Video: Around the Citi Open (Sunday)

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Some of the sights and sounds around the Citi Open on Sunday.

There were plenty of fans on hand for the men’s and women’s qualifying, as well as lots of players practicing, and a pro-am at the end of the day.

It’s the best day of a tournament. No one’s lost yet, and everyone’s in a good mood.

And there are a lot of players practicing – with each other. Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev. Dominic Thiem and Lucas Pouille. Genie Bouchard and TWO Canadians.

It was all happening.

Enjoy a little taste.

 

Not a classic press-conference moment

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A year ago at the Citi Open came arguably the most cringeworthy moment in a press conference all year.

A media member asked Genie Bouchard about the just-announced Victoria Azarenka pregnancy. And it was, well, rather awkwardly posed.

To say the least.

The follow-up about “Team Kanye” or “Team Taylor” wasn’t edifying either but at least Bouchard, who had just lost her first-round match to Camila Giorgi, could chuckle about it.

Citi Open 2017 – Tournament preview

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It’s not a Masters 1000-Premier level joint ATP/WTA event.

But the Citi Open, with some last-minute additions, has a superb field for a 500-level event on the men’s side.

And the addition of wild card Simona Halep, world No. 2, gives the International-level women’s field a welcome dose of gravitas.

Tennis.Life will be on site in D.C. all week, bringing you the best from on and off the courts.

ATP No 7 – No. 11

Originally, Austria’s Dominic Thiem was the only top 10 player entered. But then, came Kei Nishikori. And after that, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic. Add No. 11 Alexander Zverev, and you have quite a lot of quality at the top from the Next-Gen and the Next-Next-Gen part of the ATP Tour.

Raonic, a former Citi Open champion, found himself in a position at Wimbledon where he basically had to ask for a wild card. Otherwise, he would have had carryied a zero-pointer on his rankings card all year long. The quota of four 500-level events per year mandated for a player of his ranking wouldn’t have been met.

So it’s hard to know how hard he’ll go, especially given his home-country event, the Rogers Cup, is the very next week. And that’s followed by another Masters 1000 in Cincinnati. But the court suits him.

The event also welcomes the hugely popular Gaël Monfils, Nick Kyrgios and Juan Martin del Potro as all three make their summer hard-court debuts.

The draw is a 48-player draw with first-round byes for the 16 seeds. So the first rounds are a bit bereft. One exception is a first-round Next-Gen clash between 6-foot-11 American Reilly Opelka and Russian Daniil Medvedev.

Projected third-round matchups golden

–[6] Gaël Monfils vs. [12] Mischa Zverev (there will be some shotmaking)

–[3] Milos Raonic vs. [16] Ryan Harrison (a rematch of their rather drama-filled second-round match at the US Open last summer).

–[5] Alexander Zverev vs. [10] Nick Kyrgios (if Kyrgios is healthy, these clashes are such a preview of the many times they could face each other in Grand Slam moments over the next decade)

–[2] Kei Nishikori vs. [13] Juan Martin del Potro (two players whose best Slam efforts have come on similar hard courts, just up the I-95)

–[8] Jack Sock vs. [9] John Isner (if Isner wins Atlanta, he’ll edge past Sock and be the No. 1 American)

What more could you ask for?

Lopsided prize money

In a perfect world, the women’s event would have the same stature as the men’s. But the problem is that there is a Premier-level event going on in Stanford, California the same week. And there’s no room for two.

But at least they don’t have to change in portable trailers any more.

Citi
Zverev was a popular get with the kids a year ago. Now, hovering around the top 10, he’s an even bigger deal. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Still, the prize money differential is huge: it’s $226,750 US for the women, the standard International-level purse. The total financial commitment for the men is a shade over … $2 million US.

As a result, the ladies get short shrift on court scheduling and exposure at this event. But it’s still a great opportunity for non top-20 players to create some momentum as they try to make waves during the bigger tournaments to come.

After Halep, the only other player ranked in the top 35 is France’s Kristina Mladenovic, the No. 2 seed.

Heavy Canadian content

The Canadians are truly well represented next week. Along with Genie Bouchard, Montrealer Françoise Abanda (who got a wild card last year as she is represented by Lagardère, which owns the tournament) squeezed into the main draw on her own merit at the last minute.

As well, the tournament has given Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont. a pass into the main draw.

The men’s side will have Vasek Pospisil as well as Raonic. There might have been two additional up-and-comers in the qualifying, as well. But 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov is in the semi-finals of the Granby Challenger this weekend. And 16-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime is on the shelf with a wrist injury.

Citi
Bouchard lost to Giorgi in the first round last year. It will be up to her younger compatriot Andreescu, making her WTA debut, to try to take the Italian out this year. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Andreescu, ranked No. 163, turned 17 in June. There is no one higher than her in the WTA Tour rankings who is younger than she is. More or less done with the juniors at this point, she already has had good success in winning ITF-level events.

This will be Andreescu’s debut in the main draw of a WTA tournament. She has received wild cards into the qualifying at the Rogers Cup the last two years, but hasn’t made it through.

Tough first-rounder

The toughest break, after the draw was made Friday, was that wild cards Halep and Sloane Stephens will face each other in the first round.

Stephens was out all year after foot surgery before returning at Wimbledon a few weeks ago. The odds of her getting in some matches before she plays Canada (on her protected ranking) and Cincinnati (on a wild card) look slim.

But there are some quality first-round matches from the get-go, with big-hitting young French player Océane Dodin meeting veteran Jelena Jankovic.

Bouchard, trying to get back on a winning track, will face No. 8 seed Christina Mchale. Surprisingly, the two have never met before.

Abanda, who gave French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko everything she could handle in a second-round match at Wimbledon, faces No. 4 seed Julia Goerges of Germany.

Goerges has been on the red clay since losing in the first round at Wimbledon. She reached the final in Bucharest two weeks ago, but retired in the second set of her first-round match in Bastad this week. The German prefers the slower surfaces because of her big swings, too; so you have to think Abanda has a shot.

Andreescu’s WTA debut will come against the hard-hitting Camila Giorgi.

Potential quarterfinals

[1] Simona Halep vs. [7] Ekaterina Makarova

[3] Lauren Davis vs. [5] Océane Dodin

[4] Julia Goerges vs. [6] Monica Niculescu

[2] Kristina Mladenovic vs. [8] Christina Mchale.

There’s certainly a good chance at least half of those players won’t make their seeding, from the looks of it. 

Great forecast

A year ago, the weather at the Citi Open was impossibly steamy. If you look at the slideshow above from the 2016 event, you can see how much clothing was optional on the practice courts. Not that any of the fans complained about that.

This year, after a rainy day expected on the first day of qualifying Saturday, the forecast looks very, very good for this time of the year. Temperatures in the 80s, and humidity between 50-60 per cent. And no rain forecast until Saturday.

 

Citi Open WCs add to stellar field

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The fields – especially on the men’s side as a 500-level tournament – were already very good at the Citi Open.

But on Wednesday, the tournament announced even more players for the joint ATP/WTA event, which will take place the first week of August.

On the men’s side, Canadian Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, the No. 9 and No. 10 players in the current ATP Tour rankings, have accepted wild cards.

On the women’s side, No. 2 Simona Halep also has taken a wild card. The other women’s wild card is American Sloane Stephens, who is returning from foot surgery and only debuted her season at Wimbledon.

The Citi Open already gave one to Kei Nishikori. So with these additions, as well as the entry of Dominic Thiem, that’s a total of four current top-10 players.

Add to that No. 11 Alexander Zverev, Gaël Monfils and Juan Martin del Potro, and that’s a stellar cast.

Halep boosts women’s field

On the women’s side, the addition of Halep is a much-needed boost. Prior to that, the only top-40 players were Kristina Mladenovic and Lauren Davis. Canadian Genie Bouchard is also in the field. The tournament competes with the Premier-level event in Stanford, California, held the same week.

That event not only has Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, it also has new Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza as well as top Americans Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe.

The addition of Raonic, who defeated countryman and Davis Cup teammate Vasek Pospisil to win the tournament in 2014,  is an interesting case.

After his quarter-final loss to Roger Federer at Wimbledon, Raonic said that he would likely ask for a wild card into the D.C. event.

Players ranked in the top 30 have certain minimum requirements in terms of tournaments played. If they don’t play them, they get what’s called a “zero-pointer” that counts in their rankings calculation. 

For example, if they skip Indian Wells, they can’t substitute a smaller event’s ranking points under any circumstances.

ATP rules mean tough commitments

The players (unless they are exempt) have to play four 500-level tournaments every season. And one of those has to be after the US Open.

Raonic had some interesting things to say about those commitments during that Wimbledon press conference. The thoughts came in response to a question about Federer’s six-month sabbatical, and the possibility that No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 4 Novak Djokovic might also be considering a break.

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Raonic has played one 500 level so far this season, a first-round loss at Queen’s Club. He needs to play three more, or risk getting zero points in his rankings calculation.

I guess that’s the one thing, the tour, everything is about sort of equality week in and week out. Everybody has the same standards they have to play against. Over the last few years, there’s been this standard that if you’re above a certain age, have played a certain amount of matches, or certain years of service, you can start missing out on Masters, these kind of things, without any penalties,” Raonic said.

“I find myself in that sort of situation right now, where I do have to find a 500 to squeeze into my schedule so I don’t sit with a zero (points) for 52 weeks. Sitting with a zero for 52 weeks is something else. I sat with a zero because of Indian Wells for 52 weeks.

“I think it should be the same rule for everybody. As long as you’re playing on tour, for obvious equality, everybody should be expected to show up at each and every tournament if that’s the standard. Or nobody should have to have it as a mandatory event. I don’t think there should be any differential, which there is at this moment,” he added.

Raonic needs three more 500s

Raonic has played just one 500-level tournament so far (Queen’s Club) along with four 250-level tournaments. Players like him can get nice guarantees for showing up at that tier of event. So the rules can certainly affect their livelihood, along with their ranking.

The result of those parameters is that the Citi Open is getting another top-10 player. So perhaps the question answers itself.