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Sascha Zverev Steps Up from Richard Evans, Washington DC


Not everything is running smoothly in the nation’s capital right now but, in between the heat (not as bad as usual this year) and the showers, tennis was able to produce a welcome distraction as Democrats and Republicans came together to play a WTT style Charity tournament under Mark Ein’s direction and, on a slightly higher scale of expertise, a young man called Alexander Zverev took another significant step toward world stardom.

Zverev, the 20-year-old younger brother of the much improved Mischa, outhit an in-form Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-4 to win the CitiOpen, an ATP 500 event which was being played for the 49th time since Donald Dell and John Harris created it on the public courts at Rock Creek Park.

With his mane of blond hair, flashing smile and tall, lanky frame, Sascha, as he is known to his friends, has the presence of a star before he hits a ball. When he does produce a fearsome first serve or blistering forehand, the package becomes complete. There is no reason why this young man should not start making an impression at Grand Slam level very soon, something he has failed to do so far.

Oh, and this German-born son of Russian parents can talk, too – in near perfect English. His acceptance speech was one of the most comprehensive I have ever heard and, as well as the family dog, included fulsome praise for his new coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open Champion and US Open finalist, as well as Jez Green, the British fitness trainer who has been working with him for three years. Andy Murray was a bit skinny when Green took charge of the Scot’s training early in Andy’s career, so we can expect Sascha to beef up a bit in the coming years.

This was Zverev’s fourth title this year and his first since his shock triumph over Novak Djokovic in the final of the ATP Masters 1000 event in Rome in May. He is now ranked No 8 in the world and No 4 on the road to London where he is virtually certain to qualify for the ATP World Finals – especially as Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka have both decided to play no more competitive tennis in 2017.

Alexander Zverev of Germany poses with atrophy after defeating Kevin Anderson of South Africa after their men’s singles final match of the 2017 Citi Open Tennis Tournament at the Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Washington, DC, USA, 06 August 2017. Zverev won the match 6-4, 6-4. EPA/PETE MAROVICH

Zverev’s performance should be measured against the fact that this was one of the strongest fields ever assembled for this event which I first saw in 1972 when Tony Roche beat Marty Riessen in the final on clay – the pair getting that far largely because they were the strongest men in the draw. The heat and humidity was unbearable.

This year, the top seeds included Dominik Thiem at No1 followed by Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, A Zverev, Gael Monfils, Lucas Pouille and Jack Sock. Given that John Isner was next and Juan Martin del Potro lurked at 13th, the winner was going to have to work his way past some serious talent and young Zverev did just that.

Only the improving Australian Jordan Thompson took a set off him in a close first round encounter and from then on Zverev, anchoring his victories behind a dominating serve, just got better. Daniil Medvedev, the young Russian who defeated Wawrinka at Wimbledon, was looking dangerous after a 7-6 in the third win over Steve Johnson but Zverev, once he managed to get on court after midnight, was not detained long, winning 6-2, 6-4.

That was a blessing for the German because he had to be back on court on the Friday afternoon to face Nishikori. But Sascha was in his stride by this time and Kei was never able to challenge his serve. Zverev lost only seven points on his delivery while winning the semi-final 6-3, 6-4.

The rain storms kept coming and presented a series of challenges for the new tournament director Keely O’Brien as there was a strong women’s field to deal with as well. Unsurprisingly, there were complaints about WTA players not getting their fair share of Center Court action. As anyone who has tried to set up a playing roster will tell you, there is no way to please everyone. Simona Halep, apparently, was particularly unhappy, and quit at 2-6, 6-3, 1-0 down in her quarter final match against Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova, feeling unwell in the heat.

Ekaterina Makarova of the Russian Federation holds the trophy after winning her women’s finals match against Julia Goerges of Germany at the Citi Open tennis tournament at the Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Washington, DC, USA, 06 August 2017. EPA/PETE MAROVICH

Makarova went on to win a third WTA career title by beating Julia Georges of Germany 3-6, 7-6, 6-0 in a final that produced some fine tennis before heat and fitness entered the equation. In a great semi-final battle Georges, reaching her third final in two months, had overcome her fellow German Andrea Petkovic 7-5 in the third and it took its toll. Petkovic, meanwhile, enjoyed one of her better weeks on the tour this year but the 29-year-old was a given a good look at the coming generation when she lost the first set 7-6 to Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu before rolling through 6-1, 6-2. There seems to be no limit to the wealth of young talent emerging from Canada.

Despite a strange outburst from Jack Sock, who raged about the speed and state of the Centre Court after losing 6-3, 6-4 to Anderson, the players were generally effusive in their praise for this event with Juan Martin del Potro, a three time former champion who lost 6-4 in the third to Nishikori, going as far as to say it deserved an even higher rating on the ATP tour than 500.

That is unlikely to happen but it did serve to remind some of us of what this event was like as its struggled to get established. As I said I, first covered it in 1972 and I am indebted to an excellent historical piece by Will Fairfax for jogging my memory.

It began in 1968 when Donald Dell and John Harris, a local player of note, decided it was ridiculous that the nation’s capital did not have a professional tournament. Arthur Ashe, already a Dell client, agreed to play but only if the site was easily accessible and welcoming to members of the black community. Rock Creek Park fitted the bill with its public clay courts. But that was just about as far as facilities went – courts.

Tents had to be erected but they did not provide locker room facilities, nor indeed, anything as basic as water. Ball boys had to hand carry water from a spigot in the picnic area. In the stifling heat, it was much in demand and the ball boys probably ended up as exhausted as the players.

The charming Brazilian, Thomaz Koch, who I was delighted to see at Wimbledon this summer, used to go over to the picnic area after every match and hose himself off. He eventually won the title over Ashe in the final over five sweaty sets.

Eventually, enough money – about $11 million – was raised to build a proper stadium which opened in 1988. Various title sponsors came and went but Legg Mason proved to be the most committed and put their name on the tournament from 1994 to 2011. Now, the quality of the field and the packed stands on finals day, augmenting good crowds during the week, must have convinced Citi Bank that their partnership with The Washington Tennis and Education Foundation is enhancing its reputation nation-wide, especially with The Tennis Channel beaming into 60 million US households with 170 hours of coverage.

As I said, there was plenty of other tennis happening in the capital the previous week when The Washington Kastles played their last three home games at the Charles E Smith auditorium. Unhappily for owner Mark Ein, who has done so much to offer DC tennis fans some extra viewing excitement in the summer, the Kastles could not finish on a winning note, despite Venus Williams packing out the place on the Tuesday night. But a hard core of some 2,500 fans still turned when coach Murphy Jensen’s team did not include a super star, cheering the likes of Bruno Soares, Anastasia Rodionova and Madison Brengle to the rafters, and that, for Ein, offered proof that his base support was solid.

“WTT creates a product that gives fans and families a form of tennis that is geared to competition and excitement and the format, with the Super Tie Break, ensures that you nearly always get tight matches,” said Ein.

In a somewhat more relaxed manner, there was some excitement during the charity evening which benefited the DC Public Education Fund, Food & Friends, N Street Village and Tragedy Assistance for Survivors — if only to see to what extent members of Congress could play as fluently as they talked.

Republican Charlie Dent from Pennsylvania was generally considered to be the picked of the bunch but I thought Democrat Bobby Scott of Virginia looked like a solid club player. At the buffet dinner afterwards, I enjoyed chatting to Richmond’s Dave Brat, who is a tennis coach and obviously follows the game avidly.

There had been a lot of good natured chat across the net. How nice it would be if there was more of it across the aisle.


Editors Note: We are happy to Share this insight from Richard Evans. Also known in the tennis Family / WORLD as “The Roving Eye”. It was the name he had in his “Tennis Week” column for over 20 years. (it was not really a column. It was the whole back page…)

Actually that’s also the Title of his latest book. We bought 10 copies on AMAZON direct. We hope we saved one. They flew out of our office. [Yes, Richie in NYC ones coming your way]