinctively, Isner yelled in the umpire’s general direction and Tursunov had also already began walking towards the chair. Play was called and the players taken inside as the 80-minute rain delay began.
Isner gets break point then nets FH. Yells, “WHY are we playing right now?! I’m NOT playing!” Magdi calls play, players go inside.
— Romi Cvitkovic (@RomiCvitkovic) August 3, 2013
At around 5:00pm, Juan Martin del Potro made an appearance on the practice courts to packed stands on court one. As play was suspended, fans still had the opportunity to enjoy a light hit by the Argentine for about 30 minutes.
Play shortly resumed on stadium court and after breaking Tursunov to go up 4-1, the American took the second set 6-3. The baseline play among both players was incredible to watch. After so many matches between Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, you forget how powerful (and consistent and precise) other men on tour can hit, and the two held some extended jaw-dropping rallies. In the end, the American broke Tursunov again to take the final set, 6-4.
Walking back to the media center, I heard loud cheers coming from grandstand court and realized that the other men’s doubles semifinal went on at the same time as the singles match on stadium. That’s one of the problems with a rain delay — you don’t quite always get to watch everything you hope to. Mardy Fish and Radek Stepanek took out fan favorites, Grigor Dimitrov and Michael Llodra, and with that, the Citi Open crowds will have American men in both the men’s singles and doubles finals. On the opposite side of the grounds on grandstand court two, women’s semifinalist Andrea Petkovic was practicing in front of a small group of fans.
At 7:20pm, Isner walked into press with ice on both knees for precautionary reasons. He’s one of the few to constantly have ice on some joint on his body so it’s not so much a surprise anymore.
Ten minutes later, the Isner presser was completed, and as we looked to the TV in the media center, we saw that Tommy Haas had just broken Juan Martin del Potro to go up 3-1 — a bit of early trouble for the two-time tournament champion.
Without much of a breather, Tursunov commenced his low-key presser, where he analyzed his loss but felt there really weren’t any holes in his game. A pretty fair analysis as he never once held break point, but stayed in the match much of the time.
As I prepared to go out and finally watch the Del Potro – Haas match, I realized the score was frozen at 4-1. Of course, another rain delay.
I looked at the live scoreboard and noticed that the women’s semifinal between Magdalena Rybarikova and Ekaterina Makarova was still going on though, and questioned what was going on. Rybarikova went on to win three games in a matter of minutes before play was finally suspended. But I guess the weather can be funny sometimes!
— Kelsey Anderson (@KelseyOAnderson) August 3, 2013
During the nearly three hour rain delay, the illustrious third edition of the “Citi Open Rain Delay Media Spelling Bee” commenced, where contestants had to correctly spell various ATP and WTA player names within the top 200. What started out with eight people in the first few minutes grew to nearly 20 and included photographers, bloggers, long-time wire writers, event staff and even Tour staff. Thanks to gracious contestant Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover, we have footage of Ben Rothenberg’s winning moment, having successfully defended his title from 2012.
The tournament media staff had some fun and sweetly made the winner his own notable trophy. How thoughtful!
The Del Potro – Haas match continued with the Argentine quickly picking up momentum, and later in press admitting that the rain delay helped him. Haas, conversely, came into press and was quite short, stating he was “aggravated and annoyed” during the rain delay and it reflected in his straight set loss, 7-6(4), 6-3.
Despite the lateness of the hour — the men’s semi had finished at 12:15AM — there had been no earlier talk of opening up play of the second women’s semifinal on a third court. Instead, Alize Cornet and Andrea Petkovic were set to follow on whichever court had finished first. Inevitably, organizers seemed to have waited to see if the men’s semi would finish shortly after the first women’s semi would, and they were lucky.
At 12:35AM, the second women’s semi finally took place to a crowd of still several hundred people. The sheer match ups of Cornet and Petkovic’s style could have made this match the highlight of the women’s draw so far, but the lateness of the hour prevented it from reaching grand proportions. However, both ladies impressed with full court-coverage, suspenseful rallies and looked — incredibly enough — quite fresh.
After being down 3-0, then getting broken twice while serving for the set, Petkovic finally took the first set, 7-5. She then made quick work of the French woman, taking it 6-3 in the second and delighting the crowd with her famous “Petko Dance.”
The evening finally ended at an “early” 2:15AM, with the women’s singles final scheduled for exactly 15 hours later. Talk about a quick recovery for both ladies!
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nearly twenty years ago, Dmitry Tursunov stepped off the plane from Russia, ready to take on the tennis world at the tender age of twelve. His father was determined to make a tennis champion in the family and the talented Tursunov obliged with a move to the United States.
Despite rising to a career-high ranking of world No. 20 in 2006, it wasn’t always an easy road for the Russian as he was forced off tour multiple times with injuries and surgeries, and a strained relationship with his father did not help his confidence.
Tursunov himself calls his career a bit of a “rollercoaster,” but his most memorable win came against an American great in 2006, as he won 17-15 in a fifth set.
“Most people might say that the highlight of my career was beating Andy Roddick on clay during Davis Cup — on a surface he doesn’t really like,” joked Tursunov exclusively to Tennis Grandstand. “But it was a good match for the fans and it had a lot of suspense.”
After breaking into the top 100 exactly ten years ago, it was another three years before the Russian’s ranking steadied within the top 40. Over the next three years, he won six tournaments and defeated a top 10 opponent on seven occasions. At about this time, injuries started to creep in and they took him out of the game as he fell outside of the top 500.
“With every injury, you also have doubts, and the last couple of injuries have been probably more difficult than the first ones,” admitted Tursunov. “They always give you a scare and you’re never sure if you’re going to be or not going to be playing again. But for some reason the last couple [of injuries] were kind of hard to get through.”
The expectation with injury recovery among athletes is that once your body has healed, you will be able to return to your previous prime quite quickly. But that is rarely the case and often times you begin to question your game.
“When you’re coming back [from injury], that’s the hardest thing,” Tursunov continued. “Because when you’re coming back, you don’t have much confidence in anything. You’re constantly in doubt and you’re taking bad results closer to the heart … When you’re taking hits and you’re down, it’s a lot harder to get through those. You just suck it up or call it quits.
Despite his rocky time with the sport, the Russian who now trains in California never doubted his place in tennis.
“I felt there is not much I could do outside of tennis … As much as I sometimes hate being on court when I’m not playing well, I understand that it’s much better than being in the ‘real world’ and having a 9-to-5 job … I would rather be a player on tour than even a coach.”
Tursunov got his start on a tennis court at a very early age, under the careful tutelage of his father.
“[My father] had a tremendous belief in me from the very beginning,” stated Tursunov. “He put 150% of his energy into my tennis. Any money he had was not going to the family, it was going to my tennis. He essentially gambled quite a lot on my tennis.”
With a father so involved with his budding career, it was only inevitable that this strained their own relationship off the court.
“I had a difficult relationship with my dad because of tennis,” commented Tursunov. “Tennis was basically the link that bonded us together. And for a very long time, when I was practicing – when I was little – I didn’t see myself as anything other than a tennis player because it was so engrained into my lifestyle. There was no speculation about what I would become when I’m older. Everything was around tennis.”
If this story sounds familiar, you might be right.
Andre Agassi, in his book “Open,” also heavily commented on the difficult relationship he had with his own father on the tennis court, and many aspects of his and Tursunov’s relationships run in parallel.
“Some people might say that he vicariously lived through me, but as a parent, I don’t really believe you think of it this way. You always want your child to succeed,” stated Tursunov. “I also don’t believe my dad abused our relationship and dynamics, like some press have said.”
He continued: “Yes, he was fanatical about it. … If anything, I wish that we had found a common ground earlier. … The last few years, he finally started asking me about life outside of tennis and how I’m doing.”
With his father’s passing last year, Tursunov is playing with a renewed determination. Though he admits to “wearing [his] emotion on [his] sleeve” on court and often being quite negative, his new coach repeatedly reminds him to be more optimistic and positive, and it seems to be resulting in some good wins.
This year already, Tursunov has defeated two top-10 opponents, including David Ferrer and Janko Tipsarevic, and just this week at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. he ousted 2011 champion Radek Stepanek and tournament fifth seed Gilles Simon. His ascension back to world No. 61 has been a sweet affair, and his semifinal appearance this week will propel him back up to at least No. 43 in the rankings.
At thirty years old, Tursunov is now near the twilight of his tennis career, but he finds inspiration in a fellow ATP player who has defied age stereotypes.
“Tommy Haas is giving a lot of hope to all of us to play far into our thirties,” stated Tursunov. “I think in general you can see the trend of older players playing longer into their careers … I’d like for the last two to three years of my career – whenever that may be – to really make it count. Not just win one, two rounds but win tournaments.”
With his semifinal against John Isner at the Citi Open on Saturday, there may be no better time than now to announce his comeback.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Andrea Petkovic believes that doping cases should be somewhat personalized. John Isner backs the implementation of a biological passport in tennis. Grigor Dimitrov comments that players have the resources to ask questions any time of day regarding supplements. Mardy Fish insists on checking every substance that goes into his body with his trainer for approval beforehand.
No matter what player you ask on tour, it seems everyone has an opinion about the
anti-doping system and the recent doping allegations surrounding tennis players Viktor Troicki and Marin Cilic, the first who was suspended for 18-months on a negative test, whereas the latter was suspended for three months on a positive test.
This week during the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., doping and player education of doping policies were a popular topic in various player press conferences.
American John Isner commented that although he has not spoken with either player, he has read about what happened.
“Those situations are unfortunate,” commented Isner. “I don’t know really what to think of it. You hear [in the media] that the ATP or [World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA] don’t educate us [players] enough – I don’t think that’s the case. For me, in particular, anytime I take something, I do check it out. I don’t try to buy any supplements outside of that. So I think the ATP actually does a good job with informing us about what we can and cannot take.”
Despite having been some 15 years since Mardy Fish’s original training regarding matters like doping as part of the ATP University, he says that there is a continual stream of updates to ensure players are aware of changes and expectations.
“We do get updates, we get notifications,” he states. “There are things constantly coming through in your email about updates on player regulations … or prohibited [substance] lists. We have updated versions at all times.”
Grigor Dimitrov also echoes both American’s words, stating that he feels players are educated about the policies, procedures, and rules surrounding several “important things such as doping … There is actually a 24-hour [hotline] that you can call about doping” and inquire about any supplements or substances.
For Fish, he ultimately decided to be directly involved in what goes into his body in terms of supplements and other players might be wise to take heed amid recent allegations.
“In my experience, my trainer and I took [doping] very seriously. I ask him about every single thing [whether] it’s in pill form, or cream form that we’re using, to make sure that something like that would never ever happen [to me].”
As an added measure, Isner also believes the implementation of a biological passport in tennis would be beneficial to discourage doping as it has in other sports. According to the World Anti-Doping Agency, “the fundamental principle of the Athlete Biological Passport is based on the monitoring of selected biological parameters over time that will indirectly reveal the effects of doping rather than attempting to detect the doping substance itself.” Thus, it would use baseline physiological levels for each athlete to compare all past, present or future samples to.
“I’m a huge fan of the biological passport,” commented Isner. “I just know from the Lance Armstrong case that he sort of got in trouble because of that. I think that if the testing can improve and you still have those [past] samples, absolutely go back and test that out.”
Despite the surge in recent doping cases though, Fish feels that players have very little wiggle room due to the doping whereabouts program.
“Our doping system is extremely tough, I know that,” he commented. “I have to give an hour every single day of my life to doping.”
Isner agreed, citing his own experiences as evidence of how strict the doping system could be.
“I really do think tennis compared to other sports – other team sports really – we get tested quite a bit,” the American continued. “We get tested a lot during competition, and I know I’ve in particular gotten tested a lot out-of-competition, and that’s not just urine. That’s blood as well. I even one time got tested twice in one morning, within 30 minutes of each other.”
Although Andrea Petkovic agrees “that the rules are strict because obviously we all want to fight doping,” she believes that doping really wouldn’t improve a tennis player’s performance.
“I’m also one that says doping doesn’t really help you in tennis,” the German commented. “You can be the fittest guy in the world and lift 200 kilos in weightlifting, but it doesn’t make you a better tennis player. It doesn’t give you the feeling of the court, the placement.
But the 25-year-old, who has battled back from multiple injuries in her career, also believes that doping decisions like the one with Troicki should be somewhat personalized. She cited that she has known the Serbian since they were kids and is aware of his fainting spells due to needles.
“I think it’s good that the rules are strict, but in cases like Viktor, you have to be able to look past the rules and you have to be able to make decisions that are personally indicated on that person,” she concluded.
The recent increase in doping cases in tennis makes one wonder whether more athletes are doping, unknowingly ingesting prohibited substances, or simply that there are more resources now available to more seriously crack down on doping abuse.
One thing is for sure. Wayne Odesnik’s case in 2010 seemed to have opened a pandora’s box of sorts for the sport.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Twenty-two-year-old Grigor Dimitrov has much to be happy about.
He kicked off his 2013 season by reaching his first ATP final in Brisbane, pushing Andy Murray in a tight two set match. He continued his good performance making two more semifinals and one quarterfinal on the year, while taking tennis’ top men to their limits on court.
In Monte Carlo in April, Dimitrov took Rafael Nadal to three sets, and a few weeks later, he stunned world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Madrid. Directly following his win over the Serbian, tears welled up in the young Dimitrov’s eyes, and it was clear how much the win meant to him. His ranking also catapulted to a career-high of 26 in the world.
After his successful clay court campaign, the focused Bulgarian now shifts gears to the U.S. hard courts and hopes to build on his great season.
“The clay season was a lot of fun this year for me,” commented Dimitrov following his first round win over Xavier Malisse at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. “I would like to do even better on the hard court … I love playing in the States. It’s a place where I always feel comfortable.”
Charismatic and approachable, Dimitrov has also gotten plenty of buzz surrounding his off court relationship with WTA player, Maria Sharapova. Though he prefers his privacy about his personal life, he realizes it is an inevitable popular topic with the press and fans.
“Of course, there is a lot of talk off the court, and in the end, I think that’s part of the game … In England (during Wimbledon), in general, there were a lot of these questions. But what can I do?” stated Dimitrov, still smiling.
On Tuesday in Washington, D.C., I had a chance to sit down with the enchanting Dimitrov for a few minutes as he talked memorable moments, crazy fan encounters and who his ultimate dinner guests would be. After the interview, he extended his hand as I stepped off a rather tall stage that a three-year-old would probably enjoy jumping off of. What a perfect gentleman.
What is your most memorable moment on court?
I think definitely there are many, and one of them was when I played Novak Djokovic this year. I think that’s one of the most memorable matches for me. Of course, can’t forget the match against Rafa (Nadal). I’m trying to make every moment to stay with me and keep it in a special way.
If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be doing?
I would be definitely into sports. My mom is a former volleyball player. I like playing soccer, volleyball, basketball – any sports. I’m pretty active when I have my time off, so I would definitely try to be sport-oriented but I don’t think there’s one sport in particular over the others.
If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would they be and why?
Johnny Depp, for sure. This is my number one pick of all-time. Other two … my girlfriend, but I’m having dinner with her every night. (Laughs)
Hmm. Two people … I would go with … Monica Bellucci. And then … it has to be a musician, but I cannot name one. Any musician that I like nowadays that would be it probably.
What is the funniest or craziest encounter you’ve had with a fan?
I must say there are lot of these, because I always do some things with the fans whether it’s going to be practice or when I come out to sign autographs. I always do something – whether I’m going to give a t-shirt or wristband. The fans always have some funny gifts. Once I got one crazy gift, I received a little (stuffed) bear and there were sentences in Bulgarian on it. I don’t know how long that took, but I think it was an extremely big effort for someone to do it. I remembered that for quite a bit; I was in Asia then. In Asia, I think I had one of the biggest supporters out there. One year, it was just crazy; everyone had their t-shirt with my sign, and they made a special t-shirt for the matches. So I think that was kind of cool.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – By 16, she was a top 10 junior player in the world. Only three years later, she took the WTA Tour by storm, reaching the quarterfinals of the French Open en route taking out two top 10 players.
Romanian Sorana Cirstea is a seasoned tennis veteran despite being only 23-years-old. Her time in juniors combined with her quick ascension in the pro ranks primed her to succeed for years to come. But her good initial results in 2009 were clouded by injury and letdowns. It would be three more years before she found her best tennis and a ranking to go with it. Just last month, she reached her career-high ranking of world No. 22.
After her semifinal appearance in Stanford over the weekend, Cirstea had a quick turnaround into the humidity of Washington, D.C. to play in her first Citi Open tournament.
Following her first round win over Lesia Tsurenko, I chatted with the friendly, engaging Cirstea about the tough time her injury presented her with and how she bounced back, as well as her close friendship with Ana Ivanovic.
What is your most memorable moment on court?
Probably it would be when I won Orange Bowl when I was 13 because I was such a kid. Now, I’ve become a little more mature towards everything. I don’t get that excited or that down anymore. But when I was a kid, I was so excited. I felt like I could move mountains when I won the Orange Bowl. It was just pure euphoria. I think I will never experience that kind of feeling. That moment was one of the most important for me, and from there on (tennis) started to become a proper career.
If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be doing?
I loved school, so I was one of those kids that were really good students — like an ‘A’ student. Even when I playing tennis, I still went to school and had really good marks. I’m not sure what I would have pursued, but probably I would be really good in school in whatever subject I would choose; I was always a very disciplined student. For example, I like different areas now, but I’m not sure how my life would have turned out if I was not a tennis player. Maybe I would have been interested in politics, economics, languages, communications.
What is one thing that scares you?
Getting to the end of my life and not reaching the dreams that I have. Probably this is the thing that scares me the most.
You and Ana Ivanovic are very close. How did that friendship come about?
(Smiling) She is my best friend. We are like sisters. It’s so nice to have someone like that on tour. We actually discovered each other a little bit late. I think I was 19, she was 22 or something. So maybe like four years ago when we first started to train together because of the adidas team, and interact.
And suddenly we realized that we had the same values, same way of seeing life, same background, same kind of families, same education. Because we are so similar in everything, now a lot of times we don’t even have to speak, we know what we are feeling. It’s just so nice to have someone like her on the circuit and just be able to share this time together because we spend so much time at the tournaments. So it’s nice to have someone you can call almost family.
After a successful first season on the WTA Tour in 2009, there were some struggles for a couple of years. How did you deal with all the trials and what have you learned about yourself?
I think I was a really good junior, so the transition to the WTA happened for me quite fast. I was quite talented. The first years on tour were very easy for me. Then players started to (know my game) a little bit. I had a very bad injury, I broke my heel, and that took me a little bit out of the game. So it was a little like a domino. It took me back and I fell in the rankings. And then it actually took me a while to get back. But I really really appreciate this time because I fell down to 100 and then I really had to work hard to get back.
Now I achieved my best ranking last month – I was 22 – so now I actually I feel that I do deserve to be here. I belong here; I worked hard to be here. I feel that I’m way more disciplined and appreciate things way more than I did when I was climbing the rankings. So I think it’s a learning process.
I’m very grateful for things good and bad that happened in my life because otherwise I wouldn’t be here today. So it’s a different way of thinking now than when I was 19. But, of course, everyone develops, gets experience and matures, and start seeing things different. But at the moment, I’m quite happy with the way things are going.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — With his run to the semifinals of Atlanta last week, and his straight set win over veteran Lleyton Hewitt in the first round of the Citi Open on Tuesday, American Ryan Harrison seems to already be benefitting from a recent coaching switch on his team.
The 21-year-old Louisiana native served up three straight aces in his second service game alone and continued dominating, breaking the Aussie three times to book a second round match up against Juan Martin del Potro.
“It was a good win,” said Harrison. “I felt good out there. I played a really good first set. And then when (Hewitt) fought hard to break me back, I was still able to stay ahead and stay on serve and finally get that break there at 5-all.”
After training at the Austin Tennis Academy, Harrison partnered up full-time with one of it’s lead coaches, Tres Davis, last Fall as the American was looking to take his game to the next level.
The partnership itself seemed to work out for the two who call each other “close friends,” but the results didn’t quite translate onto the court as Harrison most recently fell outside of the top 130.
“Tres and I are close friends,” Harrison spoke candidly to Tennis Grandstand. “He’s been involved, and we still communicate about tennis. But it got to a situation where we had to reevaluate after the first six months of the year. Ultimately, he wants what’s best for my career, just like I want what’s best for my career.”
After deciding to part ways, Harrison brought the head of men’s tennis for the USTA, Jay Berger, back into the coaching team, as well as former world No. 4 Brad Gilbert. The choice was made to train out of the USTA center in Boca Raton, FL where the “competitive crop of guys they have down there was going to be the best situation for me,” commented Harrison.
“Jay and I have always had an extremely close relationship, and been very proactive and involved in my tennis every since I met him really,” he continued. “I had a really good training week down there after I lost in Newport, and played well last week (in Atlanta). And Brad being involved is nothing but beneficial. He’s obviously got an extremely talented mind. I’ve had some advice from him and it’s been nothing but good.”
Given that his recent good form occurred just after his coaching switch, it’s not unreasonable to suggest the two might be correlated.
“You never really know what is going to happen,” said Harrison. “I also was down 1-2 break point in the third set of the first round of Atlanta – those are just moments that could change here and there … (But) I believe that the work I put in that week-and-a-half down in Boca certainly helped out in my Atlanta run and getting a good win here today.”
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.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Partnering for just the first time since winning the Junior Girls’ Doubles title at Wimbledon last year, Canadian Genie Bouchard and American Taylor Townsend took out their first round opponents in just 41 minutes at the Citi Open in Washington, DC on Monday.
As former top juniors with several singles and doubles Slams to their names, the two rising teenagers were on a doubles partnership streak that extended back to Roehampton of last year, and they weren’t ready to give that up quite yet.
“I told (Taylor), we have a streak to defend! … It’s been twelve matches or something – we can’t end that now,” commented Bouchard exclusively to Tennis Grandstand.
The pairing was a spontaneous decision that came about one recent evening after a World TeamTennis match, when the two decided to pick up where they left off last spring.
Today, during their post-match interview, the two friends were all smiles, frequently commenting on each other’s answers and playfully teasing each other when asked if they would continue the pairing.
“Are we?” questioned Townsend, looking at Bouchard. “Are we?” answered Bouchard, smiling back. “I hope so!” stated Townsend. “We better!” concluded Bouchard.
“I really enjoy playing with her,” said the 17-year-old Townsend. “We have really good chemistry on court. It’s really nice to have someone that you get along with and have so much fun on the court with as well as do really well with. So, I hope we can continue to play.”
The 19-year-old Bouchard has already been playing full-time on the WTA Tour for the past year, with her most notable results being a straight set win over Wimbledon No. 12 seed Ana Ivanovic in the second round this year. She has shot up the rankings to world No. 58, but feels there is much more to be accomplished.
“I played my first pro Slam at the French (Open), and then Wimbledon,” stated Bouchard. “It’s what I have worked my whole life for to play at this stage. I got to play on Center Court on both, which was really exciting for me. It’s what I have always dreamed of doing. To me, it’s just normal – just a step. It’s still a really long journey, still not where I want to be. But it’s heading in the right direction.”
And did she believe the good Slam results and high ranking came sooner than she anticipated?
“No. I always believed in myself and I always expect myself to do really well. So, it usually happens. Now, it’s like, what’s next?”
Townsend, on the other hand, is ranked 338 in the world and just starting her pro career while still strategically placing some junior tournaments into her schedule.
“Basically, I’m not sure if I’m playing US Open juniors,” Townsend commented. “But I’m playing the (USTA Girls’ 18s National Championships) because if you win it, you get a wildcard into the main draw of the US Open. So, why not play? It’s a great opportunity to get a lot of matches … and just work on a lot of things. I think that’s one of the main things I’ve been using the juniors for … Hopefully, next year, especially when I turn 18 and I don’t have a limit on the number of tournaments I can play, I think we can make more of a full schedule and incorporate more of the bigger tournaments as well as the pro circuit events.
Despite their young age and relative inexperience amid a veteran-packed tour, the two rising stars possess styles and weapons that make them dangerous floaters in any draw
“Most of the time when we play on the tour, we’re the underdogs so we have nothing to lose,” said Bouchard. “We can go out and play freely.”
Townsend echoed her partner’s thoughts: “No one knows who you are, no one is expecting you do to anything. You don’t really have any pressure. That’s the great thing about it. You can just go out and play freely, and enjoy everything – the crowd, the city wherever you are, and take it all in.”
The two are scheduled to play in their respective singles matches on Tuesday, where Bouchard will take on No. 3 seed Ekaterina Makarova and Townsend will open up against Monica Niculescu.
Play is already in full swing as qualifiers took to the courts for their matches, and top players like Juan Martin del Potro, Andrea Petkovic and Tommy Haas hit the practice courts on a hot weekend in Washington, D.C. to kick off the Citi Open.
Check out the full gallery from opening weekend, including other players like Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Irina Falconi, Jessica Pegula, Rhyne Williams, Donald Young, Christian Harrison, Caroline Garcia, Matt Ebden, and Sloane Stephens.
Gallery by Tennis Grandstand photographer Christopher Levy.