Things We Learned at the 2014 Citi Open


1. The Citi Open is a sentimental tournament for me. It was there last year that Jeff and I met (at a Bernard Tomic match, no less!). It was fun being back there again this year, and celebrating our anniversary with some great tennis.

2. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to snap a picture, but there is a young chair umpire who looks like Rafael Nadal’s twin. I spotted him calling a Radek Stepanek-Malek Jaziri match in D.C., and saw him around the grounds a few times. If anyone knows what his name is, let me know! I think he’s a new guy — he’s definitely not a regular.


3. If there’s one player who really needs to be seen live to be appreciated, I think it’s Richard Gasquet. Waxing poetic about so-called “beautiful” tennis can be tiresome, but watching Gasquet drill backhand winners in person will make you a believer. I don’t always seek out his matches on TV or streams, but if he’s on the Order of Play at a tournament I’m attending, I’ll be in the stands.


Also, his reactions can be hilarious up close. Lots of muttering in French.

4. Speaking of players who are fun to watch live, Sam Groth’s affinity for his towel is well-known among those who follow such things, but I had to laugh when he toweled off between a let and a first serve in one of his doubles matches last week. He is incredibly entertaining to watch up-close, because he’s constantly talking to himself between points. It’s hard to get a feel for that on a stream, but you hear every word sitting courtside.


5. Kurumi Nara is tiny at 5 foot 1, but she played some great tennis this week, beating Madison Keys and Kristina Mladenovic en route to her second final of the year. Serving 85 mph first serves might hamper the 22-year-old from doing major damage on the WTA Tour, but she makes her opponent work for every point, and hits surprisingly hard from the baseline. At No. 33 now, I’ll be intrigued to see how high she can climb up the rankings.


6. I wrote a bunch of stuff about Jared Donaldson after seeing him in qualies and watching his first-round loss to Rajeev Ram, but I will say here that I haven’t been this excited about any American ATP prospect well … probably, ever. Admittedly, I’m not much of an American tennis aficionado, but I really want to see more from the 17-year-old. With many of the young Americans no longer in need of US Open wild cards, I hope to see him get a wild card into at least the US Open qualies, if not the main draw. If it’s the choice between giving another wild card to Robby Ginepri or Jared Donaldson, I really hope it’s Donaldson.


1. Tournaments are amazing, but exhausting. I forget just how tiring they are each time, probably because I don’t go to them often enough to build up any momentum. I’m sure there’s a balance to be had, I’m just not quite sure what it is.

The worst thing is that I always feel like I have gathered more material than I am able to write about, so hopefully this will help me get out some odds and ends. For the record, I’m going to be doing a post on Tuesday all about the WTA tournament at the Citi Open, including quotes that I haven’t posted yet, so I’m going to keep this focused on the ATP, primarily.

2. Except, I am going to say how awesome it is to have Svetlana Kuznetsova playing great tennis again. She’s fun to watch, of course, but mainly I just enjoy things like this…

“Sometimes you look funny when you r happy”

and this:

We need her.

3. Sam Querrey has more self awareness than I thought. After he won a match–I’ll let you figure out which one, I know it will be difficult–I asked him how he was feeling about his form.

His answer? “Uuuh, pretty average.”

4. I came away from D.C. impressed with Steve Johnson. He’s thoughtful, well spoken, driven, and pretty fun to watch. (Keep in mind that I actually like big servers.)

He’s up to No. 54 in the world after a couple of great third-set tiebreaker wins over John Isner and Ivo Karlovic, and should easily be into the top 50 after this summer. When I first saw him play I doubted that he would even make it to the top 100, so this is a real testament to how much he has improved.

He is currently the No. 3 American, right behind Donald Young (and John Isner, obviously). From the outside, I get the impression that he is more competitive than Querrey and a harder worker than Sock or Harrison, so while he doesn’t have, say, top-10 talent, I can see him staying in the top 50 and perhaps sneaking high enough to be seeded at majors every now and then.

Isner has said time and time again that the best thing about college tennis was that he figured out how to win. While other guys around his age–such as former top Junior Alex Kuznetsov–went straight to the ATP Tour and lost time after time, Isner was honing his winning skills in college. That helped his confidence and gave him more match play. The same thing worked for Stevie.

Johnson said he found the transition to the pros to be difficult physically, but it’s very clear he has put in the work to close that gap. His ranking has already climbed 100 spots this year, and I don’t think he’s going to plateau quite yet. After all, he’s only 24, which is what we’re considering as up-and-comer these days. (There are only seven guys ranked ahead of him who are 24 or younger.)

5. One guy that I didn’t get to talk to due to scheduling was Jack Sock, and I am really hoping to rectify that in Winston Salem. Vasek Pospisil talked a lot in press about how much their Wimbledon doubles run helped him, and it’s clear it’s helped Sock as well–the 21-year-old pushed Raonic to two tiebreakers and even broke the Canadian, which is more than anyone else who played at the Citi Open can say.

I’m really hoping that he stays in the Winston-Salem draw (I can’t imagine that he won’t) so that I can get some insight into how he’s feeling.

6. I don’t mean this to sound as patronizing as I know it will, but you guys, Vasek Pospisil is ADORABLE. He has an infectious smile and is so ridiculously genuine. Plus? Now that he’s finally healthy again, he’s playing some great tennis.

Pospisil needs to improve his fitness–by the final at D.C. he was absolutely DEAD in the legs–but there’s a lot to like about his game when he’s not trying to play cute shots for absolutely no reason. I’m really behind on transcribing, but I do hope to get some of his answers transcribed for you guys at some point.

Being in Raonic’s shadow can’t be an easy thing, but Pospisil is well on his way to carving out a reputation and history all of his own.

(Also, I will say just to you guys because I try and tell you everything, that the rumor is that Raonic and Pospisil don’t like each other that much. That’s not surprising–their personalities are polar opposites, and they’re competitors. But both of them clearly do have respect for each other, and really did a good job hiding any tension in press. This must have been particularly a feat for Pospisil, who was asked a lot more questions about Raonic than the other way around.)

Pospisil’s run to the final was much more impressive than Raonic’s, with wins over Tomas Berdych and Richard Gasquet, and a two-day victory over an in-form Santiago Giraldo. Keep an eye on this guy.

7. It was clear to everyone that Kei Nishikori was hampered in DC, but the injury-prone athlete refused to blame anything for his loss to Gasquet in the quarterfinals, repeatedly telling the press that he was okay.

Well? Unfortunately, we were right and he was wrong:

This is so disappointing for him, because at his opening presser on Tuesday he kept talking about how happy he was to finally be injury free, and how excited he was to be mentally and physically ready for the U.S. Open Series, where he played poorly last year.

I realize this is very narrow-minded of me, but his English has improved so much over the past three years, which clearly makes him more comfortable in front of the American media, and allows more of his personality to shine through.

The Japanese star is clearly becoming much more comfortable with himself and his game–I found him very engaging in press this year, and he certainly carried himself like he was one of the top players. He’s ready to be great and to go to the next level, his body just isn’t letting it happen! If only he could stay healthy, can you imagine what damage he could do?


8. I stick by my words–I believe that Donald Young is for real this time. Read that link to find out why, I think I back up my claim pretty well.

9. I agree with Amy–Richard Gasquet’s backhand in person? HOLY SHIT.

Also, this was my first time being with Gasquet in press, and it was hysterical. Most reporters when asking questions say the gist of the question in their first sentence, then go on and on trying to explain exactly what they’re asking. I do this often. So do many top reporters. It just happens. Most players use this extra time to think about their answer, but Gasquet more often than not would just interrupt the reporter towards the end of their question and rattle off a long-winded, fast-talking, off-the-cuff answer, complete with tons of sighs and shoulder shrugs and eyebrow raises.

It was hysterical and precious and oh-so-very French.

10. Before you crazy Canadians yell at me, I feel like I should admit that I’m working on a feature on Milos, and so I’m just saving my thoughts on him until then, out of courtesy to people who are helping me pay rent.

I will take credit for asking about his hair, though.

11. Once again, the Citi Open was one of the highlights of my summer. It’s such a treat to see so many of my friends in press, get great access to the players, and actually not work from home alone for once. Everyone in the media center was ridiculously accommodating, and I can’t wait to go back next year, if they’ll have me.