By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
ZVEREV RETURNS TO CITI OPEN FINAL
In recent years, the ATP World Tour has turned to its #NextGenATP promotional campaign to market players aged 21 or under who are ranked inside the Top-200.
By definition, 21-year-old Alexander Zverev qualifies. But if you ask Zverev, he’ll tell you he’s not a future star. He’s already a star.
The World No.3 certainly has a case with eight ATP titles including three at the Masters 1000 level.
On Saturday at the Citi Open, the top-seeded Zverev became the first player on Tour to reach 40 match wins as he dispatched one of those #NextGenATP stars, Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-4, in the semifinals.
The No.1 seed and defending champion at the Citi Open is now in position to become the tournament’s first repeat winner since Juan Martin del Potro won in 2008 and 2009.
“I’m playing great here,” said Zverev, who improved to 15-2 lifetime in D.C. “Hopefully I can continue to do so [Sunday] and hopefully in the next few years as well.”
Zverev was the elder statesman among a semifinal quartet that also included Andrey Rublev, 20, as well as Alex de Minaur and Tsitsipas, both 19.
“I think I’m the only one that’s allowed to buy a drink in the U.S., right?” Zverev quipped in his post-match press conference.”
The foursome made this year’s Citi Open the first ATP World Tour event with four 21-or-under semifinalists since 1995.
“It’s good for the next generation,” said Tsitsipas, one of six 21-and-under players ranked in the Top-50.
“I would actually like to see this more often. It’s healthy, the competition, because I’m sure we’re going to be facing each other for many years to come. It’s good to see new players make good results. It’s an evolution to the sport.”
Tsitsipas is ranked No.2 in the ATP’s ‘Race to Milan’ – a yearlong rankings competition with the Top-8 #NextGen players meeting in a season-ending tournament in Italy.
“It makes me more competitive,” he said of the collection of high-end young talent. “It motivates me a bit more to have those guys next to me and seeing the rankings and everything, I simply want to be better than them.”
Tsitsipas still has a ways to go to catch Zverev, who has clearly created separation between himself and the other #NextGen players.
The Citi Open Final will be Zverev’s fifth championship match of the year, as he continues to show that his breakthrough 2017 was no coincidence.
“I’ve improved a lot in the last year,” he said. “I think I’m physically stronger, my game is better and I think I’ve improved in all aspects of my game. Last year was just the beginning and this year I’m proving that I’m actually at this level and playing consistent at all the tournaments that I play.”
Zverev was in control for much of Saturday’s semifinal against Tsitsipas, winning 84 percent of his first-service points and never facing a break-point against.
DE MINAUR RALLIES FOR EPIC COMEBACK:
Zverev will next face de Minaur in Sunday’s Final at 3 p.m. De Minaur saved four match points in a second-set tiebreaker and rallied to beat the No.16 seed Rublev 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-4.
A case could be made that the 2 hour and 52 minute marathon was the best match of the tournament with both players showing themselves incredibly well.
With the win, de Minaur has advanced to his first ATP final and is positioned to crack the Top-50 for the first time in his career when the new rankings are released Monday.
“I always knew that this was going to be an incredibly tough match and I was going to have to dig really deep to get through it,” de Minaur told Tennis Channel. “It’s probably one of my best wins.”
Rublev pulled double duty on Saturday, first defeating Denis Kudla 6-1, 6-4, in a quarterfinal match which had been postponed from Friday, before facing de Minaur in the semifinals.
Zverev and de Minaur have met once before with Zverev defeating the Australian in five sets in a Davis Cup match in February.
A win in Sunday’s Final would allow Zverev to join Tour veterans Roger Federer and Steve Johnson as the only players to win titles on multiple surfaces this season. Zverev has already won a pair of clay court tournaments this year in Munich and Madrid.
MIKE BRYAN RETURNS TO CITI OPEN DOUBLES FINAL:
Sunday’s men’s doubles final will feature Mike Bryan and Edouard Roger-Vasselin against No.4 seed Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares. The men’s doubles final is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Stadium Court.
Bryan and Roger-Vasselin made quick work of Denis Kudla (Arlington, Va.) and Frances Tiafoe (Hyattsville, Md.) on Saturday, beating the local favorites 6-2, 6-3, in 48 minutes in the semifinals.
Bryan, 40, is competing in the Citi Open for the 15th time in his career, but for the first time without his twin brother Bob. Bob Bryan has been sidelined since May with a hip injury that will cause him to miss the remainder of the season.
Mike Bryan is seeking his fifth career Citi Open doubles title.
Sunday’s WTA doubles final will pit No.3 seed Xinyun Han and Darija Jurak against Alexa Guarachi and Erin Routliffe.
KUZNETSOVA SEEKS SECOND CAREER CITI OPEN TITLE:
It’s been a tough year for WTA veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova, who suffered a wrist injury at the U.S. Open last September and missed nearly six months.
The 33-year-old returned to the Tour in March, but had a modest 4-10 record entering the Citi Open. The two-time Grand Slam champion has rediscovered her game this week in D.C., though, and will compete in Sunday’s Final.
Kuznetsova, who won the Citi Open in 2014, has been on cruise control this week losing a total of 14 games across eight sets.
On Saturday, Kuznetsova beat No.8 seed Yulia Putintseva 6-2, 6-2, in a quarterfinal match that began Friday but was suspended due to rain. Hours later, Kuznetsova was back on the court, as she beat Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 6-2 in the semifinals.
The former world No.2, who has seen her ranking dip to No.128, will face Donna Vekic in Sunday’s final. The No.7 seed also played two matches Saturday defeating Magda Linette 6-1, 7-6 (0), in the quarterfinals, before eliminating Saisai Zheng 7-5, 6-3 in the semifinals.
Vekic is seeking he first WTA title of the year and the third of her career.
MEN’S QUARTERFINAL RESULT SATURDAY:
Andrey Rublev (RUS) d. Denis Kudla (USA) 6-1, 6-4
MEN’S SEMIFINAL RESULTS SATURDAY:
 Alexander Zverev (GER) d.  Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) 6-2, 6-4
Alex de Minaur (AUS) d.  Andrey Rublev (RUS) 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-4
WOMEN’S QUARTERFINAL RESULTS SATURDAY:
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) d.  Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) 6-2, 6-2
Saisai Zheng (CHN) d. [Q] Allie Kiick (USA) 6-3, 6-1
 Donna Vekic (CRO) d. Magda Linette (POL) 6-1, 7-6 (0)
WOMEN’S SEMIFINAL RESULTS SATURDAY:
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) d. Andrea Petkovic (GER) 6-2, 6-2
 Donna Vekic (CRO) d. Saisai Zheng (CHN) 7-5, 6-3
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