Francis Tiafoe receives wild-card berth in Citi Open’s main draw

Francis Tiafoe literally grew up around tennis, often spending nights at a Maryland tennis center where his father worked. At only 16, he is ranked number two in the world. Could a future U.S. champion be in the making? (Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

Youth will reign at this year’s Citi Open, which begins play with qualifying this weekend at the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center at Rock Creek Park before the main draw opens Monday.

That theme was bolstered Friday when Francis Tiafoe, the precocious 16-year-old from Riverdale Park and the world’s sixth-ranked junior player, was awarded a wild card into the main draw, his first in an ATP event. Tiafoe will skip Saturday and Sunday’s qualifying and will play 24-year-old Russian Evgeny Donskoy, ranked 111th, in the first round.

“We’re excited to watch Francis in his first main draw match,” tournament director Jeff Newman said in a statement. “This is his hometown and this is where he trains, so we expect a great crowd to come out and support him.”

The inclusion of Tiafoe in the main draw comes after Gael Monfils, the No. 23 player in the world, withdrew from the field Friday, citing a knee injury.

Though most of the sport’s most prominent stars will not be in the field, the men’s and women’s singles draws are loaded with potential future standouts, particularly on the men’s side: two players aged 25 or younger and ranked in the top 10 will be competing.

Wimbledon semifinalists Milos Raonic, 23, and Grigor Dimitrov, 23, are among the young stars in a men’s singles field featuring eight of the ATP’s top 25-ranked players.

Fifth-ranked Tomas Berdych will be the top seed in men’s singles, a familiar spot for the 28-year-old Czech, who was also the tournament’s top seed in 2010.

Raonic brandishes one of the tour’s most dominating serves and heads to the Citi Open ranked seventh. He fell to Roger Federer in his first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon earlier this month.

Dmitrov, another of the game’s brightest young stars who is currently ranked ninth, brings his standout one-handed backhand and a career-high singles ranking after falling to Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon semis.

Eleventh-ranked Kei Nishikori, No. 12 John Isner and No. 14 Richard Gasquet round out the tournament’s top six seeds.

When Wimbledon finalist and seventh-ranked Eugenie Bouchard withdrew from the women’s field Thursday, she took with her the tournament’s clear-cut women’s singles favorite, leaving the top seed to 17th-ranked Lucie Safarova and the intrigue to a field of 32 eager up-and-comers.

Perhaps the biggest women’s name remaining in the field is No. 22-ranked American Sloane Stephens, the 21-year-old who was bounced from this tournament after a lackluster outing in her first match last year. Stephens rose to as high as No. 11 in the WTA rankings last season, but has struggled and parted ways with Coach Paul Annacone last week.

Two-time defending women’s singles champion Magdalena Rybarikova returns to the field.

In addition to the $1.5 million purse, the field will be in search of hard-court confidence ahead of the U.S. Open, to be played next month in New York.

Both the men’s and women’s singles draws were announced Friday afternoon at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Northwest Washington.

Qualifying for the remaining spots in the draw begins Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

Chelsea Janes covers the Nationals for The Washington Post.
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