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At Citi Open, men’s and women’s seeds tumble as rain ravages schedule

Storms interrupted the Citi Open for the second straight day on Friday. (Scott Taetsch for The Washington Post)
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Washington never puts its best foot forward in August, yet that’s the perennial spot on the ATP calendar for the Citi Open. And that all but ensures players must battle not only the opponent across the net but also stifling heat, sweltering humidity and stoppages because of late-summer thunderstorms.

A second consecutive afternoon of rain Friday played havoc with the tournament’s already backlogged schedule and inconvenienced ticket holders, closing the grassy expanse just north of Rock Creek Park Tennis Center that doubles as a parking lot because it was too waterlogged for cars.

Until thunderclaps and lightning halted play at 4:32 p.m., just over four hours of matches were contested. In that time, both the men’s and women’s quarterfinal fields were determined as more seeded players tumbled, including American Reilly Opelka and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.

Once play resumed in the evening, the women’s event lost its two highest remaining seeds: Reigning U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu, 19, the No. 2 seed, who fell in straight sets to Liudmila Samsonova of Russia; and No. 4 seed Victoria Azarenka, who tumbled in straight sets to Xiyu Wang of China.

The nearly three-hour halt in the proceedings scrambled players’ preparations and led tournament officials to explore alternate scheduling scenarios avenues for crowning a men’s and women’s victor Sunday as scheduled.

In the end, Friday’s tempest moved on, enabling matches to resume around 7:30 p.m. and the tournament to get back on track for the most part.

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It was past 1 a.m. when the men’s semifinals were finally set. Top-ranked Andrey Rublev will face Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in one of Saturday night’s semifinals, while Nick Kyrgios takes on Sweden’s Mikael Ymer in the other.

Still, a half-dozen players had to compete twice Friday to clear the backlog — first to complete rain-halted third-round matches from Thursday and again to contest the quarterfinals.

Rublev, who spent the long lull between his two Friday matches having lunch, showering and napping, said he felt lucky to have not spent too much time on court, winning each in straight sets.

“It’s part of the sport,” Rublev said. “I think that’s the fun thing about it: That you don’t know what to expect. Suddenly you will have two matches in one day. Then ... you delay and delay and you start really late, and it’s like you cannot adjust.”

Kyrgios, the Citi Open’s 2019 champion, was actually scheduled to play three times Friday. First, Kyrgios had to finish his third-round match against the fourth-seeded Opelka. After winning that, he returned to Stadium Court at roughly 10:30 p.m. to contest his quarterfinal against Hyattsville native Frances Tiafoe, who earlier in the day had also mopped up a rain-halted match from Wednesday, ousting eighth-seeded Botic van de Zandschulp.

It was 12:58 a.m. when Kyrgios finally defeated Tiafoe, fending off five match points in an epic second-set tiebreaker to advance 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (14-12), 6-2.

There simply weren’t enough hours in the day for Kyrgios to fulfill his third commitment, a doubles match with Jack Sock that had been billed as a Friday nightcap. It will be played Saturday.

For some Citi Open players, Washington’s heat and hassles proved too much.

In a late-night Twitter post, American Taylor Fritz explained why he retired from his third-round match in the thick of Wednesday’s heat while trailing Britain’s Dan Evans 1-4 in the third set, referencing a previously undisclosed foot injury that he said had limited his training since Wimbledon.

“Typically, I pride myself on my fitness and ability to compete in very hot/humid, brutal conditions like today,” Fritz wrote. “… Today I constantly felt like I was going to pass out, my vision was going fuzzy, and the only thing that can really prepare me for playing in these conditions … is playing in these conditions, something I just haven’t been able to do while nursing my foot.”

Other players said the trials of Washington’s Citi Open are making them stronger — even in defeat. That was the view of Opelka, 24, after his third-round loss to Kyrgios.

The 6-foot-11 Opelka, who boasts the biggest serve in men’s tennis, faced the unenviable task Friday of clawing back from a 6-7 (7-1), 1-2 deficit against Kyrgios, whose own serve is a force to be feared.

After a night to sleep on their unfinished business, Opelka and Kyrgios strode onto Stadium Court around 2:30 p.m. The first point didn’t go Opelka’s way, and suddenly he was down love-40 on his serve. Kyrgios broke and didn’t look back, needing just 14 minutes to close the choppy proceedings, 7-6 (7-1), 6-2, finishing with 12 aces to Opelka’s 13.

Nonetheless, Opelka called his two matches at this year’s Citi Open a valuable experience.

“I hadn’t played many [hard-court] matches,” Opelka said, “so it is a starting point of the hard-court season for me. It’s a critical step. The humidity, the climate, the heat — it’s all great prep for the U.S. Open because that’s what happens in New York.”

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Of the top 10 men’s seeds, only two made it as far as the quarterfinals: top seed Andrey Rublev, who ousted American Maxime Cressy, 6-4, 7-6 (10-8), and the 10th-seeded Tiafoe.

Among the seeds who joined Opelka in defeat Friday were Dimitrov, who was beaten by American Sebastian Korda, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2; eighth-seeded Van de Zandschulp, who fell to Tiafoe, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3; and ninth-seeded Holger Rune of Denmark, ushered out by wild-card J.J. Wolf, a former Big Ten player of the year who compiled a 35-2 record as a junior at Ohio State, in the day’s biggest upset. Wolf, in turn, was ousted by Rublev at the quarterfinal stage once play resumed in the evening.

Tiafoe and van de Zandschulp twice attempted to finish their third-round match Thursday before rain suspended play for the night at one set each.

“Yesterday was tougher than today,” van de Zandschulp said after his loss Friday. “You go on and off court; you’re not sure after the second [delay] if you’re going to finish the match. You have to take care of what you’re eating between delays to keep enough energy and be ready to go on court at any minute. It’s pretty tough, matches like this.”

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