Citi Open Full of Surprises: Local Star Tiafoe New Fav

The popular 2022 Citi Open tennis tournament in the greatly spiffed-up Rock Creek Park Tennis Center was abuzz with surprises during the first and second round matches, some played in close to 100-degree heat. After top 2022 Citi Open seeds Venus Williams, Andy Murray, Jessica Pegula, Hubert Herkacz and Simona Halep were all defeated or withdrew by the end of the second round play on Wednesday, the packed grandstands crowd turned to revel in the cool evening games of new favorites Nick Krygios of Australia and local star Frances Tiafoe, who is a native of Hyattsville, Maryland.

“I’m super excited to be playing at home,” Tiafoe known as the “Big Foe,” told reporters the first day. He and his twin brother grew up in College Park, to where his parents immigrated from Sierra Leone. He started playing tennis when he was 8 years old. Winning above his age group tournaments at 12 and by 17, Tiafoe knew he wanted to be a professional tennis player. Fans and family of the six-foot-two, 24-year-old cheered loudly and boosted him during at times flagging play against Christopher Eubanks.

Both Tiafoe and Eubanks put many of the 120 miles-per-hour service returns (Does any professional male tennis player serve under 100 mph these days?) into the net. Tiafoe netted a couple of easy overhead smashes, one at match point. Both players made a lot of double faults. But Tiafoe prevailed — maybe getting a little extra energy from eating a banana during a break — when he was leading 4-2 in the back-and-forth second set tie breaker. After that, he didn’t lose a point and won the tiebreaker 7-2, games 6-3, 7-6. Tiafoe is ranked #10 in singles.

The Krygios-Tommy Paulson match was a contrast with long rallies of super deep shots — many falling directly on the line that instant-play revealed —and ending with a classic steep angle put away cross court. The play was steady good tennis, but Krygios dominated both sets 6-3, 6-4 with only once doing his infamous McEnroe bad-boy yell-outs when he questioned a call and a fan who taunted him.

The Citi Open started with fully attended matches, featuring famous No. 1 seeds Andy Murray (36) of Australia and Venus Williams (42). Venus had been helped with her potential but failed come-back with work outs with her sister, 23-time Grand Slam Tournament winner Serena. In the end, however, her 13 double faults and numerous foot-fault calls let her down. “I wish I could have pulled this match off for the crowd and the tournament,” Williams said afterward. “D.C. is a great place to play tennis.” But she hinted she’ll still keep on playing. “All I can do is play another tournament and play better.”

Number one seed Andy Murray cited cramping issues as the reason for his unexpected loss in the first round of the tournament. He was also disappointed because he had pledged that he would contribute 100 percent of his winnings in the tournament to aid Ukrainian children affected by war via the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund. Citi Open tournament director Mark Ein also pledged to match Murray’s contributions toward Ukrainian children. To date, the former World Number One has donated more than $300,000 to the effort since competing in the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

“I like to play with a motivation larger than myself,” Murray said in a press conference on July 30. “What would that be?” the Georgetowner asked him later. “Well, when I play, say, at Indian Wells, I am playing for the U.K. When I play in the U.K., I play for my family and friends who come to watch me, and here, well, I’m giving all my money for the children in Ukraine.”

Tiafoe also mentioned the thrill, fun and also a bit of the distraction of playing at home with many family, friends and local fans around. It’s good and bad because everyone is rooting for you but they also want your time, he said. For now, the “Do Not Disturb” is definitely in play on his phone.

Tiafoe and Krygios will both play third-round single matches at 3:25 and 4 p.m., respectively, today, Aug. 4, in expected 95 degree heat and high humidity. Tiafoe is scheduled to play doubles at 4:30 p.m and Kyrgios at 8 p.m., today.

It was suspected that Halep fell ill during a match Wednesday because of the heat; some questioned the scheduling. The Citi Open runs through Sunday, Aug. 7.

Jessica Pegula at the Citi Open. Photo by Jeff Malet.


Andy Murray at Citi Open press conference on July 30. Photo by Robert Devaney.


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