By Jane Voigt
Washington — Before one tennis ball was hit at the 2019 Citi Open tournament officials and fans had high hopes that top-seeded Sloane Stephens would meet her friend and second-seeded Madison Keys, the two finalists at the 2017 U.S. Open, in the women’s singles final scheduled for Sunday, August 4.
Not a chance.
Both lost in their opening round matches to women who, quite frankly, shouldn’t have won. Stephens to Rebecca Peterson who’s ranked 70 and Keys to Hailey Baptiste, a 17-year-old wildcard who grew up a block from the tournament’s Rock Creek Park site. The attrition didn’t stop there because from that day forward “better players” lost their matches, until the last seed standing — No. 4, Su-Wei — was bumped on Saturday in the quarterfinals. The 33-year-old lost to another wildcard, and 17-year-old, Caty McNally, who’s playing in her first WTA tournament.
The plot thickens.
Qualifier Anna Kalinskaya, also 17, and in her first Citi Open and first WTA semifinal, is the first qualifier to reach the semifinals here in the tournament’s nine-year history. And, Jessica Pegula, the second-oldest grownup in the room at 25, in her second semifinal at Citi Open since 2016, will try to break the teen trend while fighting Kalinskaya.
Finally, Camila Giorgi, the oldest remaining in the draw at 27, will face teen wildcard McNally, who will also play in the women’s doubles final this afternoon alongside none other than 15-year-old Coco Gauff.
Rarely do tennis fans get a chance to see young faces at one venue and have them do so well. However, four WTA players in the top 150 are 17 or younger and during the American hard-court swing many get their chances at playing higher-ranked women. The fact points to the depth of the women’s game, the group’s efforts to support each other, and the level of tennis skills and mental skills they have learned so early in.
“It’s pretty incredible right now,” Pegula said, after defeating Lauren Davis in the third round. “I think the group of young girls: [Amanda] Anisimova, Caty, Coco [Gauff]. It’s unbelievable what they’re doing as such a young age. I feel like no one really thought that was going to happen again. It’s pretty cool to see, especially for Americans.