2017 Citi Open Preview

WASHINGTON — The 2017 Citi Open, whose main draw opens Monday at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in Northwest D.C., received an unexpected but welcomed boost to its tournament field in mid-July.

Less than two weeks before the region’s annual date with the ATP and WTA Tours, top-10 players Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov accepted wild cards into the men’s draw, while world No. 2 Simona Halep and 2015 D.C. champion Sloane Stephens did the same on the women’s side.

“I’d like to say this was all planned, but it wasn’t,” first-year tournament director Keely O’Brien said of the late additions. “This was some wonderful luck for us.”

Along with previous commits Dominic Thiem (world No. 7) and Kei Nishikori (No. 8), Raonic (No. 9) and Dimitrov (No. 10) give the Citi Open four of the ATP’s top-10 players. World No. 11 Alexander Zverev is also competing in D.C. for the third consecutive year.

“These players are looking to keep their rankings and playing a 500-level tournament on the men’s side, all those [ranking] points certainly help,” O’Brien said. “If they can play well here and pick up some points, that will just help them going into the summer [hard court season].”

The ATP bracket of the Citi Open (formerly the Legg Mason Classic) is comprised of 48 players, with the top 16 seeds receiving first-round byes. Thirty-two players make up the WTA bracket.

Outside of the four Grand Slams, the Citi Open is one of just 13 tournaments that includes both men’s and women’s draws at the same event in one setting.

“We have a full package,” O’Brien said. “We have a great opportunity to showcase the best players in the world on one site. We’ve been thrilled with having everyone here together.”

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PAST CHAMPIONS RETURN\n

This year\u2019s tournament is littered with players who have enjoyed successful runs in Washington. On the men\u2019s side, the last four Citi Open champions are all returning to D.C., with Juan Martin del Potro (2008, 2009, 2013), Milos Raonic (2014), Kei Nishikori (2015) and defending champion Gael Monfils (2016) looking for similar results.\n

Should Nishikori (seeded No. 2) and del Potro (seeded No. 13) each win their opening match this week, they would meet in one of the more intriguing matchups in the Round-of-16.\n

Del Potro is seeking his first title of 2017 and his fourth overall in Washington. Only five-time D.C. champion Andre Agassi has won more titles at Rock Creek Park.\n

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JOHN ISNER SEEKS ELUSIVE D.C. TITLE\n

Is this the year John Isner finally gets over the hump? The top-ranked American is no stranger to the Citi Open, where he will be competing for the 10th time since 2007. Despite reaching the finals three times in Washington, Isner is still seeking his first D.C. title.\n

\u201cCertainly, have not lost to any slouches,\u201d Isner said in 2015 after dropping the final to Nishikori. Isner previously lost the championship match to Andy Roddick (2007) and del Potro (2013).\n

Isner, 32, has been on quite the roll this month, winning eight consecutive matches and back-to-back titles in Newport and Atlanta. Isner has not lost a service game since his last match at Wimbledon.\n

Isner\u2019s run at Wimbledon came to a premature end when he was upset in the second round by Israeli Dudi Sela. The two would meet again in Round 2 of the Citi Open, should Sela defeat American Jared Donaldson his first-round match (Isner has a first-round bye).\n

All 12 of Isner\u2019s ATP titles have come in 250-level events, meaning a win in Washington (500-level) would be the biggest of his career.\n

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SIMONA HALEP EYES NO. 1 RANKING\n

With Serena Williams preparing for the birth of her first child, the No. 1 ranking on the WTA Tour is up for grabs. World No. 2 Simona Halep has had a chance in each of her last three tournaments to claim the top spot, but has been unable to advance far enough.\n

Karolina Pliskova now sits atop the rankings, and although Halep won\u2019t be able to pass her this week, Halep is still looking to collect ranking points and potentially reach No. 1 for the first time in her career sometime during the hard court season.\n

That\u2019s why the French Open finalist took a late wild card spot to make her Washington debut.\n

\u201cShe\u2019s hungry for that No. 1 spot,\u201d O\u2019Brien said. \u201cShe reached out and said that she wanted to play D.C., so obviously we were glad to have her and we\u2019re very excited to have her. As soon as we made the announcement, she had a lot of love on social media.\u201d\n

Halep is the top seed in D.C. and the highest ranked women\u2019s player to compete here since the tournament expanded to include a WTA draw.\n

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COULD ZVEREV BREAK THROUGH IN D. C.?\n

Alexander Zverev is still only 20 years old, but he has already cracked the top-10 in the world rankings and won three titles in 2017, including a Masters 1000 in Rome. He is the top player in the ATP\u2019s #NextGen campaign aimed to promote players 21-and-under.\n

The Citi Open marks Zverev\u2019s first competition since he reached the fourth round at Wimbledon for his best result at a Grand Slam. Zverev has also impressed in Washington, where he reached the quarterfinals in 2015 and the semifinals in 2016.\n

Zverev should also have plenty of motivation this week as he\u2019ll be playing his first tournament since hiring former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero as a coach.\n

Zverev would face 10th-seeded Nick Kyrgios in the Round-of-16, should they each win their opening match.\n

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TOUGH BREAK FOR SLOANE STEPHENS\n

In addition to Halep, American Sloane Stephens received a late wild card to compete in the women\u2019s field. Stephens earned her first career WTA title at the 2015 Citi Open and will be competing in D.C. for the seventh time in as many years.\n

But this year may have a different feel for Stephens, who underwent foot surgery six months ago and has played only one match since last August (Wimbledon first round).\n

Stephens would benefit from as many matches as possible during the hard court season, but her D.C. stay could be short. In a tough break, Stephens drew the top seed Halep for her opening match.\n

Stephens has since added to her trophy case with three more titles in 2016 and she arrives in Washington as the 23rd-ranked player on the WTA Tour.\n

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OTHER AMERICANS TAKE THEIR CRACK\n

It\u2019s been 10 years since Roddick defeated Isner in the final of the 2007 Legg Mason Classic, yet the long-since retired Roddick remains the last American male champion in D.C. It is the tournament\u2019s longest stretch without an American winner.\n

Isner is one of 13 Americans in this year\u2019s field, who will look to end the drought. Six of the top-seven ranked American men are competing in Washington, including Isner, Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, Ryan Harrison, Donald Young and Jared Donaldson.\n

Harrison reached his second career ATP final over the weekend before falling to Isner in Atlanta.\n

Noticeably absent from this year\u2019s tournament are local products Denis Kudla (Arlington, Virginia) and Frances Tiafoe (Hyattsville, Maryland).\n

Kudla, who was ranked as high as 53rd in the world in May 2016 but has dropped to No. 172, will be competing in a challenger event this week in Lexington, Kentucky.\n

Tiafoe, 19, is the youngest player in the top-100 and recently reached a career-high ranking of No. 60. He\u2019ll be competing this week in Los Cabos, Mexico, a 250-level tournament with a smaller field.\n

\u201cWe\u2019ll miss him this year,\u201d O\u2019Brien said of Tiafoe, \u201cbut he knows that he better get back to Washington for our 50th anniversary next year \u2026 We\u2019ve given him some wild cards in the past. He knows where his home is, so he\u2019ll be back.\u201d\n

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