By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
In a tournament that featured some of the game’s brightest young stars, Alexander Zverev proved again that he is, without question, the best of his peer group.
It may not be long before he’s the best, period.
Sunday in Rock Creek Park, Zverev, 21, earned his second consecutive Citi Open title, beating 19-year-old Alex de Minaur 6-2, 6-4, in 74 minutes. It was the youngest combined age of two ATP World Tour finalists since 2007.
“Sascha Zverev is the future of pro tennis,”said tournament co-founder and Chairman Donald Dell during the post-match trophy ceremony.
“He’s chasing [Roger] Federer and [Rafael] Nadal for the No.1 spot.”
In winning his third ATP title of 2018 - Zverev solidified his hold on the World No.3 ranking. He said it was an honor to win the Citi Open during its 50th anniversary season and appreciated the high praise from Dell.
“It’s great to hear it from someone like him,” said Zverev who improved to 16-2 in Washington across four appearances.
“He’s well respected in our sport; he’s a Hall-of-Famer. But I think it wasn’t only me that was the future of tennis this week. Everyone in the semifinals, they’re all younger than me.”
Zverev was in fact the elder statesman during Saturday’s semifinals which also included Stefanos Tsitsipas, 19, and Andrey Rublev, 20. It was the first ATP World Tour event since 1995 with four semifinalists all aged 21-or-under.
“There’s amazing potential,” Zverev said. “It’s going to be interesting to see who will win the biggest titles.”
For now, Zverev is the leader in the clubhouse. Sunday’s win gave him nine career ATP titles, although he is still chasing his first Grand Slam.
“Roger and Rafa are still the best out there,” said Zverev, who has a combined record of 2-8 against Federer and Nadal.
“They’re still winning the Grand Slams and they’re still winning the biggest titles, which I’ve competed for. I’ve won Masters titles, but I haven’t won a Grand Slam. So, saying I’m at their level wouldn’t be fair to them.”
Zverev will get his next shot at that elusive first Grand Slam title later this month at the U.S. Open. His performance in Washington is just the latest refresher of his potential.
The No.1 seed was in total control in Sunday’s final breaking de Minaur in the opening game and leading the rest of the way. Zverev fired six aces, lost only two points on his first serve and never faced a break point against.
“Today he came out blazing,” said de Minaur, who was seeking his first career ATP title. “He was too good for me.”
Zverev joined Andre Agassi (1990-1991 and 1998-1999), Michael Chang (1996-1997) and Juan Martin del Potro (2008 and 2009) as the only players to win back-to-back titles in D.C.
“It shows the mental strength,” Zverev said of successfully defending a title. “And it shows a little bit of maturity as well. Obviously, I had a great tournament, beat good players; lost only one set.”
DE MINAUR TAKES ‘HUGE STEP’
Despite dropping the final, de Minaur also leaves Washington pleased with his effort.
After saving four match points against Rublev in an epic semifinal Saturday night, the Australian is set to hit a career-high ranking of No.45.
“I’m really proud of myself,” he said. “I played some very high-level matches. It’s a new experience for me,” he said. “It’s been a huge week for me. It’s a huge step.”
While Zverev will head to the Rogers Cup in Toronto as he looks to defend his Canadian Masters title, de Minaur will take the next two weeks off before playing in Winston Salem and the U.S. Open.
De Minaur said he’ll get a boost of confidence after this week’s performance and that the continued success of Zverev could also work in his favor.
“It’s great to see someone like him do as well as he has,” said de Minaur, who dropped a five-set match to Zverev in Davis Cup play in February.
“It just gives you the fire to try to replicate the success he’s had. That’s something that, looking forward, I want to do. I’m looking forward to getting better and replicating what he’s been able to do at such a young age.”
MURRAY AND SOARES TAKE MEN’S DOUBLES CROWN:
The fourth-seeded doubles tandem of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares rallied from a set down to beat Mike Bryan and Edouard Roger-Vasselin 3-6, 6-3, 10-4 to win the men’s doubles championship.
It was the second title of the season for Murray and Soares and their eighth overall since they started playing together in 2016.
Mike Bryan, 40, was making his 15th Citi Open appearance and seeking a record fifth career Washington title. It was Bryan’s first appearance in D.C. without twin brother Bob, who is out for the season with a hip injury.
SVETLANA KUZNETSOVA MADE IT A 'PERFECT 10' IN WASHINGTON
Kuznetsova has played 10 matches at the Citi Open dating back to 2014 and has never lost.
Her latest triumph came Sunday evening as the former World No.2 saved four match points in a second-set tiebreaker and rallied to beat No.7 seed Donna Vekic 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2, in the women’s final on Stadium Court.
“There’s something happening here in Washington,” Kuznetsova said. “I’ve been here two times and I won both [tournaments].”
Kuznetsova has been on the comeback trail for much of the 2018 season after missing six months with a wrist injury. She returned in March, but the two-time Grand Slam champion has seen her ranking drop to No.128 and she arrived in D.C. with a modest 4-10 record entering the Citi Open.
“It’s been very rough times for me,” Kuznetsova said. “I had my first surgery and I hadn’t made a [victory] speech in two years.”
The 33-year-old impressed throughout the week, though. Kuznetsova only dropped 14 games in eight sets while reaching the final. She then battled her way back in a 2 hour 31 minute marathon against Vekic in the final.
In the women’s double final, the third-seeded tandem of Xinyun Han and Daria Jurak beat the fourth-seeded tandem of Alexa Guarachi and Erin Routliffe 6-3, 6-2 on the newly named John A. Harris Grandstand.
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