Citi Open: Venus Felt The Love – Win Or Lose

Venus Williams (photo: Ryan Loco/Citi Open)

WASHINGTON, August 2, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

From the time American legend Venus Williams arrived at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center grounds last weekend, site of the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., through the completion of her first-round loss Monday to Canadian qualifier Rebecca Marino, she was much beloved. Williams was met with tremendous cheering and standing ovations, on and off the court. She posed for selfies and graciously signed autographs for fans, some who weren’t even born when she started winning major titles at the beginning of the century.

The 42-year-old future Hall of Famer was an easy figure to pick out in the crowd – not only because of her colorful and regal stature among generations of fans and admirers, but also because there was always a buzz surrounding her wherever she went. From the practice courts to the Stadium court, the unranked Williams, who hadn’t played a tour-level singles match in nearly a year, was one of the biggest attractions at this year’s tournament – save for Emma Raducanu, who also garners plenty of attention from fans and media alike.

Soon, after her 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 loss to the 111th-ranked Marino that stretched over nearly two hours, Williams arrived in the Media Center to answer questions about the match and her Citi Open experience. Her stay was brief – it lasted less than five minutes – but there was a cordial tone throughout, from the press in how they handled asking Venus about the loss to what the future holds for her. Ahead, Williams plans to play Toronto and Cincinnati – both WTA 1000s – with wild cards, and she’s received a wild card to play the US Open, a major she’s won twice (2000, 2001).

Williams was asked for her takeaways from Monday’s Citi Open match and what could have made the difference. She replied: “Yeah, it’s my first match. So, I didn’t think I played well a lot of the time. Just a little rusty. … Just trying to shake off some rust. That’s just to be expected. All I can do is just play another tournament and play better.”

When she was asked how she was feeling on the court, Williams said: “It was so much fun to play in D.C. It was nice to have the crowd behind me. Haven’t played a singles match in a year, so definitely a great experience.”

Among those in the crowd to view Williams face Marino was Venus’s younger but very well-known sister, Serena Williams, who watched with tournament chairman and CEO Mark Ein. Mind you, Serena drew a lot of social media buzz the day before by sharing a practice court with her older sister. Both will play in Toronto next week.

“I think we just fall into step. We’ve been playing with each other since we were kids. So, it’s just something that we’ve always done,” Venus said.

Tennis TourTalk asked Williams if she was surprised by the kind of reaction that she got from the Washington, D.C. tennis fans. Beaming a smile, she said: “Yeah, it’s so much fun. I wish I could have pulled this match through for the crowd and for the tournament. But [it] doesn’t always work out.

“Super reaction. D.C. is a great place to play tennis and Mark [Ein] does an amazing job with the tournament.”

Williams was asked what she loves about playing tennis, a sport in which she has won seven Grand Slam titles during a career that’s spanned more than two decades.

“It’s just wonderful to play tennis,” she said. “I think everybody in this room loves the game.”

Kyrgios continues winning ways in doubles

A day after Nick Kyrgios teamed with Thanasi Kokkinakis to win the doubles title at the Atlanta Open, his second of the season after winning the Australian Open, the temperamental Aussie was back playing doubles, although in a different city and with a different teammate.

Monday night at the Citi Open, Kyrgios teamed with Jack Sock and continued his winning ways. The unseeded Aussie/American duo upset No. 3 seeds Marcelo Arevalo of El Salvador and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands, 6-4, 6-4, in 68 minutes.

Kyrgios and Sock previously teamed in 2018 and won a title in Lyon. They’re hoping to duplicate their success this week in Washington.

Around the Citi Open

• If you don’t succeed, Ajla Tomljanovic learned, try, try, again. Tuesday afternoon, the 69th-ranked Australian beat American Sloane Stephens for the first time in seven career head-to-head matches, 6-1, 6-4. Her second ace closed out the 68-minute victory on Stadium court. Tomljanovic converted five break-point chances and outpointed the 57th-ranked Stephens 59-37 to move into the second round against No. 60 Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, who eliminated No. 5 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 7-6 (4), 6-4, Monday evening.

“It got a little tricky at the end,” Tomljanovic said in press. “I definitely thought about, you know, the fact that I haven’t beaten her so far and been close a few times. So, I got nervous and played a few loose games. But, I’m just very pleased to close it out in the end.”

Tomljanovic’s breakthrough was a reversal of their most recent meeting, on clay in Charleston back in April that was won by Stephens in straight sets. The loss was the fourth straight for Stephens going back to the quarterfinals of the French Open and dropped her season win-loss record to 10-11. The victory was the 20th of the season for Tomljanovic.

• World No. 8 and Citi Open men’s top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia met British NextGenATP rising star Jack Draper on the Stadium court Tuesday afternoon. It was their second meeting and Rublev’s third Citi Open appearance. His best result was a semifinal run in 2018. Rublev earned a 6-4, 6-2 victory in an hour and 23 minutes. He struck nine aces, dropped only three points on his first serve and was not broken. Rublev outpointed Draper 70-52.

“I feel happy with my first match, with the performance that I did, that I was able to win in straight sets against such a great player that is doing really well and he’s only raising and raising his level,” Rublev said during his post-match press conference.

Rublev came into this week as the North American hard-court swing gets into full gear with a 32-11 win-loss record this season (18-4 on hard courts). He’s won three titles (Marseille, Dubai and Belgrade), which ties him with Casper Ruud and behind Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal, who each have won four titles this year.

• Tuesday’s session, featuring men’s top seed Andrey Rublev as well as the entertaining and sometimes mercurial Nick Kyrgios and reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu, sold out. The capacity of the Stadium court is 7,500. A limited number of grounds passes were made available for purchase, giving attendees access to all outer courts excluding the Stadium. Overall, the day’s order of play included 10 men’s singles, eight women’s singles, four men’s doubles and three women’s doubles matches. The temperature at the start of play Tuesday was 88 degrees Fahrenheit but the relative humidity made it feel like 94.

• D.C. native Hailey Baptiste may have lost her first-round match to No. 1 seed Jessica Pegula in an all-American battle Monday afternoon, but come Tuesday morning, she gave back to the game – spending time at the Citi Open clinic for Special Olympics.

• In this battle of Brits, naturally, a Brit prevailed. On Wednesday afternoon, No. 16 seed Dan Evans defeated Kyle Edmund, 6-1, 6-2, to move into the third round.

• Germany’s Andrea Petkovic broke out the Petko dance after she defeated No. 8 seed Clara Tauson of Denmark, 6-2, 6-2, on the Grandstand.

• The No. 1 seeds in doubles, Rajeev Ram of the United States and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina were eliminated in the first round by the American/Aussie duo of Frances Tiafoe and Alex de Minaur, 6-4, 1-6, 10-2.

Tuesday’s Citi Open ATP results

Tuesday’s Citi Open WTA results

By the numbers

What’s in a matchup: Citi Open men’s top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia has won four ATP 500 events in his career, including Dubai this year. His second-round opponent Tuesday, Jack Draper of Great Britain, began the year ranked 265th in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and is at a career-high No. 81.

“Quotable …”

“This is a week I circle in every year. Super excited to be back here. I’ve been in some good rhythm getting to this event, so I’m super excited to play at home. … I just want to put on a show and go deep [in the tournament].

– American Frances Tiafoe, who grew up in nearby Hyattsville, Md., on the joy of playing in the Citi Open. The 10th-seeded Tiafoe will play either Benjamin Bonzi of France or American wild card Christopher Eubanks in Wednesday’s second round.