Jack Sock and Aleks Vukic Early Charlottesville Challenger Winners, Face Each Other in Quarterfinals Tomorrow
November 4–Jack Sock is so loose. While others would be pre-gaming with their headphones and getting in the zone before a match, today Sock was seen casually scouting his next round opponent in street shoes during the first two sets and then sauntering off to shoot hoops in the third. He was on the basketball court just a couple of minutes before strolling onto Brenda Myers Court at the Charlottesville Men’s Pro Tennis Challenger.
And that lack of tension helped propel him to a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Cedric Marcel-Stebe in an hour and twelve minutes to set him up with that scouted opponent–Aleks Vukic– in a quarterfinal tomorrow.
As far as his clear mind and confidence, he told me “it’s where I’m at in my career. I know there’s a lot more going on than tennis,” he said. “This is what I love to do. I love to compete and play but life is always a little bigger than tennis.”
“I like to keep it loose. I’ve got my own family now, and my wife and my dogs. I’ve got a great support team around me, with my family back home and my coach Alex (Bogomolov)”, he continued. “So, I’ve got to keep it loose. If I’m not loose, I’m not going to be playing very good. I can lose to anybody, not put on a good show and turn out some rough matches.”
Former Illinois All-American Aleksandar Vukic completed an admirable three-set comeback against Tung-Lin Wu of TAIWAN (that’s right) in the first match of the day by a score of 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Vukic is happy to be back on American soil and made a bold prediction today.
On his return to American indoor tennis he told me that “it feels good. I was playing in Europe pretty much the whole year and I love playing back in the U.S. I went to college at Illinois, I just feel way more comfortable here on the hardcourts. It’s a nice swing coming up for sure.”
He still awaits his first Challenger title and he’s more than ready for it.
“It’s a tough field here, but I want to get one in these three weeks,” he predicted. “I don’t know if it’s going to be this week. Everyone’s very strong, so I’m going to recover and prepare and focus on the next match,” he said.
Emilio Nava, Brayden Schnur Advance to Quarterfinals at Charlottesville Challenger
November 3—Emilio Nava had a storied career in juniors, yet he always felt that he was never favored to win. That’s changing.
After surviving three sets against the Charlottesville Challenger’s defending champion yesterday, he scored a comeback win against Go Soeda to advance to the quarterfinals of this event in Central Virginia today.
“I’ve been fighting these guys for a while and playing a lot of Challengers this year, In the beginning, I was always the underdog, and I still keep that mentality in every match I go to,” he told me after the 2-6, 7-6, 6-2 win in the round of 16.
Even though the crowd was sparse, Nava made up for it as a crowd of one. He was juiced up on every point.
“Obviously, a crowd helps a lot, but when I’m in there, I’m all by myself, like a Gladiator down there,” he said.
“I’m fighting for myself. If there’s one person or a thousand or even a million, I’m always going to be the same way.”
Former North Carolina star Brayden Schnur survived a tricky Christian Harrison to book his spot in the quarterfinals. Despite four Challenger finals appearances and a 2019 final appearance at the New York Open (ATP 250), he’s still waiting to be called a champion. A runner-up here in Charlottesville two years ago, he’s now three wins away from walking away with the big hardware.
Though their next opponents are yet to be determined, both men will be on court for Friday’s quarterfinals.
“Absolutely Asinine”: US Open Decision to Lock Fans Out of Qualifying Puzzles Players and Fans
Steve Fogleman, Tennis Atlantic
(AUGUST 12)—Of all of the great things about summer, one thing regional tennis fans have on their list is the US Open. Whether you attend qualifying rounds or main draw play, it’s always a great time. And the best part about the US Open is that it allowed fans of all budgets to walk through the metal gates and into a Tennis Wonderland. Hundreds of thousands of students, families and neighbors of the surrounding boroughs have attended qualifying matches for years at the US Open. Qualifying in New York is an event that is truly egalitarian, as millionaires stand next to those who can’t afford a $75 ticket(master) grounds pass for the opening rounds or a $2,800 luxury experience box seat in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Entire junior tennis programs load up buses and head to Flushing for the experience. Without needing to shell out big bucks for a ticket, a fan could feel indulgent and buy a $15 beer or a $40 ball cap and call it a good day.
Those good days are off the calendar for 2021 unless you can afford a ticket to the main draw. The USTA, in a “heartbreaking” move, has called qualifying off-limits to the general public but are prepared to welcome you with open arms and 100% capacity for ticketed main draw rounds. Also scrapped was the phenomenally popular Arthur Ashe Kid’s Day, where $10 bought you a ticket into the greatest stadium in sports along with top-notch entertainment talent.
The reason, according to the USTA, is to protect the players. But many of the players I spoke to at Citi Open last week didn’t understand the logic and had fond memories of attending qualifying as a kid and a fan. No one in the press room last week asked the players about US Qualifying but yours truly and not the talent who reads the transcripts and then reads a teleprompter for Tennis Now. She wasn’t in the house. But once she put my questions out there, it was about time to post my findings, which I was working on for next week. The only reason that the Q&As were in the transcripts is because the ATP wouldn’t let me do one-on-one interviews to ask the players that single question, which would have kept the question and their answers out of the public sphere until my post. In all fairness, I’m glad a bigger media outlet is now, after all of my public questions, covering this matter.
The comments section on the video were almost universally against the fan lockout. Longtime tennis fan Chris Rapseik of Chester, New Jersey was not happy. “As someone who has attended qualifying for many years, I find this decision hypocritical,” he said on Youtube. “I planned to buy tickets for the next week when I attended qualifying, now that is not happening. Yes, there are some costs to allowing fans to see qualies but the fans love the opportunity. So the US Open is not considering the fans, who they want for two weeks, to be able to watch qualies. Shame on them.”
What was most puzzling about the answers I heard at Citi Open evidenced that many of the players I spoke with last week were not aware of the policy, even though it was done to protect “the players.” Which made me wonder if “the players” were even consulted at all about a policy designed to protect “the players” themselves.
“I mean, if you think about that, it seems like there’s that discrepancy or there’s like a double standard as far as what’s allowed and what’s not allowed,” Tennys Sandgren told me last week. “I mean, if you’re allowed to be there for main draw, why shouldn’t you be allowed to be there for qualifying? If you’re going to do one, then you do the other,” he added. “If you’re not going to do one, you wouldn’t do the other. That’s I guess my first reaction to that, would be I don’t really get it. But there’s a lot of this stuff I really don’t get honestly, so it wouldn’t be the first time I felt like there was a double standard or discrepancy there that just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
When I asked Brandon Nakashima about it, he was diplomatic about the protocols of the past year before concluding “I think if they’re able to have fans come in during the main draw, I see really no reason why they shouldn’t be able to come into the qualies as well.”
Denis Kudla agreed. “I feel do they really protect us if (the crowds) showing up three, four days later, it’s going to be packed four days later?” he mused. “I don’t really think that makes sense. Keep it open. We’re not going to be in a bubble. We’re going to be roaming around New York City. We’re responsible for our own health. I don’t see how that’s really making sense. If you’re going to do full bubble, nobody, or just leave it completely open,” he added. “All this kind of half and half things, certain rules for certain people, I don’t think it makes sense in general. So, yeah, that’s pretty much my answer. I think people should be allowed in qualies. I think it’s a huge opportunity for families who can’t spend a bunch on tickets, have an opportunity to watch top guys practice and the future of the sport.”
Steve Johnson is always a straight shooter in press and he didn’t disappoint when I asked him the question last Wednesday. “I’m not the arbitrator of what’s fair and not fair,” he said with a smile. “Me, my perspective, look, we’ve had a lot of confusing COVID rules the last 18 months, especially last six months. I’ve stopped really trying to guess because half the rules make absolutely zero sense, it’s strictly an optical thing that I think is absolutely asinine really,” he added. “I mean, I’m the right guy to probably get a quote from, but I’m the wrong guy to give an impartial decision. Look, I think there should be fans at every stadium. I think we’ve shown in the States that you can do it and it’s safe,” he continued. “There should be fans. Everybody knows the risks. Everybody is willing to do what they want to do. That’s what makes America America. Everyone has their own choice to do whatever they want. If they want to come watch tennis, they should be allowed to. If they feel unsafe, they shouldn’t. There should be fans there the entire time. Again, it’s one of those questions why week one and not week two? Why is it any different? I’ve stopped trying to get those answers because it just makes me more confused than anything.”
In fact, the only player who didn’t express concern was Reilly Opelka. He was having no part of it. “I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds me, you know? They’vebeen great to me,” he said, referring to his benefactors. “The USTA has been great to me. That’s all funded by the US Open. There’s flaws in everything. They’ve been great to me. Martin Blackman and Kent Kinnear, my coach Jay Berger, even Pat McEnroe has been beyond generous to me. There’s nothing negative I can say because they’ve changed my life for the better,” he concluded. He’s one of the nicest guys on tour, but it was clear that he could not be critical in any way of his White Plains Overlords.
Like a good blogger, we reached out to White Plains yesterday to make some sense of this decision. We asked USTA Communications Director Chris Widmaier a few questions by email and followed up with a call to his cell phone, specifically inquiring the following:
1) You must be aware of the crowd size differential between qualifying rounds and the first round of main draw play. Is it fair to say that you expect far more attendees on August 30 and 31 than you would for any day of US Open qualifying in the past?
2) How much money do you expect US Open vendors and partners to lose as a result of the USTA’s decision to close qualifying to the public?
3) Are you aware of the impact of the decision on the thousands of attendees who come to qualifying from struggling neighborhoods all over the region? Will there be widely-advertised discount programs to allow low-income fans to attend the main draw in lieu of free qualifying?
4) Did you consider opening up qualifying for attendees who could provide proof of vaccinations?
5) Was the USTA provided with specific public health guidance that 0% capacity at qualifying would protect players and/or that requiring proof of vaccination for attendees at main draw rounds would be beneficial to the players?
Widmaier called me back. He explained that the decision was “heartbreaking and not an easy decision” for the USTA, and was made several months ago “based on expert medical advice at the time.” He described the Open as a “mega global event” and that all such decisions had to be made in advance for logistical purposes. He acknowledged that the USTA communicated the call to the ATP and WTA, and that he expected that they would have informed the players. “There are never more players on site than during qualifying,” he said. “You have the 256 singles entrants and the qualifying field here at the same time.” According to Widmaier, that medical advice included advising the US Open to build out expanded player areas, including gyms and dining areas to promote social distancing, which they have done.
To quote John McEnroe, “Let’s be honest.” It sounds to me like it was a call that was made, and it’s a call that can’t be challenged or reversed because it’s too late to get security and infrastructure in place for thousands of extra people to show up. Optics are everything, and some feel it’s time to stop blaming COVID-19 for decisions that make little sense except the most obvious—to make a buck and/or keep expenses down, just like a Fortune 500 company beholden to shareholders. It also seems that the last thing the USTA wants is to have to kick fans out after the tournament starts due to an outbreak, which would blow another hole in the organization’s finances after a disastrous 2020.
Perhaps accidentally, though, it feels like the USTA may have missed the mark on its mission statement on this one: “Include all people on a non-discriminatory basis, and make diversity and inclusion an embedded part of USTA.” Because this decision is a heartfelt blow to everyone except the sad rich people in those lower boxes on Ashe. Or as Emma Lazarus, the poet laureate of the Statue of Liberty might say, “Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, not right now, but certainly before 2023.“
2021 @CincyTennis Approaching Irrelevance as Major Stars Withdraw
CINCINNATI (Aug. 11, 2021) -Rafael Nadal (foot) and Milos Raonic (heel) have withdrawn from the Western & Southern Open. Nadal was the 2013 Western & Southern Open champion and Raonic was the 2020 runner-up. Daniil Medvedev, who won the 2019 Western & Southern Open when it was last held in Cincinnati, will be the tournament’s top men’s seed as the No. 2 player in the ATP Rankings.
CINCINNATI (August 10, 2021) Three players have withdrawn from the women’s field – Sofia Kenin (foot), Serena Williams (leg) and Venus Williams.
CINCINNATI (Aug. 9, 2021) -Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the Western & Southern Open. A two-time tournament champion, Djokovic won last year’s staging of the event that took place in New York. A 20-time Major champion, the World No. 1 Djokovic has won the first three Grand Slam events this season.
CINCINNATI (Aug. 5, 2021) – Seven-time Western & Southern Open champion Roger Federer has withdrawn from the 2021 tournament due to a knee injury. A 20-time Major champion, Federer is the winningest player at the Western & Southern Open with a 47-10 record.
Sunday caps off one of the most exciting years yet for the 52-year-old Citi Open in Washington, as a week of frenetic play under pristine August weather comes to a close with hardware handed out for singles and doubles champions and finalists. In a perfect world, Rafael Nadal would appear at tonight’s singles final and bite the winner’s trophy to guarantee its authenticity, but it is not to be.
Jannik Sinner and Mackenzie McDonald have both played a high level of tennis all week long and deserve to be on the stage today. Sinner’s the prohibitive -380 favorite in Vegas, but McDonald is far and away the sentimental favorite.
McDonald’s press conference gave us a peek into the troughs of pro tennis. After 2019 injuries and COVID-19 sidelined and then isolated him, he could put no positive spin on it. “No. Honestly, it was a really painful time, really super tough,” he said forlornly. “It was really rough. I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know. I was away from family, too. I was lucky. My girlfriend’s father was able to spend time with me, he’s retired, and helped me. I couldn’t walk and drive myself and do anything”, he continued. “I had an apartment on the third floor and no elevator. It was pretty shitty. So, yeah, I didn’t know where I was going to be two years later. Like I said, I have always worked hard, always put in the work. A little bit older, too, and it’s helping.”
You just don’t hear real-life stories like that every day. He’s playing for his first ATP tour level title with his heart on his sleeve. Meanwhile, Sinner vies for his biggest trophy to date, having notched 250 titles in Sofia and Melbourne Park. Given the emotion that McDonald’s playing with like house money and the stingy odds on Sinner, the only punt to make today is for the American.
And Then There Were Four: Citi Open Semifinals Feature Young Talent and One Kei Nishikori
Steve Fogleman in Washington
It’s been a week of upsets at the Citi Open in Washington all the way to the semifinals with only one seeded player remaining. I’m feeling that the upsets end today with two favorites advancing to tomorrow’s ATP 500 final.
Jenson Brooksby continued his march through Washington on Friday night by doing to John Millman what he’s been doing all week: baffle top talent. Asked if he is surprising other players, he said, “I don’t know exactly what goes through their minds. I’m not surprising myself, but I think — I mean, I think they, by now, people know what to expect in general, but, I mean, I think I still am surprising them.”
Should we add Jannik Sinner to the list of those who aren’t ready to beat Brooksby? Sinner’s aware of the threat. “I think he’s a very tricky player,” he said yesterday. “He is maybe in the best moment of his young, young career, you know, playing the best tennis. He is, yeah, in confidence.”
Sinner hits the practice courts after matches and skipped the Olympics in order to improve his game in time for the big US Open Series tournaments in August. I predict Brooksby’s amazing run through the top brass ends today on the racquet of the Italian.
Kei Nishikori flew in from Tokyo and did a lot of damage to his opponents all week. In prior editions of the Citi Open, Kei has been the superstar of this event and is a 2017 champion here. That’s why it seemed so strange this week as he practiced, played and won in an under-the-radar fashion thanks to the Rafa Effect. That jet lag is long gone which means Nishikori’s game is getting better every day.
“I was a little bit tired after coming from Japan,” he said in post-match press last night, “but I had a couple days’ rest. It wasn’t easy, obviously. I had only maybe three days or four days to play first match, but I able to manage, you know, fight through first couple rounds. Now I’m feeling good again.”
I’m picking Nishikori to advance to tomorrow’s final. We’ll see you then.
It’s Back to Business as a Normal ATP500 for @CitiOpen
Steve Fogleman, Tennis Atlantic
Well, the Rafael Nadal hangover is still around, if only for a day. After Nadal’s exit from the Citi Open in Washington last night, there’s a collective sense of loss and exhaustion from the electricity he brought to this ATP 500 event. However, there are eight excellent quarterfinal matches on tap today and storylines still abound.
Let’s stat with Denis Kudla. On Monday, he said that he’d underachieved in his career. Three wins later and Kudla is looking to make his first hometown tournament semifinal today. He went through a tortuous period from 2008-2017, where the DC local went 0-8 in qualifying and first round losses. To make his first ATP Tour final in DC would be a real silver lining for him and the Citi Open. After beating Brandon Nakashima, who’d been playing near perfect tennis, I predict that he will be the semifinalist from this All-American match.
Steve Johnson has been beating the odds all week, first by taking out tournament #3 seed Alex DeMinaur and following it up with a lights-out win over Ricardas Berankis yesterday. Today, he’ll face longer odds as he tries to unseat the highest remaining seeded player, #5 Jannik Sinner, to book his third Citi Open semifinal. That may be a tall order for Johnson, as Sinner looks unbeatable.
Jenson Brooksby continues to dazzle. Jenson’s July was only a pretext of what was to come here in Washington. He has knocked off #16 seed Tiafoe and #2 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime and today he faces #11 seed John Millman. Brooksby hasn’t dropped a set all week, but today I am predicting that Millman will end Brooksby’s impressive Citi Open run.
Finally, Kei Nishikori and Lloyd Harris square off for the last semifinal berth. This one is a big question mark as both players may begin to feel some exhaustion set in after last night’s three set wins. Harris looked great out there, but will there be a letdown coming off of his greatest win yet? Kei Nishikori, who has been the rockstar of Citi Opens past, is a bit of an under-the-radar player this week. That said, I’m going to tip his way to reach the semis.
Rafael Nadal’s comeback tour hit a speed bump tonight with a 4-6, 6-1, 4-6 nail biter with Lloyd Harris at the Citi Open ATP 500 in Washington. Harris was 1-5 against top 10 opponents with his best result against #4 Sascha Zverev, so it’s the biggest result of his singles career. After the match, Nadal said that his nagging foot pain felt better today and lamented that “the most painful thing is to not be able to be on court in front of this amazing crowd no?.”
We asked whether he was exhausted from last night’s incredible win over a motivated Jack Sock in three sets.
No way, he replied. “No, I was ready. The most positive thing is my foot was better today than yesterday, so that’s the best news possible. I played against a player that played well.”
“So that’s the sport. You can’t have mistakes in the key moments, and in the key moments I think in the last game, yeah, I was a little bit more nervous. My serve was not working the proper way. And that’s it. Yes, well done for him. Is a great victory for him. I wish him all the very best.”
2021 Citi Open Women’s Invitational Starts Tonight
WASHINGTON-AUGUST 5—Starting tonight, Coco Gauff, Victoria Azarenka and Jessica Pegula will compete in the Citi Open Women’s Invitational, a special, round-robin singles event as part of Citi Open week. Pegula and Gauff were crowned singles and doubles champions, respectively, in the WTA Tour’s 2019 Citi Open.
The inaugural champion will receive $25,000 in prize money. The Women’s Sports Foundation will be the beneficiary of the tournament and will receive a $50,000 donation from the Citi Open, Citi and the Mark and Sally Ein Foundation.
WTA No. 25; 2019 Citi Open women’s doubles champion; 5 WTA titles (2 singles, 3 doubles); 2021 French Open quarterfinalist
Current WTA No. 15; Former World No. 1; 30 WTA titles (21 singles, 9 doubles); 2012 and 2013 Australian Open winner; 2012, 2013 and 2020 U.S. Open finalist
2019 Citi Open women’s singles champion; Current WTA No. 28; 2021 Australian Open quarterfinalist
Thursday, August 5 (Following tonight’s. match on Stadium Court)
Coco Gauff vs. Victoria Azarenka
Friday, August 6 (Final day session match on Stadium Court)
Victoria Azarenka vs. Jessica Pegula
Saturday August 7 (Following 7 p.m. match on Stadium Court)
Coco Gauff vs. Jessica Pegula
The format is best of 3 sets, regular scoring, with a 10-point super-tiebreak to decide the third. The player with the best record will be crowned the champion. In the event of a tie, the champion will be decided by most sets, or if necessary, most games won.
It’s hard to bust through Nadal’s wild opening win in Washington last night, but many other players advanced to the Round of 16 yesterday at the Citi Open and they’re ready for battle today in what is traditionally the best day of this tournament. Eight singles matches will determine the warriors of the weekend with the right to claim an ATP 500 title.
American players are common at American events, and that should surprise no one. In recent years, though, most of them are knocked out in early rounds by higher-ranked international players. This year is different Of the 15 Americans in the draw, seven advanced to the third round – the most at the Citi Open since eight in 1993. You can’t ask for more than that as a local fan. and you still have a chance to see six Americans in the quarterfinals and guaranteed to have one American in there as countrymen Denis Kudla and Brandon Nakashima do battle today for one of those spots. Nakashima is 10-2 since July 19.
Other opening matches today include Steve Johnson against Ricardas Berankis and Next Gen stars Jannik Sinner taking on Sebastian Korda, who are collectively aged 40 years.
Late afternoon matches feature Kei Nishikori against Cameron Norrie, Reilly Opelka facing off against John Millman, and another Next Gen showdown with a pair of 20-year-olds: #2 seed Felix Auger Aliassime and Jenson Brooksby. Ilya Ivashka and Mackenzie McDonald will fight for a quarterfinal berth in the early evening match before all eyes turn to Stadium Court for Rafael Nadal and Lloyd Harris, the #14 seed.