Citi Open Headliners Look for Success in the Third Grand Slam of the Season
By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
The year’s third Grand Slam begins in earnest Monday as the European grass-court season culminates at Wimbledon. Main draw play begins Monday at 11:00 a.m. local time in England.
On the men's side, it’s been 17 years since a player outside ‘The Big 4' (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray) has won the singles title, but several Citi Open headliners have reason to believe they could triumph at the All-England Club in the coming weeks.
In the women's draw, Americans Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and Sofia Kenin are among the Citi Open stars who will be seeking a first career Wimbledon crown.
Six of the top 11 seeds in the men's draw and nine of the top 16 seeds will be in D.C. this summer. Below are several Wimbledon storylines featuring some of the Citi Open’s best.
TSITSIPAS SEEKS GRAND SLAM BREAKTHROUGH AT WIMBLEDON
World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas has impressed at the first two Grand Slams this year, reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open in January and advancing to the Round of 16 at Roland Garros in June. The Greek phenom opens his Wimbledon account on Monday with a first-round showdown against Italy’s Thomas Fabbiano. Tsitsipas beat Fabbiano in straight sets in the Round of 32 a year ago in their only prior meeting as pros.
Tsitsipas, seeded seventh at The Championships, could face 2016 Citi Open finalist Ivo Karlovic in Round 2, No. 30 seed Kyle Edmond in Round 3 and either No.11 Daniil Medvedev or No. 21 David Goffin in the Round of 16. All four of those players will in D.C. in late July.
GRASS-COURT COMEBACKS FOR ANDERSON AND ISNER
Kevin Anderson and John Isner have much in common. The 6’8” Anderson and 6’10” Isner are two of the tallest players on the ATP Tour. Both played collegiately – Anderson at University of Illinois; Isner at the University of Georgia – before turning pro in 2007. Both are among the game’s hardest servers and both have been finalists at the Citi Open; Isner in 2007, 2013 and 2015; Anderson in 2017.
Now they have something else in common. After missing the clay-court season due to injuries, both Anderson and Isner have returned in time for Wimbledon – where both had their greatest Grand Slam showings just last year. An elbow injury has limited Anderson to just one tournament since the Miami Masters in March, but thanks in part to a successful showing on grass last year, he is seeded fourth at the All-England Club this year.
Anderson, 33, reached the Wimbledon final last year after defeating Isner, 34, in an epic five-set marathon in the semifinals. Anderson took the final set 26-24 in the second longest match in Wimbledon history. The semifinal appearance for Isner was a career-best at a Slam.
Despite the advantage of a No. 4 seed this year, Anderson has a tough first-round challenge on Monday as he’ll face another Citi Open player, Pierre-Hughes Herbert of France. Herbert (World No. 38) recently reached the semifinals at the Noventi Open in Halle. Anderson defeated Herbert in their only previous meeting- the Winston-Salem final in 2015.
Isner, the No. 9 seed, will face Norway’s Casper Ruud in his first-round match on Tuesday. The top-ranked American will be competing for the first time since suffering a fractured foot during the final of the Miami Masters in March. This will be his first career match against Ruud. Should Isner advance, he could face No. 8 Kei Nishikori in the Round of 16 in a rematch of the 2015 Citi Open final.
KENIN LOOKS TO CONTINUE SPRING MOMENTUM
American Sofia Kenin began her 2019 campaign in style with a doubles crown with Genie Bouchard in Auckland followed by her first career WTA singles title a week later at the Hobart International. The 20-year-old has been on a rapid ascent ever since with an upset of Serena Williams in the third round at the French Open among the highlights. In June, Kenin saved three championship points to beat fellow Citi Open headliner Belinda Bencic for the title at the Mallorca Open. Thanks to her recent run of success, Kenin is ranked a career-best No. 28 in the world and will be seeded at a Grand Slam for the first time in her career. The No. 27 seed will face Australian Astra Sharma in opening round play on Monday. Should Kenin advance, she could face No. 2 seed and 2018 US Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round.
KEI NISHIKORI SEEKS MILESTONE AND DEEP RUN
World No. 7 Kei Nishikori has been the model of consistency on the Grand Slam stage, having reached at least the quarterfinals at each of the last four Majors. Only Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal can claim the same over the last 12 months. That’s good company for Nishikori to keep, but unlike Djokovic and Nadal, the No. 7 seed at Wimbledon hasn’t played for a Grand Slam title since reaching the 2014 US Open final.
Nishikori’s quest for a maiden trip to the Wimbledon final begins Tuesday with a first-round match against Thiago Monteiro of Brazil. The 2015 Citi Open champion, who is in the same quarter as Roger Federer, could face Britain’s Cameron Norrie in Round 2 and 2018 Citi Open semifinalist Alex de Minaur in the third round. De Minaur, the No. 25 seed, will also be in Washington this summer.
Should Nishikori, 29, reach the Round of 16, he would become the 18th active player on the ATP Tour to secure 400 career match wins.
AMERICAN MEN LOOK TO END GRAND SLAM DROUGHT
Andy Roddick remains the last American male to win a Grand Slam singles title (2003 US Open), but Isner and fellow Citi Open commits Sam Querrey, Reilly Opelka, Frances Tiafoe and Denis Kudla will be among those looking to end the drought over the next two weeks.
Querrey enters Wimbledon with plenty of momentum having reached the Nature Valley International final this past week in Eastbourne. While Wimbledon has been kind to Querrey in the past, the 2016 quarterfinalist and 2017 semifinalist has been dealt a tough hand to begin this year’s tournament. Querrey will face No. 5 Dominic Thiem on Tuesday in one of the more highly anticipated first-round matches. The winner of that match could face 21-year-old Russian and 2018 Citi Open semifinalist Andrey Rublev in Round 2. Rublev will also be back in Rock Creek Park this summer.
Tiafoe (Hyattsville, Md.) faces No. 12 Fabio Fognini in a first-round match on Tuesday. Tiafoe, 21, reached the third round at Wimbledon last year and had his best showing at a Grand Slam in January when he advanced to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open. Should Tiafoe advance at Wimbledon this year, the Washington Kastles star could face another Citi Open player, No. 20 Gilles Simon, in Round 3 with either Thiem or Querrey as a potential opponent in the Round of 16.
Kudla (Arlington, Va.) faces Malek Jaziri of Tunisia in Round 1 on Monday with the winner all but assured a second-round date with No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
The 6’11” Opelka, who won the Junior Boys’ title at Wimbledon in 2015, faces German qualifier Cedrik-Marcel Stebe in his first-round match. Potential clashes with No. 22 Stan Wawrinka (R2) and No. 15 Milos Raonic (R3) await Opelka should he move on.
KING FELIX’ READY FOR MEN’S WIMBLEDON DEBUT
With Canada celebrating its 152nd birthday on Monday, it’s worth noting that Tennis Canada’s latest rising star, Felix Auger-Aliassime, was ranked 152nd in the world at this time last year.
Twelve months later, Auger-Aliassime is the youngest player ranked in the Top 25 since Lleyton Hewitt in 1999. Auger-Aliassime, 18, has made quite the ascent over the past year highlighted by finals appearances in Rio, Lyon and Stuttgart plus a run to the semifinals at the Miami Masters. Given how much success Auger-Aliassime has enjoyed this year, it’s easy to forget that he’s still only played one match at a Grand Slam (2018 US Open). The Montreal native would have been seeded at the French Open in May, but he had to withdraw due to a groin injury. ‘King Felix’ returned for the grass-court season in June, reaching the final in Stuttgart and the semifinals at Queen’s.
Now Auger-Aliassime will make his maiden Wimbledon appearance in the men’s draw as the No. 19 seed. Fittingly on Canada Day, he will face compatriot and 2014 Citi Open finalist Vasek Pospisil in his first-round match on Monday. Should Auger-Aliassime prevail, he could face Grigor Dimitrov in the second round, and either No. 16 Gael Monfils or fellow #NextGen ATP player Ugo Humbert in the third round.
Along with Auger-Aliassime, fellow Citi Open headliners Milos Raonic (No. 15) and Denis Shapovalov (No. 29) are also seeded at Wimbledon, marking the first time in the Open Era that three Canadians will be seeded at the All-England Club.
Raonic faces Wimbledon newbie Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India in his first-round match on Monday, while Shapovalov faces another Citi Open player in Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania in a first-round showdown on Tuesday. Raonic has shown a knack for playing some of his best tennis at Wimbledon, including a run to the semifinals in 2014 and an appearance in the final in 2016. Shapovalov can also draw on some positive memories, having captured the Junior Boys’ title in 2016.
On the women’s side, Canadian Genie Bouchard is among the Citi Open hopefuls seeking a deep run at Wimbledon. Bouchard, who reached the final at Wimbledon in 2014, faces Tamara Zidansek in her first-round match on Tuesday.
AMERICANS STEPHENS, KEYS ALSO AMONG CONTENDERS
If American Sloane Stephens is to make a deep run at the All-England Club, she may have to get past a familiar foe along the way. Stephens is seeded ninth at Wimbledon and will face Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland in the first round on Tuesday.
Should Stephens, who has championship aspirations, win her first two matches, she could face No. 19 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain in the Round of 32. Stephens and Konta have met three times in 2019, including most recently in the French Open quarterfinals. The top-ranked American and 2015 Citi Open champion has reached at least the Round of 16 in four of the last five Majors with last year’s first-round exit at Wimbledon being the exception.
Fellow American Madison Keys, who Stephens defeated in the 2017 US Open final, has shown tremendous consistency on the Grand Slam stage, but is still seeking an elusive Major title. Keys has reached the fourth round in six of the last seven Majors with last year’s third-round exit at Wimbledon the exception. The 24-year-old is seeded 17th at The Championships this year and could face five-time Wimbledon champ Venus Williams in the third round this year.
DON'T MISS SEVERAL OTHER ROUND 1 MATCHES AT WIMBLEDON
FEATURING TWO CITI OPEN PLAYERS
No.13 Marin Cilic (CRO) vs. Adrian Mannarino (FRA)
No.16 Gael Monfils (FRA) vs. Ugo Humbert (FRA): The top-ranked Frenchman and 2016 Citi Open champ takes on his potential successor in the rising 20-year-old star
No.29 Denis Shapovalov (CAN) vs. Ricardas Berankis (LTU)
Nick Kyrgios (AUS) vs. Jordan Thompson (AUS): Winner could face No.3 seed Rafael Nadal in RD2