By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
It’s been 14 years since Andy Roddick won his third Washington title, yet the long-since retired Roddick remains the last American male to win the Citi Open. It is the longest drought for a U.S. champ in tournament history.
But as top seeds Rafael Nadal and Felix Auger-Aliassime have garnered much attention this week, a rising crop of young Americans are also making noise in Rock Creek Park.
With this year’s field down to the Round-of-16, seven Americans are still vying for the DC title. They represent the largest contingent of Americans remaining at this stage of the draw in D.C. since 1993.
The group ranges from Tour veterans Steve Johnson, 31, and Denis Kudla, 28, to ATP Next-Gen Stars Sebastian Korda, Jenson Brooksby and Brandon Nakashima.
Korda, 21, is the most advanced of the three up-and-comers. He arrived in Washington ranked a career-high No.45 in the world and fresh off his maiden fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon.
“I've had a really good year so far,” Korda said this week.
“A year ago I was ranked 220 in the world, now I'm in the top 50 and competing for tournaments. The process has been sped up super-fast. I really noticed that after Wimbledon. I kind of sat down and just thought about the year, how it's gone. Just super happy with how everything's going.”
The 12th-seeded Korda reached the Round-of-16 with a straight-sets win over 2014 Citi Open finalist Vasek Pospisil on Tuesday. Today, he’ll next face his doubles partner, the fifth-seeded Jannik Sinner at 2 p.m. on Stadium Court with a berth in the quarterfinals at stake.
Korda’s rapid ascent on Tour is hardly going unnoticed. Soon after practicing with Nadal on Stadium Court last weekend, the 20-time Grand Slams lauded Korda’s game.
“I think he’s a complete player,” Nadal said. “He has a lot of things to do in the next years in our sport. I always believed since I saw him play that he’s going to have the chance to be one of the best players in the world… He’s going to be a great one.”
Korda says he and the other rising Americans feed off each other and that their success is contagious.
“We have a really good group right now,” Korda said, whose father Petr Korda, won the Washington title in 1992.
“We all want to be the No. 1 American. I think we're really pushing each other and it's really showing because we've all had some really good results this year.”
Brooksby, 20, is making the most of his Washington wild card, defeating 2017 Citi Open finalist Kevin Anderson and stunning hometown favorite Frances Tiafoe in straight sets on Stadium Court.
The world No.130 is into the third round of an ATP 500-level event for the first time in his career.
Brooksby will face the stiffest challenge of his career to date when he meets world No.15 Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second afternoon match today on Stadium Court.
Nakashima, who turned 20 on Tuesday and is the youngest American inside the world top-100, is quietly among the hottest players on Tour.
The world No.89 and University of Virginia product reached the finals in back-to-back weeks in Los Cabos and Atlanta, and advanced to the third-round here in Washington with a 7-6, 6-0 win over No.6 seed Daniel Evans on Wednesday.
“It definitely feels great right now,” said Nakashima, who has won 10 of his last 12 matches.
“Having all this confidence from playing all these matches, going deep in tournaments has been good for me. I’m sure every player would want to have this feeling right now of playing well and winning all these matches. I’m just trying to embrace it as much as possible.”
Nakashima will next face Kudla (Arlington, Va.) in an All-American Round-of-16 match at 2 p.m. today on John Harris Court. Kudla, who has yet to lose a service game this week, beat No.10 Taylor Fritz 6-4, 6-2 on Wednesday. The JTCC alum will now look to match his best result at his hometown tournament- a quarterfinals appearance in 2018.
Other Americans advancing into the Round-of-16 included No.8 seed Reilly Opelka and Mackenzie McDonald. Opelka beat Daniel Elahi Galan 7-6(1), 6-3. McDonald outlasted No.13 seed Benoit Paire 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-4 on John Harris Court.