By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
It’s been 15 years since an American male last won the Citi Open – the longest drought in tournament history – but several U.S. contenders remain in the mix with this year’s field down to the Round-of-16.
Six of the eight men’s matches today include an American, as U.S. No.1 Taylor Fritz, local favorite Frances Tiafoe, plus Reilly Opelka, Maxime Cressy, Sebastian Korda and wild card J.J. Wolf all look to punch their tickets into the quarterfinals.
Playing before a sold-out Stadium Court on Wednesday night, Tiafoe (Hyattsville, MD.) did not disappoint in his 2022 Citi Open debut. Tiafoe took the opening set in just 27 minutes and ultimately held on for a 6-3, 7-6(2) win over American wild-card Christopher Eubanks.
“I'm just more locked in,” said Tiafoe, who is coming off a semifinal appearance last week in Atlanta and recently reached the Round-of-16 at Wimbledon for the first time.
With the win, Tiafoe has advanced to the third round at the Citi Open for the second straight year and for the third time overall. Still seeking an elusive quarterfinals appearance at his hometown tournament, Tiafoe will next face Dutch No.1 Botic van de Zandschulp with a berth in the Final-8 at stake.
“I want to be on Sunday holding the trophy,” Tiafoe said before his opening match. “I got big aspirations. But I think my game is there. I think I'm there physically.”
While Tiafoe has been a fan favorite for years, van de Zandschulp has enjoyed an incredible breakthrough over the past 12 months. Late last summer, while still ranked outside the Top-100, van de Zandschulp became just the third male qualifier in US Open history to reach the quarterfinals.
Raucous crowds typically follow Tiafoe in DC – he says he received requests for 56 tickets ahead of his opening match- and a packed house is anticipated Thursday when he and van de Zandschulp take to the more intimate John Harris Court for the third match of the day.
Fans may be best served to get to John Harris early to secure the best possible seats at the general admission assembly.
No.7 Karen Khachanov and Washington Kastles alum Yoshihito Nishioka begin the festivities at 12 p.m. Nishioka reached the third round by saving a match point and beating No.11-seed and recent Atlanta champion Alex de Minaur 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-2 on Wednesday.
The second match of the day on John Harris, features No.1 American Taylor Fritz against 16th-seeded Daniel Evans.
FRITZ ROLLS ALONG DESPITE FOOT ISSUE:
Competing for the first time since reaching his maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal last month at Wimbledon, Fritz beat Australian Alexei Popyrin 6-4, 6-3 on Wednesday. Fritz revealed post-match that he’s been dealing with a stress fracture in his foot and spent some time in a walking boot soon before training for Washington.
“Coming into the tournament, not really sure how my foot was going to feel, I have to be really happy with how it felt and how I played,” he said after his opening match. “Considering the preparation leading in, I felt it was a really solid match.”
DOUBLE DOSE OF KYRIOS ON STADIUM:
Fans on Stadium Court will get a double dose of Nick Kyrgios Thursday as he looks to advance in both the singles and doubles draws. First in singles, the 2019 Citi Open champ will face No.4 Reilly Opelka in the third match of the day on Stadium.
Kyrgios reached the Round-of-16 with a 6-3, 6-4 win over 14th-seeded Tommy Paul in the nightcap on Stadium Wednesday. Opelka advanced by rallying for a 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-4 over local product and JTCC alum Denis Kudla (Arlington, Va.). Opelka owns a 2-0 edge over Kyrgios in their ATP Head2Head encounters with both meetings having come within the past year.
Kyrgios and partner Jack Sock will look to reach the semifinals in men’s doubles when they play the final match of the night on Stadium against the French tandem of Nicholas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
The evening session begins with No.1 seed Andrey Rublev taking on American Maxime Cressy. Cressy rallied to beat Sock 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 Wednesday in his first match since capturing his maiden ATP title last month in Newport.
YOUTH WILL BE SERVED:
Youth will also be served in the men’s draw Thursday as #NextGenATP star Hulger Rune takes on American wild card J.J. Wolf.
The No.9-seed Rune is the youngest player in the men’s field and the 19-year-old is looking for history to repeat itself this week in DC.
A year ago, a then-19-year-old Jannik Sinner was the youngest player in the men’s field, and he ultimately left town as the third youngest champion in the tournament’s 52-year history.
Rune is looking to make it back-to-back teenage champs and the World No.28 took the first step Wednesday as he cruised past Tour veteran Benoit Paire of France 6-3, 6-2 in the opening match on the Grandstand.
The Danish No.1 is up to No.4 in the Race to Milan standings and will meet Wolf, 23, in the fourth match of the day on John Harris.
Wolf cracked the Top-100 for the first time on Monday and entered the Citi Open a career-high No.99. The Ohio State alum battled Wednesday on a packed Grandstand as he held off No.6 Denis Shapovalov of Canada 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3 in a 2-hour and 17-minute thriller.
SEEDS FALL IN BOTTOM QUARTER:
The bottom quarter of the men’s draw is suddenly wide open with three of the four seeds in the quarter having fallen in the Round-of-32.
Emil Ruusuvuori scored the first win over a seeded player in the men’s draw, as he beat No.2 Hubert Hurkacz 6-4, 7-6(3) in the opening match Wednesday on Stadium.
Ruusuvuori saved all four break points he faced against the World No.11, punching his ticket into the Round-of-16 after an hour and 44 minutes in the heat and humidity.
Ruusuvuori, 23, will next face Mikael Ymer of Sweden at 12 p.m. Thursday on the Grandstand. Ymer followed his win over former World No.1 Andy Murray on Monday with another three-set triumph as he held off No.15 seed Aslan Karatsev 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
Elsewhere in the bottom quarter of the draw, No.5 Grigor Dimitrov will face rising American Sebastian Korda. Korda advanced into the third round with a 6-1, 6-4 triumph over No.12 Sebastian Baez of Argentina.