By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
Defending champion Nick Kyrgios, No.2 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime and hometown favorites Frances Tiafoe and Denis Kudla will be among the headliners Tuesday as main draw play continues at the Citi Open.
Kyrgios is competing in just his fifth event in the last 16 months, but the 2019 DC champion returns to Rock Creek Park with a greater appreciation for life on the Tour.
“I don't take any tournament for granted,” a candid Kyrgios told reporters over the weekend. “I don't take any match for granted any more. Every time I'm at an event, at a special one like this, I don't take any day for granted. I love being around it. I try and soak in as much as I can.”
Kyrgios took it all in two years ago, with swagger and dazzling shot making en route to his sixth career ATP Tour title. Along the way, Kyrgios saved match point in a semifinal win over Stefanos Tsitsipas, before ultimately dispatching Daniil Medvedev in the final. Without the benefit of a first-round bye in 2019, Kyrgios became the rare DC champion to win six matches in six days.
On Tuesday, the 26-year-old Aussie will begin his Citi Open title defense in earnest when he takes on American Mackenzie McDonald in the first of two evening matches on Stadium Court.
“Definitely feels like home,” Kyrgios said of his Washington return. “The first time I came on-site today, everyone was kind of embracing me. Felt like I was playing almost in Australia. I feel completely comfortable here.”
Kyrgios couldn’t have looked any more comfortable in 2019, even getting the crowd involved at critical junctures of his matches, asking fans where he should place his serve on given points. It’s a tactic Kyrgios has since repeated at the few events he has played in the two years since.
“I think that's for sure my favorite part of being back on tour, just seeing the fans,” he said, “seeing the support.”
AUGER-ALIASSIME LOOKS TO BUILD OFF WIMBLEDON RUN
Also on Tuesday, No.2 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime opens his 2021 Citi Open account with a second-round match against Italy’s Andreas Seppi. Auger-Aliassime and Seppi are the scheduled as the second afternoon match on Stadium Court. Seppi defeated Auger-Aliassime in their only prior meeting on Tour – a first-round match at this year’s French Open.
Currently ranked No.15, Auger-Aliassime is the youngest player ranked inside the world’s top-20. The eight-time ATP Tour finalist turns 21 on Sunday and could celebrate in style this week with his maiden pro title.
Auger-Aliassime arrives in Washington fresh off his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon. The Montreal native and NextGen ATP Star began working with legendary coach Toni Nadal earlier this year.
Another NextGen ATP Star, 12th-seeded American Sebastian Korda, will face Canadian and 2014 Citi Open finalist Vasek Pospisil in a second-round match on John Harris Court. Korda will be making his Washington debut, in the same venue where his father Petr Korda was crowned champion in 1992.
LOCAL FAVORITES KUDLA, TIAFOE ALSO ON STADIUM COURT
Local favorites and JTCC alums Denis Kudla (Arlington, Va.) and Frances Tiafoe (Hyattsville, Md.) will bookend the quartet of matches on Stadium Court Tuesday.
Kudla, a 2018 Citi Open quarterfinalist, faces wild card Feliciano Lopez of Spain in the first match of the day at 2 p.m. Lopez, 39, is the elder statesman in this year’s draw but the Tour vet continues to impress with an active streak of 19 consecutive years finishing inside the ATP’s Top-100.
The winner of the Kudla-Lopez match will advance to face American Taylor Fritz in the second-round on Wednesday.
Tiafoe will fittingly be featured in primetime as the 23-year-old fan favorite takes on rising American wild card Jenson Brooksby. Brooksby, 20, advanced to the second round Monday with a straight-sets win over 2017 Citi Open finalist Kevin Anderson.
Tiafoe is making his fifth career Citi Open appearance but is still seeking his first trip to the quarterfinals at his hometown tournament. The 16th-seed is oozing with confidence this summer, though, after winning a Challenger title in Nottingham and reaching the quarterfinals at Queen’s and the third round at Wimbledon. Tiafoe’s first-round triumph over No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas at the All-England Club was the first of his career against a Top-5 player.
“To have that many wins in a short span was really nice,” Tiafoe said. “To beat a high-caliber player in a major, and very much convincingly, that gives you a lot of confidence. I'm just ready for what's next.
Tiafoe anticipates an electric atmosphere on Stadium Court where capacity crowds are expected throughout the week.
“Walking around the grounds, you feel the energy,” he said. “They are going to get super behind me all week. It's going to be a super fun week. I'm really excited. Hopefully I can go for a nice run here. That would definitely mean a lot to me. This is one of my staples of the year, so I'm ready for it.”
Click Here to Read More: Frances Tiafoe At Home At Citi Open: “I’m Ready”
MOVING ON: 2015 CHAMP NISHIKORI AND AMERICAN WILD CARD SOCK
Former world No.4 Kei Nishikori has been coming to Washington since 2007, and not even a quarterfinals appearance at the Tokyo Games last week could keep him from returning in 2021.
Despite the quick turnaround, the travel and the time difference, Nishikori looked just fine Monday night as he beat American Sam Querrey 6-4, 6-4 in a first-round match on Stadium Court.
“I was really tired after coming from Japan and wasn’t sure if I’d be ready today,” Nishikori said in an on-court interview following the win. “But on the court, I was fine, playing really good tennis. First match is never easy. I wasn’t expecting 100 percent, but I hope I can keep going like this.”
Nishikori held serve throughout the match and broke Querrey three times to set up a second-round showdown with ninth-seeded Alexander Bublik.
The 2015 Citi Open champ is making his eighth career appearance in DC and has reached at least the quarterfinals in each of his last four trips.
The nightcap on Stadium Court came to a premature end when Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka was forced to retire with a leg injury during his first-round match against American wild card Jack Sock.
Nishioka took the first set 7-6 (3) in 75 minutes, but after multiple visits with medical staff and facing an 0-4 second-set deficit, the Washington Kastles alum couldn’t continue.
Sock will next face Rafael Nadal on Stadium Court on Wednesday.
“He’s obviously come up early to get matches on hardcourt,” Sock said in his post-match on-court interview. “I’m working my way back [from injuries], so hopefully not too much rust on the court and hopefully an exciting, fun match.”
Sock was a Top-10 player as recently as 2017, but injuries and the Tour’s pandemic pause in 2020 have made for a limited schedule over the past few years. Since 2019, Sock has played a total of 12 ATP Tour main-draw matches. His 2021 itinerary has primarily been made up of matches on the Challenger circuit.
Now ranked just inside the Top-200, Sock is dependent on wildcards, like the one he received from the Citi Open, to compete on Tour and build his ranking back up.
“For me, if you had told me a couple of years ago that I’d be back in this position playing one of the greats of all-time, I’d have taken it any day of the week. So, I’m going to go out and try to prove myself again and see what happens.”
ORDER OF PLAY | Tuesday, August 3, 2021
STADIUM COURT matches start 2:00 pm
First Round - D. Kudla (USA) vs [WC] F. Lopez (ESP)
Second Round - A. Seppi (ITA) vs  F. Auger-Aliassime (CAN)
Not Before 7:00 pm
First Round - M. McDonald (USA) vs N. Kyrgios (AUS)
Second Round -  F. Tiafoe (USA) vs K. Anderson (RSA) or [WC] J. Brooksby (USA)
JOHN HARRIS COURT start 2:00 pm
First Round - T. Sandgren (USA) vs J. Duckworth (AUS)
Second Round - V. Pospisil (CAN) vs  S. Korda (USA)
First Round - [WC] S. Querrey (USA) / J. Sock (USA) vs G. Dimitrov (BUL) / T. Paul (USA)
First Round -  R. Klaasen (RSA) / B. McLachlan (JPN) vs A. Bublik (KAZ) / A. Golubev (KAZ)
GRANDSTAND COURT start 2:00 pm
First Round - [WC] B. Nakashima (USA) vs A. Popyrin (AUS)
First Round - S. Johnson (USA) vs [Q] R. Ramanathan (IND)
Second Round - M. Giron (USA) vs  C. Norrie (GBR)
First Round - After Suitable Rest - S. Korda (USA) / J. Sinner (ITA) vs [Q] B. Paire (FRA) / J. Withrow (USA)
COURT 4 start 2:00 pm
First Round - [Q] P. Gunneswaran (IND) vs E. Ruusuvuori (FIN)
First Round - [Q] E. Ymer (SWE) vs J. Thompson (AUS)
Second Round -  M. Kecmanovic (SRB) vs R. Berankis (LTU)