At Mubadala Citi DC Open Media Day, The Players Spoke And The Press Listened

Andy Murray (photo: Scott Taetsch/Mubadala Citi DC Open)

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

As qualifying draw action for the Mubadala Citi DC Open – the first combined ATP/WTA 500 event in the world – took place over the weekend at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park, amid the hot and humid Washington weather that helps players prepare for the summer U.S. hard-court swing, there were plenty of marquee names in the tournament field biding their time on the practice courts drawing plenty of attention from tennis fans.

Some of them, including Andy Murray, Coco Gauff and Frances Tiafoe, plus tournament chairman Mark Ein, held court with the media Sunday afternoon, away from the commotion of the sold-out crowds.

While many fans filled the Stadium stands and the smaller outer courts, watching some familiar (Leylah Fernandez, Bjorn Fratangelo) as well as up-and-coming players (Clervie Ngounoue, Juncheng Shang) attempt to qualify for a coveted main draw berth and bigger prize money, others wandered the grounds with their oversized fuzzy tennis balls bought from the tournament’s merchandise mart, hoping to snatch a selfie with or an autograph from their favorite player. Still others, sought refuge from the sunshine and humidity inside the Market Square food court, which also provided a good view of the practice courts.

Here’s a sample of what some of the players shared with the media, including Tennis TourTalk, during the Media Day press conferences:

Mark Ein, tournament chairman, on his commitment to achieve equal pay by 2027:

“I think one of the things about tennis that’s so special, obviously, is it’s the one sport where men and women compete on the same court at the same time, same surface, but it never felt right that they were different-level events. I’m really proud we were able to pull this off, make it the first combined 500 in the world. We committed to equal prize money by 2027. The event, if it stayed as a stand-alone, it was 2033. So, I think it’s a great step forward for Tennis and for this event.”

Andy Murray of Great Britain, on what advice he has for Kei Nishikori and Jennifer Brady as they return to Tour-level play following long injury layoffs:

“Well, I think it takes time like for the body to get used to playing like multiple matches again at the highest level. There will definitely be some aches and pains. That can sometimes be hard to, yeah, quite hard to deal with mentally, because you forget what it is like to play like the highest level of sport isn’t easy.

“You don’t play a match and wake up next day and feel perfect, but when you’ve been out a long time with an injury, understanding what pain means, like if you wake up the day after playing match and your back is sore, is that pain because of an injury? Like do I need to back off here? Should I be playing today? Or is it just part of playing like, you know, and your body getting used to playing matches again and competing.

“You know, that’s difficult. Obviously, like playing in front of, you know, big crowds again when you have been away from it for a long time, that is different. There is a different pressure and a different intensity to that.”

Coco Gauff of the United States, on playing this week in Washington instead of the tournament’s former site in San Jose, Calif, as she gets ready for the US Open starting in four weeks:

“I think it will make the transition a little bit easier [than] coming from coast to coast. But also, I think I just love being in cities like D.C. better than the West Coast. I mean, I’m an East Coast girl. And it being a 500 this week, I think it gives an opportunity for more players to kind of play at a higher level. … If you look at the [qualifying tournament], there are so many Americans playing.”

Frances Tiafoe of the United States, a Hyattsville, Md., native who is currently ranked World No. 10, how difficult it is to maintain such a high ranking and what he would like to achieve going forward:

“Well, I guess you and I are both about to find out how to maintain being in the Top 10 because I have never done it before.

“Ultimately, I want to stay in the Top 10, I want to be 8, I want to be 7, 5, 1, obviously. But, I mean, flat-out trust, now if I’m 10, whether 10 or 5, I just want to win a Slam at this point. I don’t care if I’m 3.

“If I’m 3 in the world and never won a slam, that would be hard for me. I could have been 19 but I won a Slam. That’s how much winning a Slam would mean to me. At this point now, cracking Top 10 is great, a huge milestone for me and my family. Now, it’s about winning Wimbledon. If I do that, I don’t know if you’ll see me again (smiling).

“No, I’m joking, but it will be one hell of a day.”

By the numbers

The Mubadala Citi DC Open is the ninth ATP Tour 500 event this season. This year’s field includes two former winners (Gaël Monfils, 2016, Kei Nishikori, 2015) and four other previous finalists (Yoshihito Nishioka, 2022; Mackenzie McDonald, 2021; Kevin Anderson, 2017; Andy Murray, 2006).

There are 14 American men’s players in the field: Maxime Cressy, Christopher Eubanks, Taylor Fritz, Marcos Giron, Sebastian Korda, Mackenzie McDonald, Michael Mmoh, Brandon Nakashima, Frances Tiafoe and J.J. Wolf through direct entrances; Bjorn Fratangelo, Bradley Klahn and Zachary Svajda, into the main through qualifying; and Ben Shelton received a main draw wild card.

On the women’s side, there are 10 Americans: Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Jennifer Brady, Bernada Pera, Sofia Kenin and Danielle Collins, through direct entrances; and Lauren Davis and Hailey Baptiste into the main draw through qualifying.

“Quotable …”

“It’s a lot different … more people wanting autographs, more people wanting pictures. I have had to learn, I think, how to say no, which is a lot tougher now, because in the past, maybe I come off the court and four, five kids want a picture and I can go on about my day. It’s not really a need to say no.

“But now, it’s like, ‘No guys, I have a schedule.’ I can’t stick around for 30 minutes to sign, so I sign a few and you kind of keep going. I’m always apologizing, saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ That’s probably the biggest thing in terms of like fan interactions and stuff. It’s been very, very different.”

Christopher Eubanks of the United States, on what the experience has been like since his quarterfinal run success at the recent Wimbledon Championships.