Citi Open: Nadal’s Practice Session Delights; Gauff Expected Wednesday 

The Washington Citi Open tennis tournament at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center is back after a year’s pandemic hiatus, with two top international tennis stars among the draw: Rafael Nadal of Spain — who is currently in a three-way tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for most Grand Slam singles titles in men’s tennis history — will play in D.C. for the first time. Coco Gauff of Florida, who at age 17 is ranked number 47, started her career as a professional at age 15 in 2019 at the Washington Open.

From July 31 – Aug. 8, the 2021 event — the 52nd — will take place before a full capacity sold-out-stadium crowd. Top prize money is $750,000.    

But the Washington Open — reportedly the fifth largest tennis tournament in the United States — is not only one of 13 American Tennis Federation 500 tournaments worldwide, but for decades it’s also been a significant supporter and driver of youth tennis in the District. It was co-founded by tennis great Arthur Ashe for that purpose. This year Frances Tiafoe of Hyattsville, Maryland, will play, after just having coming back from the Tokyo Olympics. He credits the D.C. Open for his inspiration to follow his dream of becoming a professional international tennis player. Tiafoe got a bye for the first round.

The Washington Open is viewed as a good hard court “tune up” competition for the Grand Slam U.S. Open in New York City in August, after the clay court French Open in June and the grass-court Wimbledon in July. But this year, the Olympic Games in Japan are also taking place, making for a very tight tournament season. However, neither Nadal nor Gauff chose to play in the Olympics. The Washington Open, including its premiere Women’s Invitational starting Wednesday, is the next 500 prematch.   

On Saturday and Sunday, the main stadium was packed to watch Nadal ‘s public coached practice sessions. Turns out, Nadal from Spain has a huge excited fan base in D.C.  On Sunday ,the arena stadium was full of families and children holding hand painted “Go Nadal” signs and oversized tennis balls ready to thrust at him to autograph. He smiled at fans when he entered in his signature sleeveless workout shirt along with his coach Francisco Roig. He was relaxed on Sunday afternoon. He had missed his long morning workout because of heavy rain. But by 7 p.m. when he entered the stadium, the sky was blue, the temperature a low 80s with a slight breeze and the courts were dry. Nadal started off hitting the balls easy, while occasionally hitting a soft high ball into the stands for anyone to grab as a souvenir. 

The crowd watched intensely.  The practice workout is the chance to see the players at their human vulnerable best. They are important for players to work out kinks and to get into a positive rhythm. They are usually structured, and the coach stands by to give insights.  

 In a typical practice, there is one goal according to just about any tennis coach you might ask: consistency! Player are fed continual balls directly for an hour or two, while they practice all the shots. Each shot will be taken 40-50 times: forehands and backhands; down-the-lines and cross courts; overheads, volleys, approach shots and behind-the-backline long court shots and high lobs (often top spin). The aim is not only to return each shot over the net — high, low, top spin, slice. The basic goal — except for extreme angled cross courts shots — is to place the return within a foot or less of the back line. Every time. The majority of serves also need to be placed within a foot of the back service line in the middle of the court.    

In between practice and games, Nadal plans to explore D.C. “I love to be here in Washington because it is not only a new event for me, it’s a new city,” Nadal told reporters at a virtual news briefing on Sunday. According to social media, Nadal was spotted in Georgetown at Fiola Mare at the waterfront and on M St with cookie Levain Bakery. His interview with Norah O’Donnell of CBS News at the stadium on Sunday drew a crowd; it will be aired tonight and tomorrow.

 The schedule for the women’s matches to begin Wednesday, Aug. 4, was not yet settled, according to organizers. Nadal is scheduled to play his first match on Wednesday at 7 p.m. 




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