By Jane Voigt
Washington — Tennis players are fit. But Washington summers can undermine the best. Sloane Stephens felt the heat Tuesday, as she lost in her opening round to 70th-ranked Rebecca Peterson while Cori “Coco” Gauff just couldn’t get past the steady tennis thrown at her by Zarina Diyas.
“I thought I could’ve done better,” Stevens said later. “Obviously it was hot. Tough conditions.”
With air temperatures reported in the mid-90s, court surfaces were at least 130-degrees. Stephens looked bedraggled and not in the mood to work hard enough to win the second set and extend the match to three. She lost 6-2, 7-5.
“It was really hot, brutal out there,” she added. “Got to get the hard court season started but here it’s tough because the weather is a bit challenging. But it will be like this through the rest of the U.S. Open series so I’ll just have to get used to it.”
Stephens has played at Citi Open for nine consecutive years. Her performances have been erratic. In 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017 she also lost in her opening round matches. She made the semifinals in 2012, where she lost to eventual two-time champion Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia. Her best performance came in 2015, when she won the title, one of four she won that year. In 2018, she was bounced unexpectedly in the second round by Andrea Petkovic who was ranked 90 at the time.
“I can only go up from here, so I’m looking forward to better results,” Stephens said.
As for Peterson in her first appearance at Citi Open, there was no better way to begin her tournament.
Diyas was happy with her performance and admitted, as well, that the conditions were tough not only because of the temperatures and humidity but because she was battling Cori Gauff, the hottest entity on the WTA tour right now.
“It’s a good win,” Diyas said, having defeated Gauff 6-4, 6-2. “She’s so young but she’s a great player. She did good at Wimbledon, so I’m really happy with my win.”
It’s not a stretch to think of Diyas as “the other player,” since she is not well known and has been injured frequently. But she was prepared for the mania surrounding Coco at Citi Open. Every seat was filled on Grandstand court, the biggest stage outside center court here.
“I was ready for it,” Diyas began. “And I love the big crowd even if they are against me, so I was enjoying it today.”
“I’m really happy for the support I’ve gotten here and am sorry to end my singles run,” Gauff began. “But I’m excited to continue my doubles so I hope people still come out. I really love DC and I hope to be back to this tournament in the future.”
In terms of tennis, Diyas served better than Gauff and kept up the pressure with aggressive serving and a steady onslaught of deep ground strokes. Gauff could not convert break points because Diyas persisted in her strategy of consistency.
“She’s so strong and she has a great serve,” Diyas said about Gauff. “She moves well, too. I think she’s going to be really big in the future.”
Gauff has no tournaments scheduled until the U.S. Open. She plans to return to Florida, do homework and practice.
“I’m just going to be training at home until the U.S. Open, basically,” she said. “I’m not going to any other tournaments. I don’t think I have anything coming up.”