There was one thing more valuable than the best seat in the house at Washington’s Citi Open on Thursday: a patch of shade.
For players competing on the hard courts, which ratchet up temperatures even more, it was enough to trigger the Women’s Tennis Association’s extreme-heat protocol, which requires giving players a 10-minute break after the second set of a three-set match to exit the court for a change of clothes, a quick shower or both.
“I was dreaming about the heat rule,” Liudmila Samsonova said during her on-court interview after dispatching Ajla Tomljanovic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, in a sweat-fest that lasted 2 hours 22 minutes.
Their match started at midday on Stadium Court, and the temperature climbed steadily. Samsonova placed an icebag wrapped in a towel on the back of her neck during changeovers. After she claimed the second set to draw even, she got the reprieve for which she had longed. “It helped a lot,” she said of the 10-minute pause. “I took a shower, changed the clothes.”
With heat depleting everyone’s energy, the tournament grounds were oddly subdued. On the black asphalt walkways that wend around the courts, spectators took turns standing in front of the “Power Breezer,” an industrial-size fan that shoots out a spray of water along with a gush of air — akin to a carwash without suds or bristles.
With virtually every remaining player in action Thursday — including five who were scheduled to compete in both singles and doubles — the trainers who travel the men’s and women’s pro circuit to tape ankles, knead muscles, make initial diagnoses and dispense treatment were kept busy.
Second-seeded Emma Raducanu took on Colombia’s Camila Osorio on Stadium Court in full sun at 2:30 p.m., and the first set alone lasted 79 minutes, littered with service breaks and unforced errors.
Looking on from Raducanu’s box was Dmitry Tursunov, who is coaching the reigning U.S. Open champion for the first time at this tournament on a trial basis. Tursunov spent much of the match keeping his eyes locked on his charge while shrouding his head with a towel.
“I think I died about three times in that match,” Raducanu said on court after her 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4) victory.
Under the WTA’s extreme heat policy, the chair umpire doesn’t have latitude to extend the time limit between serves, according to WTA supervisor Kerrilyn Cramer. But Raducanu and Osorio got an extra reprieve twice in the second set when each summoned the trainer to tape blisters that worsened amid the heat and sweat.
Osorio needed a big toe taped and Raducanu her right hand.
The chance simply to sit for the treatment seemed curative in itself as the match passed the 2-hour 30-minute mark.
Sweden’s Mikael Ymer said he was grateful to have played on clay last week in Umag, Croatia, where he said it was even hotter and, as a result, helped him acclimate to Washington’s heat.
“Conditions are very tough,” Ymer said after advancing to Friday’s quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4 victory over Emil Ruusuvuori. “I think we are playing one of the toughest sports on this planet because, besides dealing with the heat, you also have to constantly make so many decisions. I run a lot because my dad was a runner. . . . When I run in the heat, I can just focus [on the] next step [and] grind it out. But [in tennis], you’re grinding, and at the same time, you have this opponent that you have to beat.”
By late afternoon, the skies above Rock Creek Park Tennis Center darkened, and the first crack of thunder erupted at 6 p.m. just as fourth-seeded Reilly Opelka and 2019 Citi Open champion Nick Kyrgios stepped onto court.
Play was suspended 15 minutes later because of lightning. After a brief restart a short while later, weather forced the postponement of the rest of Thursday’s schedule.
At that moment, Hyattsville native Frances Tiafoe, 24, was deadlocked in the first set of his match against No. 8 seed Botic van de Zandschulp.
Tiafoe, who learned to play at College Park’s Junior Tennis Champions Center, is ranked 27th in the world, close to his career high of No. 25, and is brimming with confidence after reaching Wimbledon’s fourth round.
He has won just one ATP title during his seven seasons on tour (the 2018 Delray Beach Open) and said this week that he would love to claim his second at Washington’s Citi Open, which he started attending at age 4. He recalled his childhood awe in seeing such tennis greats as Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi and Juan Martin del Potro, among others.
“To win this tournament would mean the world to me,” Tiafoe said after defeating fellow American Chris Eubanks on Wednesday. “ … To have my name around the stadium [where champions’ names are listed] would mean a lot to me.”
A fan favorite with family and lifelong friends in the Washington area, Tiafoe said he and his agent were doing their best to fill 56 requests for tickets.
“I had 56 reasons why I wanted to win today,” Tiafoe said. “A lot of people came to see me play and hopefully win.”
Earlier on Thursday, third-seeded Taylor Fritz, the top-ranked American, retired from his match against Britain’s Dan Evans, trailing 1-4 in the third set.
Conditions promised to fall hardest on those scheduled to play both singles and doubles matches Thursday. That included Tiafoe, Kyrgios, Evans, Van de Zandschulp and, in the women’s event, Xiyu Wang of China.
In such cases, tour policy states that a player does not start his or her second match of the day until “after suitable rest.”
Under WTA rules, Cramer explained in an email, a tour official meets with the player after her singles match to determine whether she needs medical treatment or a meal before resuming play.
In cases of extreme heat, the tour would be a bit more “generous,” Cramer said. But as a rule, a 90-minute break is allotted between matches.
“The ‘heat’ factor might have us extend it out by maybe 15 more minutes but not more,” Cramer wrote. “Players also want to balance if they wait too long, they are here until later today and then need to come back and play the next day. So all these factors are considered.”