Talented Teens Crash Citi Open

By Jane Voigt

Washington — John Isner’s been coming to Citi Open for 12 years. He’s now 34, married and has a 11-month old daughter. The year he arrived as a wildcard fresh out of University of Georgia, he blew up this tournament making a run to the finals where he lost to Andy Roddick. Today, though, the former Bulldog takes second stage to some talented teens playing this week on the WTA International Tournament here.  

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“It’s crazy to think about,” Isner said. “2007 doesn’t seem like that long ago. But I rarely play a match on tour now where I’m the younger player. Tennis is in a very cool spot now where you have the older generation and you have all these younger guys who are very very good who have emerged in the last two years.”

So what about the “younger gals”?

At the top of that list is, of course, Cori Gauff. However, there are more: Wildcard Hailey Baptiste, 17, and Catherine “Caty” McNally, the youngest wildcard in the main draw at 17. Iga Swiatek of Poland, who turned 18 at the end of May, had her break-out run at Roland Garros this year where she advanced to the fourth round and became the second female player born in this century to advance that far at a major. 

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Cori Gauff during the qualification tournament July 27 and 28, Rock Creek Park.
Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com. 

On Tuesday when Gauff played, and eventually lost to Zarina Diyas on the John Harris Court, every seat — that’s 2,500 — was taken. The roar from this little crowd, which it was when compared to Stadium Court that seats 7,500, could be heard everywhere on site. Fans yelled after every single point and it was all for “Coco.”

“I hear them,” Gauff said yesterday in her post-match press conference. “And I appreciate it. Yeah, [but] obviously right before the point starts, I’m kind of focused on the point.”  

Gauff likes playing in front of crowds, even if they don’t match up to the size and grandeur she experienced at Wimbledon a few weeks ago. 

“It was packed today, so I’m glad that people came out to support me,” she said. ”I’m excited to play doubles [Wednesday], so I hope some people still come out.”

The odds seem to be forever in Coco’s favor here, yet it does seem out of place to hear her say she likes to play in front of crowds, the way a 10-year tour veteran might. However, the crowds haven’t abated. Even people not that familiar with tennis know who Coco is. The Baltimore Sun recently ran an article about Coco and Caty McNally, her doubles partner, and, as a journalist here said, “They’re talking about your doubles win in The Baltimore Sun, which is unprecedented. They’ve never talked about doubles.”

Later on Wednesday Gauff and McNally defeated You-Chieh Hsieh and Xiaodi You to advance to the women’s semifinals, 6-0, 6-3. 

“I think you all should just know that Coco is a really funny girl,” Caty said, when the two came in for their post-match press conference. “Her Instagram is pretty fire.”

And from Coco, “She makes nice cheesy jokes. She’s really competitive, too, especially when her coach is on the court.”

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Kathy Rinaldi on Grandstand court today, watching Jessica Pegula defeat Iga Switzeck, 5-7, 6-4, 6-1. Rinaldi in the U.S. Fed Cup team captain. 

DC’s Hailey Baptiste, who is also friends with Coco and Caty, won her first-ever WTA-level match Tuesday when she surprised number-two seed, Madison Keys. 

“[For] half of the match, I couldn’t really feel my legs,” Baptiste told the press. “I can’t describe what it felt like, but it was amazing. Having everybody in the crowd cheering for me, I knew every other person in the crowd; it felt great.”

Baptiste grew up near the Rock Creek Park facility and learned to play here as part of a program at the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, the beneficiaries of Citi Open. 

“I literally live on Kennedy Street, like five minutes away,” she said. “I’ve been coming to the tournament since I trained here … when I was five years old. I used to always sneak in behind the fences. It was Legg Mason then. So it’s really cool to get a chance to play on the same stage.”

Baptiste has been training with Fed Cup Captain Kathy Rinaldi this week, but also trains with Chani Anders and Joey Burkhardt in Orlando, Fla.

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Iga Swiatek Wednesday, serving in her match against Jessica Pegula. Photo credit Jane Voigt.

Swiatek lost today to American Jessica Pegula, 6 years her elder, who came from a set and break down to win 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.  

“I’m young, so I don’t worry too much,” Swiatek said. 

The Warsaw native lives, trains and goes to high school there and never thought of any sport other than tennis when she first began playing. She won the 2018 Wimbledon Girls’ Singles Championship, made the final in Lugano earlier this year, and has recently risen to a career-high of 61.  

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