By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
The year’s third Grand Slam is in full swing as the European grass court season culminates at Wimbledon. Both the men’s and women’s singles draws have been dwindled down to 32 players, with third-round play scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
On the men’s side, Citi Open headliners Kevin Anderson and Kei Nishikori were among the Top-10 seeds who earned Round 2 victories, while Americans Sam Querrey and Reilly Opelka also secured spots in the Round of 32.
Rising Canadian star and No. 19 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime set up a third-round date with fellow Citi Open commit Ugo Humbert of France. Auger-Aliassime, 18, is the youngest player in the men’s draw.
In the women’s draw, No. 1 American Sloane Stephens cruised to another straight-sets victory, while World No. 13 Belinda Bencic was also a straight-sets winner.
Round 3 begins Friday at 6:00 a.m. EST.
Below are five Citi Open storylines ahead of third-round play at the All-England Club:
OPELKA TO FACE RAONIC IN POTENTIAL CITI OPEN PREVIEW:
American Reilly Opelka secured one of the biggest wins of his career Wednesday when he beat No. 22 Stan Wawrinka in a five-set marathon in 3 hours 13 minutes. The 21-year-old didn’t hold back after breaking Wawrinka and taking the final set by an 8-6 score, as he gave an emphatic fist bump and saluted the crowd at SW19.
The 6-foot-11 Opelka fired 23 aces, including eight in the final set, as he overcame a 2-sets-to-1 deficit against the 3x Grand Slam champion.
Opelka is through to Round 3 for the first time at a Major and will next face fellow Citi Open headliner and No.15 seed Milos Raonic on Friday.
Raonic, a Wimbledon finalist in 2016, has yet to drop a set at the All-England Club this year after defeating Robin Haase 7-6, 7-5, 7-6 in Round 2.
This will be the first meeting between Opelka and Raonic, two of the game’s strongest servers.
“Obviously he’s been a really good player on grass and he’s done well, especially at Wimbledon,” Opelka told reporters. “He’s the favorite, he’s had more experience here, but that just allows me to play free.”
Before competing at the Citi Open, Opelka will visit D.C. when the Vegas Rollers take on the Washington Kastles on Opening Night at Kastles Stadium at Union Market on July 15.
QUERREY CELEBRATES FOURTH OF JULY IN STYLE:
Sam Querrey went to work on the Fourth of July, but the American was highly efficient in his short time at the office. Querrey spent just one hour 35 minutes on court Thursday as he cruised past 2018 Citi Open semifinalist Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in the second round at Wimbledon.
Querrey showed no signs of a letdown following his first-round upset of No. 5 Dominic Thiem earlier in the week. Instead, the 31-year-old fired 26 aces and was never broken as he set up a third-round date with fellow Citi Open commit John Millman of Australia.
Querrey has been in fine form since returning from an 11-week absence due to an abdominal injury this spring. Including a run to the Eastbourne final last week, Querrey has now won six of his last seven matches.
Querrey, a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2017, is also teaming with Denis Kudla of Arlington, Virginia, in men’s doubles.
NISHIKORI NEARS MILESTONE WIN:
Before The Championships began in England, No. 8 Kei Nishikori listed his goals for the tournament. Besides the obvious – making a deep run and winning his first Grand Slam title – Nishikori emphasized the need to conserve energy.
After winning a pair of five-set marathons at Roland Garros, Nishikori said he hoped to avoid spending so much time on the court at Wimbledon, particularly during the first week.
Mission accomplished so far for Nishikori, who earned a pair of straight-set victories at the All-England Club. On Thursday, Nishikori beat Britain’s Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 in a nifty one hour 48 minutes on Centre Court.
Nishikori improved to a remarkable 15-1 against players competing in their home Grand Slam and pulled within one win of 400 for his pro career.
The 2015 Citi Open champion will next face American Steve Johnson in the third-round Saturday. Nishikori has won each of their four previous meetings.
STEPHENS SETS UP GRAND SLAM REMATCH:
No. 1 American Sloane Stephens will meet a familiar foe in her third-round match on Saturday. For the fourth time this year and for the second consecutive Grand Slam, Stephens will face Johanna Konta, the top-ranked Brit.
Stephens has earned a pair of relatively routine early-round victories, including a 6-0, 6-2 second-round triumph over Yafan Wang of China on Thursday in just 54 minutes. Stephens was in complete control firing 19 winners compared to just 10 unforced errors.
Fellow Citi Open headliner, No. 13 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, also cruised into the third round as she beat Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 6-1. Bencic will next face American Alison Riske with a potential Round-of-16 showdown against No. 1 Ashleigh Barty looming on Monday.
Other Citi Open players to reach Round 3 in the women’s draw include: Barbora Strycova (vs. No. 4 Kiki Bertens) and No. 28 Su-Wei Hsieh (vs. No. 3 Karolina Pliskova).
SEE YOU AT THE CITI OPEN:
A quartet of Round 3 matches in the men’s draw will feature a pair of Citi Open headliners:
No. 11 Daniil Medvedev (RUS) vs. No. 21 David Goffin (BEL): Friday
No. 15 Milos Raonic (CAN) vs. Reilly Opelka (USA): Friday
No. 19 Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN): vs. Ugo Humbert (FRA): Friday
Sam Querrey (USA) vs. John Millman (AUS): Saturday