Monday was a “kid-in-a-candy-store” type of tennis day inside the Capital Beltway. It started with a bang yesterday as the Washington Kastles won their fifth consecutive Mylan World TeamTennis title, skyrocketing the team to an ultra elite status as the only one to win five consecutive King Trophies over its 40-year history. On top of that, they’ve won six of the last seven years.
To add to this favorable atmosphere, the Citi Open tennis tournament began its main draw competition today in Rock Creek Park.
The coinciding events continue what many locals have know for decades — Washington D.C. is way more than a political spin center, even for visiting tennis dignitaries such as Scotsman Andy Murray, the tournament’s No. 1 seed.
“The venue’s made a lot of improvements,” Murray began, in a pre-tournament press conference. “The courts are similar, but other things have been added. And, when I came last time I didn’t see much of the city. But this time, being right in the center it’s been nice. It’s a great city.”
The last time Murray played here, 2006, the tournament was called the Legg Mason Classic and he was ranked No. 35, not No. 3. He reached the final that year, losing to one-time champion Arnaud Clement of France. The field this week will present problems for Murray, who hasn’t played on a hard court in nearly five months.
“People forget sometimes that I haven’t really hit a ball on a hard court since Miami, which was in March,” he said. “So that’s like four or five months. It does take some time, especially coming from the grass. This morning, when I hit, [it] was the first time I started to feel more comfortable, like I was getting more used to them again.”
Murray has not played a match since Great Britain’s 3-2 quarterfinal victory over France to reach the semifinals of Davis Cup for the first time in 34 years. Murray’s two singles and a doubles rubber win, alongside brother Jamie, pushed the Brits over the finish line at London’s Queen’s Club.
“Obviously the conditions here compared with them at Wimbledon are completely different,” he added. “It’s extremely humid here, the very high bouncing courts. It takes quite a bit of time to get used to conditions again. That’s why I arrived here on Tuesday, which would be the earliest I’ve arrived at any event pretty much in the whole year.”
Characterized by hard blue deco turf courts, hot sun and oppressive humidity, the Citi Open challenges players from every possible angle.
“It’s a strong field,” Murray admitted. “They said it was maybe the strongest cutoff in its history. It’s going to be a tough event. I play my first match Wednesday. I’ll try to get a little bit of video from the Gabashvili/Becker match. Both are big hitters of the ball, kinda flat.”
Murray’s confidence is high; his overall record is 48-7, 12-1 on grass and 15-1 on red clay. He’s won titles in Munich and Madrid, and reached the semifinals of Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
“The year, as a whole, has been good,” he began. “I’d say it’s been much, much better than last year, but, obviously, we want to try and do better. I hope to get off to a good start here and finish well at U.S.Open.”
Although Teymuraz Gashvili or Benjamin Becker pose immediate threats for Murray, Kei Nishikori should be in the top-seed’s sights in a week. Seeded No. 2, Nishikori has not played since he withdrew with a left calf injury before the second round at Wimbledon.
“I’m feeling pretty well, actually,” Nishikori began. “After Wimbledon I took off one week, and my leg was fine after that. I’ve been working really hard for three weeks. I’m really looking forward to this week.”
Nishikori has had to deal with multiple injuries over his career. In 2008, after elbow surgery, he thought he would never return to the top 100.
“For one year I couldn’t play after elbow surgery. That was really tough,” Kei said. “I didn’t think I could come back to the top 100 again. Motivation was really low, but I kept believing myself. Now I’m just very happy to be playing tennis. Also more guys have more injuries. You see guys like Tommy Haas coming back. That’s motivation for me to see that.”
Nishikori said that his body has gotten stronger, over the last couple years. “I feel like it’s less injuries right now.”
Ekaterina Makarova and Samatha Stosur, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in D.C. on the WTA side, are also dealing with the oddities of transitions from clay to hard or grass to hard. Unlike many of the women here this week, Stosur did not take a break after Wimbledon. She played two clay-court tournaments: Bastad, in Sweden, and Bad Gastein in Austria, which she won at the end of July.
“It’s been a pretty quick turnaround for me,” Stosur began. “I didn’t get back to Florida until Monday night a week ago. I took a couple days off, then practiced Thursday and Friday, then came here. But I’m feeling good. It’s nice to get back on the hard courts again. Obviously I’m getting used to the heat and the general weather conditions, which can take its toll if you’re not smart about things.”
Stosur is appearing in D.C. for the first time. From 2005-2014 she typically played Stanford, except in 2007 and 2012.
“I wanted to try something different,” Stosur explained. “I love that Stanford tournament, but I’ve also heard really good things about Washington. So, it’s funny, as soon as people heard that I was playing here everyone told me I’d love the city. So I’m really happy to experience another part of the states and another tournament.”
Stosur readily admits she indulges in regional cuisines as she travels the world. D.C. is no different, but does it match up to the gourmet delights she’s experienced in Charleston, S.C., a town well-known for scrumptious fare? When there, Stosur plans out her meals. She makes reservations at a few different restaurants for every evening then, at the last moment, selects the one she’s most in the mood for.
But can D.C. food exceed Charleston’s?
“I don’t know about that,” she said, smiling. “I’m going to experience a few more things before I make that call.”