Surprises at Storied Citi Open as Legends Advance and Fall at DC Tennis Tournament

Dominic Thiem of Austria competes against Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland, at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Washington, DC, on August 1, 2017
AFP

Jared Donaldson cut down Marc Polmans and Tommy Paul overwhelmed Lucas Pouille, raising hopes once again for the new generation of American tennis men.

Islander Donaldson, 20, outfoxed but also out-hit his Australian contemporary in the second round of the Washington classic, managed by Davis Cup legend and sports marketing pioneer Donald Dell. The lithe and quick Donaldson, who has steadily expanded the varieties of his all-court game since turning pro at 17, combined clutch aces and pin-point down-the-liners from both wings to flummox the Australian qualifier, a solid, power baseliner.

Tommy Paul, who belongs to Donaldson’s “next-gen” cohort and earned a wild card to the main draw, took on the seventh-seeded Pouille, ranked in the Tour’s top-20. Paul stunned the Frenchman, who made a fine run at the U.S. Open last year, in a two-set demonstration of power and agility.

With thoroughly distinct game styles, Paul and Donaldson demonstrate that American men’s tennis, far from being stuck in a “power-baseline” conformism that crashes against all-court internationals, develops young players who move with speed and grace even as they keep hard-hitting power as the basis of their game plans.

They are joined by Tennessee’s Tennys (real name) Sandgren and Nebraska’s Jack Sock in the third round, which also includes their next-generational rival from Germany, Alexander Zverev, as well as past champion and crowd-favorite Juan-Martin del Potro. Austria’s Dominic Thiem, who competes on Thursday afternoon, remains the man to beat at the event.

American women are less impressive this year, with past champion Sloan Stephens, returning to the tour following a lengthy recuperation from injury, wilting under the steady baseline play of No. 1 seed Simona Halep of Roumania.

In a remarkable upset, defending champion Gael Monfils of France was driven into the ground in three exhausting sets by qualifier Yuki Bhambri, who out-performed perhaps the most famous performer on the Tour. Bhambri, of New Delhi, attacked relentlessly at the net, wrong-footing and confusing Monfils until he was dropping his arms and bending over in fatigue and frustration.

Bhambri’s countryman Rohan Bopanna beat his old Indo-Pak Express partner Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi in doubles, setting up a quarter-final meet against all-time doubles champs Mike and Bob Bryan, who are reportedly set to retire after next month’s U.S. Open. Bopanna is partnering with Donald Young, who lost a close second-round three-setter to 2015 champion Kei Nishikori.

Notwithstanding the August heat and thundershowers, the tournament’s characteristic unpredictability attracts sizeable late-night crowds, passionate tennis fans who boo “medical time-out” quitters, fairly or not, and applaud fine play even when, as in the Bhambri-Monfils match, the result goes against the popular man.

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