Big Weeks for Semifinalists Kevin Anderson and Jack Sock at the Citi Open
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
It’s been an exciting few days leading up to today’s semifinal matches on the men’s side of the Citi Open. Two of the semifinalists Kevin Anderson, and Jack Sock have to be the most excited, as they have found some of their best form to setup a semifinal clash, coming from an underdog position at the beginning of the week. Despite an easy win over Malek Jaziri in his opening match, Anderson has had to grind it out in his last two victories. Against Dominic Thiem he got an early break, rode out a long rain delay, then held his mettle to take the first set and split tiebreaks the rest of the way, winning in three sets despite failing to convert break point, and a match point chance in the second set. Thiem was at a matchup disadvantage against Anderson, and the top seed never seemed confident, even with his groundstrokes as he was up breaks twice in the third set, and lost both of them, including when he was serving for the match. He even had a match point in tiebreak, but Anderson would save it, and convert his third match point overall to reach the quarters. Thiem dialed his serve up on key points, but it was Anderson playing as the aggressor in the 6-3 6-7 7-6 victory.
Against surprise quarterfinalist Yuki Bhambri, a qualifier, Anderson again notched more than 20 aces, winning more than 80% of his first serve points and breaking Bhambri in the only two chances he got to win 6-4 4-6 6-3. Anderson could have been broken to open the first set, and was broken to open up what was a very sloppy second set for him, but his tenacity and class shown through against the qualifier who had three set wins against both defending champion Gael Monfils, and Guido Pella (who took out serve and volleyer Mischa Zverev) earlier in the week. Bhambri had ridden out the inconsistent, and shaky performance from Monfils, but Anderson didn’t let him do the same in the quarterfinals, playing his best in the third set when it mattered most.
Jack Sock is leading the ATP tour in hard court match wins and he hasn’t dropped a set this week after a disappointing showing in Atlanta. Sock heads into his semifinal with Anderson having beaten young gun Jared Donaldson and big gun Milos Raonic back to back. Donaldson was plainly outclassed 7-6 6-2, while Raonic, who had won a pair of chippy straight set matches over Nicolas Mahut and Marcos Baghdatis where his served saved him, but he was clearly a bit out of form, couldn’t bail himself out on serve this time. Sock won 80% of his first serve points in the 7-5 6-4 victory that took just an hour and a half over Raonic.
Raonic could have ran away with the first set up a break, but Sock didn’t lose confidence and got back into things before snatching it. In the second set Raonic had a break point chance at 2-3 that he didn’t take, not long after that Sock just needed a break and a hold to get the win in an hour and a half. Given he just beat a big server in Raonic, Sock should have a good idea of how to upend Anderson as well.
The other semifinal pits Kei Nishikori vs. Alexander Zverev in a clash that should garner worldwide attention. Nishikori has played two bad sets this week, one against Donald Young, the other in the quarterfinals against young gun Tommy Paul, but in both those wins he’s shown why he’s been a top 10 mainstay for so long. Playing in an ATP quarterfinal for the second time in as many weeks, Paul, who had upset both Lucas Pouille in a shocker, and Gilles Muller, who beat him in Atlanta, to reach this stage, came out on fire, and honestly played a very good match.
Paul came out of the gate breaking the Nishikori serve, then saved four break points on his own serve to go up 5-2, and eventually take the set. Paul could have went up a set and a break, but it was Nishikori who saved three break points to open the second set. Paul would go up 6-3 5-3, and he had a match point on his return, but Nishikori found that extra gear to get to 5-5 in the second. Nishikori faced two more match points in the second set tiebreak, but saved both before taking it 10-8. At this point Paul’s form began to dip as he hit the wall physically. Nishikori saved two break points and then broke. He maintained pressure on Paul and went up 5-3 before serving out a 3-6 7-6 6-4 win.
Prior to the quarterfinal the Japanese #1 beat Juan Martin Del Potro 7-5 6-4, as Del Potro looked a bit hampered with a minor injury. He still won plenty of points against Kei but he lost 40% of his own service points, a stat that simply will not result in wins for a player like Del Potro, who had previously dominated Lukas Lacko in straights.
Now working with Juan Carlos Ferrero, Alexander Zverev improved markedly in his last two matches after being flummoxed often in a three set win over Jordan Thompson in his opening match. The young Aussie kept coming forward, and although he lacked the class at the net when needed, he still managed to take the first set, and force a third set tiebreak. Zverev dialed up his serve to get out of jail in that one, and then edged both Tennys Sandgren and Daniil Medvedev as the favorite. Sandgren had beaten an unconfident Nick Kyrgios in one of the biggest wins of his career previously in the tournament but he struggled with his second serve, and on return against Zverev.
Medvedev just looked gassed in the quarterfinals against Zverev. The Russian hit more double faults than aces, and won just six games as his forehand betrayed him, despite wins over Steve Johnson and Grigor Dimitrov earlier in the week. Medvedev dug deep to come back from a set and a break down to defeat Johnson in a third set tiebreak, and then shocked Dimitrov, who was sloppy on return games.
Zverev is a slight favorite against Nishikori, and that feels right given their match performance this week, and the fact Zverev probably has more weapons if he can move his feet well enough to get into position to use them.
The Men’s doubles have played true to seeding, Kontinen/Peers will face Murray/Soares, while the Bryan Brothers take on Kubot/Melo, looking for two titles on American hard courts, in two weeks. Both doubles semifinals should be very high quality.