By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
Youth will be served Wednesday when several of the game’s brightest young stars make their 2019 Citi Open debuts. From No.1 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas to rising Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime to 2018 Washington finalist Alex de Minaur, the Citi Open is again brimming with #NextGenATP talent.
“They’re in their own group,” said American Reilly Opelka, who will face Auger-Aliassime in a marquee mid-afternoon match on John Harris Court. “They’re going to be Top-8 guys, consistently, for the next 10-to-12 years. Felix is as good as they come. He’s the best talent we’ve seen on the ATP Tour in years.”
While Tsitsipas and de Minaur made deep runs at last year’s Citi Open, Auger-Aliassime is making his maiden D.C. appearance. The 18-year-old and world No.22 is the youngest player ranked inside the Top-25 since Lleyton Hewitt in 1999.
“He’s the best talent we’ve seen on the ATP Tour in years,” said Opelka.
According to his peers, Auger-Aliassime possesses both a tremendous skillset and a professionalism and demeanor rarely seen from teenagers navigating through the Tour for the first time.
“He’s got a great head on his shoulders,” said Frances Tiafoe. “He’s 18, but he acts like he’s 35. He’s so mature and carries himself well. I’ve always told him that he’s got it. The sky is limit for him.”
Added Opelka: “He’s different. That’s one thing you’ll find in common with all the great players- they’re different. Their mindset is different. That’s why they’re great. They’re abnormal. He’s abnormal. To be 18 and to be in the Top-20 in the world is certainly not a normal thing. So, obviously he’s got a lot of things going for him, but mentally he’s as elite as you can find.”
Auger-Aliassime appears on the cusp of his first career ATP title, having already reached three finals in 2019 (Rio, Lyon, Stuttgart). In Washington, that quest begins against Opelka, who himself has enjoyed a breakout 2019. Opelka is ranked a career-best No.43 in the world and secured his spot in the second round with a straight-sets win over fellow-American Christopher Eubanks Tuesday.
The 6-foot-11 Michigan native with a booming serve is fresh off a semifinal appearance last week in Atlanta.
Other ATP highlights on John Harris Court include the D.C. return of 2014 Citi Open champion Milos Raonic as he takes on American qualifier Tim Smyczek. Raonic has won their two prior meetings.
That will be followed by fan favorite Nick Kyrgios facing No.11 seed Gilles Simon in a fascinating contrast in styles that will surely have the intimate John Harris Court rocking tonight.
Stadium Court play begins at 2 p.m., with No.5 seed John Isner facing Hubert Hurkacz of Poland. Isner has been a fixture in Washington over the years and is making his 11th career Citi Open appearance. The top-ranked American has reached three D.C. finals (2007, 2013, 2015), but is still seeking an elusive Citi Open title.
The primetime session on Stadium Court begins at 7 p.m. with the top-seeded Tsitsipas taking on American wild card Tommy Paul. Tsitsipas, 20, was a semifinalist at last year’s Citi Open.
The late match on Stadium Court should also garner plenty of attention and a spirited home crowd as D.C. native Hailey Baptiste meets Kristina Mladenovic in a WTA second-round encounter.
Baptiste, a 17-year-old wild card who grew up just blocks away from the Rock Creek Park Tennis, made the most of her WTA main draw debut Tuesday with a straight-sets win over No.2 Madison Keys.
“I’ve been coming to the tournament since I was five years old,” Baptiste said after win Tuesday. “I used to always sneak in behind the back fences. I’ve been coming here since it was Legg Mason [Classic] and there were no women playing. So, it’s really cool to get a chance to play on the same stage.”
More youthful exuberance will be seen in women’s doubles as the wild-card tandem of Coco Gauff and Catherine McNally – both 15-year-old – face Yu-Chieh Hsieh and Xiaodi You on the Grandstand with a berth in the semifinals at stake.
The loaded men's doubles field will also be prominently features as brothers Andy and Jamie Murray compete together for the first time since September 2016. The Murray brothers will play on Stadium Court at approximately 4:30 p.m. when they face Wimbledon finalists Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
Bob and Mike Bryan, meanwhile, will begin their 15th Citi Open as a team when they face the hometown wild card duo of Treat Huey and Denis Kudla. The Bryan brothers first competed in D.C. in 1997 and have won four Citi Open titles as a team.