Tuesday, July 19, 2016

2016 CITI OPEN DAY 3: STILL SAMANTHA

The first story from Day 3 at the 2016 Citi Open was the one story that nobody can get ahead of or control the narrative:  the weather.  Mother nature decided the DC area needed a cooling off period absolutely dumped buckets of water on the William H. Fitzgerald tennis center for about 90 minutes.  

Sam Stosur and Yannina Wickmayer, a favorite and a dark horse for the title, were done and dusted before the rains came, with Stosur dispatching of a resurgent Alla Kudryavtseva in straights sets in less than an hour (including a second set bagel), while the Belgian took longer to do the job over American Madison Brengle, who will be disappointed that she wasn't able to break her opponents shaky serve more frequently.  Wickmayer saved 2 of the 4 break points she faced, but Brengle was broken 7 times on 11 break points, which turned out to be the difference in the match.

Stosur, on the other hand, started slowly, but finished strongly.  After finding her feet and her forehand late in the set, she proceeded to break Kudryavtseva one critical time in the first set, before obliterating her in the second - needing just one break point to do the job three times on the trot.  Stosur, the top seed this year, looked relaxed and comfortable from the end of the first set, to the moment she entered the press conference tent.  That is until the rains came, preceded by what felt like gale force winds, appeared to make her more nervous than her opponent. Skittishly glancing around her as questions were drowned out by the sounds of the atmospheric pressure dropping precipitously, Stosur seemed in as much of a hurry in the press conference, as she did in the second set.

I asked Stosur about her forehand, which is a modern forehand more typical of the ATP than the WTA, and hit with the kind of spin and depth that has made some opponents attempt to pay her a compliment by suggesting that she played like a man.  My curiosity surrounded whether there was an evolution to that stroke production or was it something that she and her coach decided, and her answer confirmed my expectation with a twist.  She said she had always had a compact take back on the forehand, but that it had been a very wristy and spinny shot that often landed short, rife for abuse by her opponents.  The revolution began 8 years ago, when she couldn't hit a decent forehand at Wimbledon to save her life, and her coach at the time (presumably David Taylor) convinced her that she needed to make changes to flatten the stroke to finish her opponents off in the rallies, particularly on short balls.  So there was indeed a revolution to her forehand, but it was to make the shot flatter and more penetrating than it had been, which is the opposite of what her forehand is known for.

Next up on the merry-go-round was Alexander Zverev who, despite being very polite, and very poised in his responses, did come across as being every so slightly less patient with his time than he had been the year before.  To be fair, Zverev had just finished a practice set with Steve Johnson, one where the pace and penetration of his forehand was as impressive as it had been during his practice with Monfils on Friday, and in all likelihood had a very necessary dinner and evening with the physio waiting for him.  His answers were to the point, without much elaboration, and though affable, he was very serious, and dare I say, substantially more self-assured than last year.  

For example, he was asked about the upcoming Olympics, initially he responded with enthusiasm and elaborated on the honor and rarity of the event.  But the second question concerning the same subject, appeared to irritate him mildly.  Born of Russian immigrants to Germany, in the context of the Olympics, the question was asked whether he felt more Russian or German.  He began his response by bemoaning (in the general direction of the moderator for some reason) that he felt like this question was asked in every press conference.  After getting that off his chest, he explained that he is 100% German, as German as it gets, and that the only thing that Russian about him is his parents.  

I asked him whether he sets goals for himself in terms of his career progression, and if his performance and accomplishments had so far met his expectations.  He initially responded by saying that he didn't really set goals for himself, then proceeded to say he targeted getting in and staying in the top 40, that he is pleased with career progression, being seeded a majors and such, but that he is still ambitious and expects more of himself.  When asked which of the crop of his American contemporaries impressed him, he mentioned that he had grown accustomed to playing his former junior rivals (like the lurking Taylor Fritz), and that he was most impressed by Francis Tiafoe, who plays very aggressively and goes for his shots.  Incredibly, he bookended that assessment with the perfectly logical, but altogether unexpected qualifier (from a 20 year old, anyway) that "...he's still young and has more to learn."  

From the mouths of babes.

Speaking of Taylor Fritz, the newlywed took the court in the penultimate match on the stadium against Dudi Sela, and managed to break the Israeli veteran in his second service game, the third game of the match, and after only 7 minutes.  It was a straight set victory, but he didn't have it all his own way - Fritz had to show some steel, and that grenade launcher that doubles as a serve did him well as he saved 7 break points to seal the victory.

Daniel Evans booked his place in the second round with an impressive dismantling of Benjamin Becker, who probably suffered some measure of fatigue playing for the 3rd day in a row.  Evans was the better player in the two key departments of the serve and return, and after his initial break of Becker's serve never looked back.  Becker hit 4 aces which which could have been a pivotal statistic, had he not negated the value thereof with 4 double faults.  Evans only made half his first serves, but won 85% of those points, whereas Becker was more like to miss, and less likely to win his first serve points (46% and 65% respectively) which resulted in getting losing 4 of the 8 break points he faced.  Where Evans really made the difference was his second serve points, winning an impressive 65% of them, and not facing a single break point in 8 service games.


That ironically sets up a tricky encounter in the second round against Grigor Dimitrov, whom he practiced with on Friday (and would have met at Wimbledon had he found his way past some Swiss fellow, and if Dimitrov had overcome Johnson).  At that time, he seemed to struggle for rhythm and consistency for the better part of an hour.  But if you just love the 1-handed backhand, that match will do much to satisfy your aesthetic preferences.

Denis Kudla continued an unfortunate record of profligacy at his home tournament - he has played 7 matches at the Citi Open (in singles and doubles) and lost all 7.  He started the match strongly, with deep penetrating rallies where both he and Millman seemed to be testing the resolve of the other.  But Millman prevailed in the end with the wind at his back in the second after breaking twice in the first.  


All results from day 1 are at this link...
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