Fritz-Murray Match Lives Up To Its Marquee Hype In D.C.

Taylor Fritz (photo: Ben Solomon/Mubadala Citi DC Open)

WASHINGTON, August 5, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Friday’s marquee matchup between American No. 1 Taylor Fritz and three-time major champion Andy Murray at the Mubadala Citi DC Open in Washington, D.C. lived up to its billing. Delayed a day by rain, which suspended Thursday’s night session, the Fritz-Murray third-round tussle was high on quality and excitement, and after three dramatic hours, it was the World No. 9 Fritz who raised his arms in celebration.

Before a sold-out Stadium Court, Fritz earned a 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4 victory over the 15th-seeded Murray of Great Britain, ranked No. 44, that extended his winning streak on North American hard courts to six matches. He put away Murray on his third match point with a forehand winner, one of 48 overall winners that he struck. Although Murray countered with 40 winners of his own, Fritz outpointed the Briton 121 to 109, which included 17 service aces.

Fritz, who arrived in the nation’s capital city on Monday fresh off winning the Atlanta Open title on Sunday, strung together a couple of quality wins that has advanced him into Friday night’s quarterfinal round against No. 71 Jordan Thompson of Australia, who completed his third-round match with No. 11 seed Christopher Eubanks that began Thursday, winning 6-2, 6-2. As it happened, Fritz was magnificent in his 77-minute quarterfinal against Thompson under the lights on John Harris Court and won handily, 6-3, 6-3, behind seven aces and 23 winners.

Looking back, serving for the match against Murray up a break at 5-4, Fritz fell behind 0-40, but held his nerve and consolidated the break for the victory to become the fourth player on Tour to achieve 40 wins. Fritz improved to 40-16 and denied Murray his first Top-10 triumph since he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas last June in Stuttgart.

“I feel like when I’m down those break points, sometimes the opponent might feel some added pressure to it,” Fritz said in his in-court interview. “Lately I feel like I’ve been playing those big points even better and just having clarity of knowing what shots I want to hit. It’s been feeling great because that’s not always the case. So, I’m really happy with how I’ve been playing these big points.”

Later, in his post-match press conference, Fritz was asked about his performance Friday, playing two matches with a respite in between them.  He said: “I feel good. I think that the match with Andy earlier was insanely high level. I thought he played really well. I thought he served really well.

“Yeah, it was a war. Just with how these balls are, they’re so, like, must slo dead. It’s really tough to finish points. You’re going to just inevitably have these really long, physical rallies.

“I did a great job to win that. And the  I did a really good job to kind of come back and play how I played in that last match.”

In his final news conference of the week, Murray took his loss to Fritz in stride. He said: “Yeah, there [were] a lot of close games, a lot of tight moments. It felt to me, like, all of the sets could have gone either way.

“Yeah, disappointing one to lose because I had my chances.”

Despite the tough loss, Murray said there are positive takeaways from the week he can take with him through the remainder of the North American Summer Hardcourt Swing, which continues in Toronto next week.

“In comparison to where my game was last year when I played Taylor, like, I was in a pretty bad place when I played him in Canada. I really wasn’t feeling good with my game. So, my game is in a better place. I have made some positive improvements.”

Also advancing with wins in the men’s ATP 500 event:

No. 5 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria advanced to the semifinal round without having to play a point. That’s because his quarterfinal opponent, No. 13 seed Ugo Humbert of France, was forced to withdraw with an injury to his left leg. On Saturday, Dimitrov will face No. 9 seed Daniel Evans of Great Britain, who upset No. 2 seed Frances Tiafoe of the United States, 6-4, 7-5, in an hour and 44 minutes Friday night on Stadium Court in a very high quality quarterfinal.

Both Tiafoe and Evans were pressed into double duty because of Thursday’s rain-out of the night session. First, the 30th-ranked Evans beat No. 93 Alexander Shevchenko of Russia, 6-4, 6-3 on the Grandstand. Then, Tiafoe wrapped up afternoon play in the Stadium with a 6-2, 6-3 win over 149th-ranked Chinese qualifier Juncheng “Jerry” Shang in 72 minutes to reach his second straight D.C. quarterfinal and sixth tour-level quarterfinal of the season. It also earned the 18-year-old a big hug from “Big Foe.” 

Shang, who was facing his first Top 10 opponent and attempting to reach his first ATP Tour quarterfinal, hit nine aces and 19 winners. He leaves Washington having won a total of four matches (two in qualifying and two in the main draw). Deservedly, Shang walked off the court to an appreciative ovation from the 7,500 spectators in attendance.

No. 12 seed Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands advanced to face Fritz in the semifinals with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over No. 16 seed J.J. Wolf of the United States on the Grandstand. Earlier, Griekspoor completed his suspended second-round match against French wild card Gaël Monfils with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 win.

Pegula rallies to beat Svitolina, reaches fifth semfinal of 2023

Top seed Jessica Pegula rallied from a set down to win her quarterfinal match against unseeded wild card Elina Svitolina, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, in two hours and eight minutes to begin Friday’s play on Stadium Court to advance to her fifth semifinal of the season.

In their first meeting since Indian Wells in 2021, Pegula improved her lifetime win-loss record against the Ukrainian to 3-1 to reach her first semifinal since Charleston in April. The 29-year-old Buffalo, N.Y. native, who won her first tour-level title in D.C. four years ago, is assured of moving up to World No. 3 next week. She is a Top-10 stalwart at a time that Svitolina, a former World No. 3 is enjoying a career resurgence after coming back from maternity leave.

Pegula finished with 27 winners to 25 unforced errors and Svitolina countered with 23 winners and 31 unforced errors. Pegula saved six of seven break points she faced and converted her third match point with a service winner to achieve her 35th match win of the season. She’s now 11-3 in her career in Washington, D.C.

“I think we play very similar – very solid from both sides – so I knew it was going to be a tough match,” Pegula said during her on-court interview following her victory.

The No. 27 Svitolina, who since returning to the WTA Tour from maternity leave has won a title at Strasbourg and leveraged it with a quarterfinal run at Roland Garros and a semifinal finish at Wimbledon, came within a set of achieving her third Top-10 victory since April.

“I have tons of respect for her,” Pegula added. “She just had a baby, and everything she’s going through with her country. I told her it was like she came back a new person. You can see the competitiveness in her and I’ve always really respected that.

“She was one of my first big wins when I broke through a couple of years ago, and to beat someone as tough as her gave me a lot of confidence. I always had a lot of respect for how she competes and her attitude on court.”

On Saturday, Pegula will face No. 4 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, who advanced with a 6-3, 6-3 win over American seventh seed Madison Keys in 74 minutes on John Harris Court. The Greek star hit 10 winners, broke Keys three times and saved both break points she faced. She improved to 4-0 against Keys.

Earlier, the World No. 9 Sakkari beat 88th-ranked qualifier Leylah Fernandez of Canada, 7-5, 6-2, in a second-round match that was postponed by Thursday’s rainout of the evening session. After not seeing her first tournament action until Friday, Sakkari won twice in the same day and is through to the last four.

“You cannot control the weather, and sometimes, you just have to accept that might happen in a tournament,” said Sakkari, who owns a 4-3 head-to-advantage over Pegula. “At the end of the day, I just won both matches, which is great, and I’m very excited to keep going.”

Also advancing with wins in the WTA 500 event:

Defending champion Liudmila Samsonova of Russia reached her second straight Washington semifinal following a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 34 Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine in an hour and 28 minutes on John Harris Court. The 18th-ranked Russian hit 17 winners to 24 unforced errors and broke Kostyuk five times in eight tries. She outpointed her opponent 69-51.

Next, Samsonova will play No. 3 seed Coco Gauff of the United States, who was impressive in her 6-1, 6-2 one-sided victory over No. 6 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, in Saturday’s semifinal round.

During the one-hour, 25-minute quarterfinal on Stadium Court, Gauff won 60 percent of her service points and 59 percent of her returns. She converted six of nine break points and kept Bencic, who committed 26 unforced errors, off balance throughout the contest.

“I’m really happy with how I played today,” Gauff said during her post-match news conference. “Belinda is not an easy player to play. You know, I played all types of tennis. I was the aggressor in some moments. Some moments I was the defender. I’m happy with how I played.”

Team “McShelton” reaches men’s doubles final

American duo Mackenzie McDonald and Ben Shelton, who are teaming together for the fourth time this season in D.C., came back from the brink of defeat – saving two match points – against Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain and Harri Heliovaara of Finland and won 3-6, 6-3, 12-10 in an hour and 17 minutes to reach the Washington final.

Although Glasspool and Heliovaara led 9-7 in the match tie-break, McDonald and Shelton rallied to win five of the next six points to triumph. Both McDonald and Shelton were second-round losers in the singles draw earlier this week.

On Sunday, McDonald and Shelton will face either Belgians Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen or Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni, both of Argentina, who play their semifinal on Saturday.

Women’s doubles final will feature two unseeded teams

Saturday’s women’s doubles final will be between a pair of seeded teams, each who knocked off the top seeds in their respective journeys to the title match.

Vera Zvonareva of Russia and Laura Siegemund of Germany, who eliminated No. 1 seeds Nicole Melichar-Martinez of the United States and Ellen Perez of Australia, reached the final by beating Ukrainian sisters Lyudmyla Kichenok and Nadia Kichenok, 6-1, 6-3.

They will oppose Monica Niculescu of Romania and Alexa Guarachi Mathison of Chile, who defeated No. 2 seeds Shuko Aoyama of,Japan and Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada, 6-3, 6-1.

Looking ahead to Saturday

Saturday’s order of play includes the women’s doubles final, both the women’s and men’s singles semifinals and one men’s doubles semifinal.

By the numbers

Juncheng “Jerry” Shang, the 18-year-old left-hander from China who lives and trains in Florida, is the youngest player in the Top 150 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings (at No. 149).

“Quotable …”

“I have massive respect for her, and I feel like it’s going to be a great match. We’ve played each other many times [and] it’s gone both ways. I feel like it’s going to,be another great challenge for me and I’m looking forward to it.”

– No. 4 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, looking ahead to her Saturday semifinal against top seed Jessica Pegula after winning two matches on Friday to advance.