A pair of 22-year-olds met Thursday afternoon in the second round of the Citi Open with seemingly divergent career paths. Monica Puig, the No. 3 seed at the tournament, is ranked a career-high No. 33 in the world after reaching the semifinals in two of her previous four tournaments. Next month, she will represent her native Puerto Rico at the Rio Olympics.
Lauren Davis, on the other hand, had failed to advance past the first round in her past five tournaments and took a two-month sabbatical from tennis after a qualifying-round defeat at the Miami Open in March.
But at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center this week, the 122nd-ranked Davis has rediscovered the game that made her one of the best young American players on the women’s tour in previous years.
The Ohio native beat Puig, 6-4, 6-2, to reach the quarterfinals at the Citi Open, her best result in four appearances in the tournament. In the first round, Davis beat American Shelby Rogers, a French Open quarterfinalist ranked No. 57 in the world. She will play Friday afternoon against Italy’s Camila Giorgi, who advanced when Tamira Paszek of Austria withdrew with an upper respiratory infection.
“Going in I knew it would be a really tough match,” Davis said. “Monica’s a great fighter, and she’s been playing amazing this year. She’s jumped a lot in the rankings. I knew it would be a big challenge in front of me, but I just tried to focus on the process, do what I had to do, focus on myself [and] get my job done.”
Davis was broken early in the first set by Puig, who won the first three games of the match. She called for her coach, who told her to start playing more aggressively instead of letting Puig dictate the tempo.
It was also then that Davis said she decided to change her mind-set. In the second set, Davis broke Puig in the first game and never trailed in the set.
“I realized I was kind of being negative with myself, so I just thought more positively, more uplifting,” she said. “I think that really did wonders.”
As Jack Sock darted around the practice court in the blistering Washington heat Thursday afternoon, sweat started to seep through his shirt. Sock, toting his American flag-themed racket in his right hand and his American flag tennis bag over his shoulder, is only weeks away from his first Olympic Games.
As John Isner warmed up on the court adjacent to Sock, a crowd began to form , with most eyes locked on the top U.S. men’s player.
Hours later, as Sock and Isner played their respective matches at the Citi Open, the crowd for Sock dwindled in comparison to the showing for Isner at center court.
But come August, the crowd won’t be watching Isner. It will be watching Sock as he chases the Olympic gold medal for men’s singles, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by an American man since Andre Agassi in 1996 . Sock was 3 years old at the time.
The Nebraska born and Kansas-raised phenom has been on the scene since 2009, when he began playing in Futures tournaments when he was 16. After culminating his high school career with an 86-0 record and winning four straight state championships, he turned pro in 2011. Five years later, he’s ranked 26th in the world and headed to Rio to represent his country.
“We all grew up watching it, dreaming to play for your country one day,” said Sock, 23, the youngest American male on the team. “Now it’s going to be a reality in a couple weeks.”
But for now, Sock’s focused on the Citi Open, where he defeated Daniel Evans, 6-1, 7-5, to advance to the quarterfinals to play Ivo Karlovic.
Isner feels right at home when he plays at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center.
With a 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 victory over Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, the top-seeded Isner is through to the quarterfinals for the sixth time in nine appearances. Ranked No. 16 in the world, Isner hit 15 aces in the win.
“It’s a good tournament for big servers,” he said. “The court is conducive to hitting good serves and big forehands. . . . But I think more than anything else, the conditions, the weather, the courts, is that I’m comfortable here.”