With the Citi Open underway, we recently spoke with longtime Tennis Channel host and DMV native Brett Haber for his take on several Americans worth watching in Rock Creek Park. The Tennis Channel will once again have wall-to-wall coverage of the Citi Open beginning Monday at 12:00 p.m. ET.
CITI OPEN: TAYLOR FRITZ HAS HAD A TERRIFIC RUN OF SUCCESS –WITH TITLES AT INDIAN WELLS AND EASTBOURNE AND A QUARTERFINALS APPEARANCE AT WIMBLEDON. WAS THIS JUST THE NATURAL PROGRESSION FOR A PLAYER WITH HIS POTENTIAL OR HAS ANYTHING CHANGED THIS YEAR?
BRETT HABER: I think for Taylor this has been coming for a long time. I think his progression has been very orderly. The kid has one of the most buttoned-up tennis pedigrees that we’ve seen in a while- his mom was a Top-10 player, his dad and his uncle were both on Tour and he’s got a great group of coaches around him. Paul Anacone has been consulting for a few years and he’s added Michael Russell this year, who as a player was one of the hardest workers and one of the biggest maximizers. Combining that with the work that David Nankin did with him over the years, he just checks all the boxes.
I think starting last year when he injured his knee at Roland Garros and then came back three weeks later to make the third round of Wimbledon, it just showed how determined he is. And he hasn’t let up on all surfaces.
He’s got every tool. I think the fact that he’s now a career-high 12 in the world, I think is where people expect him to be and stay.
Will he win a Grand Slam? That’s the question everyone asks and it’s hard to say. They’ve been fairly well-dominated the last 15-18 years by three guys, but the fact that he was in a quarterfinal at Wimbledon and a smidge away from a semifinal, I think you can expect to see him there in Slams on a fairly consistent basis going forward.
CO: JENSEN BROOKSBY EARNED MANY FANS LAST SUMMER IN REACHING THE CITI OPEN SEMIFINALS WITH A PRETTY UNORTHODOX GAME. WHAT STANDS OUT FROM HIS ASCENT OVER THE PAST 12 MONTHS AND THE UNIQUE STYLE HE BRINGS?
BH: Making that semifinal here came on the heels of making the final at Newport a few weeks earlier, so he had a really nice summer and he backed it up by reaching the fourth round at the U.S. Open. He’s continued to post good results, he’s had a couple of injuries, he had a COVID diagnosis at the start of the year that derailed his preparation- he missed the Australian Open- but he made the Round-of-16 at both stops on the Sunshine double.
He’s such a joy to watch. He’s so different. He hits super hard and flat off both wings. He’s got that two-handed slice, he’s got two hands on the backhand volley and he drop shots like crazy. He’s not a textbook player, but in a world where today’s tennis stylistically can be pretty homogenous, having a guy who plays differently like this can be disruptive to opponents.
It seems like the one X-factor with him is whether he can get a little more value out of his first serve. He’s 6’4” and his first serve doesn’t generally break 110MPH. There are some technical things I’ve heard our analysts say can be fixed. Andy Roddick has said if he can have the kid for three days and do a serving camp, he’d fix the whole thing and he’s be a world beater.
He’s fun to watch and a really nice kid. Different can be disruptive [to an opponent] and he’s different.
CO: LOCAL FAVORITE FRANCES TIAFOE REACHED HIS FIRST CAREER 500-LEVEL FINAL LAST FALL IN VIENNA AND HAS BEEN RANKED AS HIGH AS NO.25 IN THE WORLD. AS HE RETURNS TO HIS HOMETOWN TOURNAMENT, CAN HE MAKE AN ELUSIVE DEEP RUN HERE IN WASHINGTON?
BH: I confess, I’m in the bag for Frances. I love the kid. Obviously I’m partial to him being a DC guy, I’ve known him since he was a [little guy]. I had the pleasure of calling his first Tour level match at the Citi Open when he got a wild card as a teenager [in 2014]. We’ve been watching him for a long time.
His smile is contagious. He’s a great attitude guy. I think he’s figured out how to be more professional about his tennis and treat it as the vocation that it needs to be. I think he’s a more dedicated practice player. I think he knows what he wants to get out of his career now and he knows that even though he’s immensely talented, and he is, at this level it’s not enough. So, he’s putting in the work.
I think the potential for a [win] at home is there, but it’s a mixed bag- it comes with pressure, everybody knows him and everybody is wanting him to do well. But I think he’s comfortable in his own skin now. I think he knows how to process that adulation- not get too high, not get too low. He had a nice run into the second week at Wimbledon, lost a tough five-setter to [David] Goffin, who is a tough customer. I think he can absolutely make a run [in Washington] and I urge our DC fans to get out and get behind this kid. If you’re looking for professional athletes to like, you would not be misplacing your support behind this kid.
CO: JESSICA PEGULA EARNED HER FIRST CAREER WTA TITLE HERE IN 2019. THAT SEEMINGLY SERVEDAS A SPRINGBOARD FOR HER CAREER AS SHE’S CONTINUED TO MAKE DEEP RUNS ON ALL SURFACES AND IS NOW THE NO.1 AMERICAN. WHAT STANDS OUT FROM HER RISE OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS?
BH: She’s one of the players that has made a renewed commitment to being the best athlete that she can be. She has, over the past few years, improved her fitness immensely. The dividends for that has been evident. She’s also hooked up with David Witt as her coach- he was Venus Williams’ coach for a really long time- and they seem to have a very constructive partnership. She’s just super steady. She has enough power, is a pretty flat hitter and just hits a devastating backhand down the line. And she’s showing herself to be really confident on all surfaces- semis in Miami on a hardcourt, finals in Madrid on a fast clay court, quarters at Rolland Garros on a slower clay court. She’s the No.1 American now.
If, as a DC person, you can get past someone with a family that owns the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres, then there’s no reason not to support here.
We kid, of course, but she’s a great player and I love her story. Kid of a billionaire, doesn’t need it right? Need can be a great motivator. But she wants to do the work because she enjoys the work and respects the sport.
She’s worked immensely hard to come back from a series of injuries and to improve herself. I think there’s a lot to admire. Listen, tennis doesn’t know what your bank account says and there’s a lot to admire in players who create something out of difficulty, but it’s fair to also admire someone who has done something coming from a position of advantage where she maybe didn’t have to work as hard as she has and to deliver on that promise, but she has.