The Mubadala Citi DC Open kicked off in Washington, DC, on Monday, with Liudmila Samsonova beginning her title defence with a dominant, straight-set win, and two Ukrainians advancing, Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk, while Daria Kasatkina and Laura Davis also making it into round 2 alongside Belinda Bencic, who benefitted from a mid-match retirement.
Honestly, I didn't believe I could win. I lost my chances at 4-all, there were some painful mistakes. Honestly, I didn't believe I could win this one, but I was just trying to play every point and stay in the match and fight, not give up. Marta Kostyuk
Samsonova, the World No 18 from Russia, made quick work of American Danielle Collins, 6-1 6-3, in the first match of the day at Rock Creek Park.
“Danielle is always tough to play against,” she said “I was trying to push on my serve, to be focused on my serve. When she gave the chance on the return, also to push her there. I’m very happy to be solid on that part.”
Seeded 8th here, Samsonova used last year’s tournament win as a springboard, picking up additional titles in Cleveland and Tokyo.
“I’m trying to manage the situation, to try to learn how to arrive to a tournament as a defending champion, how to manage all the situations,” Samsonova said. “So, for me, it’s everything quite new. I’m trying to do my best to enjoy, to have fun, and to play my best tennis.”
In other early play on Monday, former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu jumped out to a one-set lead and had multiple opportunities to secure a 1st-round win against Kostyuk, but the Ukrainian saved 3 match points in the decider on her way to a 2-6 6-3 7-6(5) come-back win.
Andreescu was bugged by a fan in the stands, who constantly cheered when she missed a serve, and shouted ‘out’ whenever the Canadian missed several.
Serving at 2-2, 0-15, Andreescu coughed up a double-fault, and when another ‘out’ call was heard from the stands, the former World No 4 became so riled up that she turned towards him with her hands outstretched and yelled at him to ‘shut up’.
Later, she refused to play, and demanded the fan be removed from the stadium, which was duly done by stadium security.
After the match, the current World No 44 took to social media to post: “What a wonderful sport.”
Andreescu had one match point while up 5-4 in the third set, and double match point at 6-5, but 21-year old Kostyuk stayed alive, and forced the tiebreak, in which she never trailed.
“Honestly, I didn’t believe I could win,” Kostyuk said afterwards. “I lost my chances at 4-all, there were some painful mistakes. Honestly, I didn’t believe I could win this one, but I was just trying to play every point and stay in the match and fight, not give up.”
When she looks back on this match, Andreescu will rue the missed opportunities as she was on top for most of the contest, striking 31 winners to Kostyuk’s 25, and making 38 unforced errors to the Ukrainian’s 37.
She carved out 14 break points, but converted just 5 of them, and 3 of those were on match points.
With the win, Kostyuk avenged her loss to Andreescu in the quarter-finals of Hua Hin earlier in the season, and levelled their head-to-head to 1-1.
Kostyuk will next face No 2 seed Caroline Garcia in the 2nd-round, the Frenchwoman having received a 1st-round bye.
That evening, Kostyuk’s countrywoman Svitolina ousted Victoria Azarenka, 7-6(2) 6-4, taking an hour and 47 minutes to win the 2 tight sets against the two-time Australian Open champion and former World No 1 from Belarus.
“It was really up and down,” Svitolina said, after her win. “Just have to try to focus every point, try to find your game again. Just try again and try again to come back into the match.”
Although Azarenka had won all of their first 5 meetings, Svitolina won a gripping Wimbledon 4th-round encounter via a final-set breaker.
The Ukrainian wild-card hung on to that momentum on this occasion, winning 11 straight points to post a 3-0 lead, but a love break for 3-1 gave Azarenka a boost, and the Belarusian reeled off 5 games in a row to serve for the set at 5-3.
The momentum swung back to Svitolina when she won 3 successive games behind sturdy groundstroke rallies, but she could not serve out the set at 6-5, before she swept through the tiebreak to claim the opening frame after just under an hour of play.
Returns dominated the second, with only one game going to the server, when Svitolina held for 3-2 with a pair of aces, including one on game point.
Azarenka, who was celebrating her 34th birthday on Monday, went 9-for-9 returning Svitolina’s second serve in the second set, but she never held onto her own serve, while Svitolina had a 60% success rate returning the Belarusian’s first serve, and completed the win with a forehand winner down the line.
Ahead of the match, spectators at the DC Open were told that the players would not shake hands on its conclusion because of the war in Ukraine.
Like other Ukrainian players, Svitolina has declined opponents from Russia or Belarus at the net at the end of a match.
When Svitolina wrapped up her win on Monday, both she and Azarenka walked straight toward the sideline to acknowledge the chair umpire, as people in the stands applauded, and a few waved blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags, as the Belarusian gave the Ukrainian the thumbs up.
There was no booing, as was seen in Paris and at Wimbledon, and Svitolina said she had been assured by WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon that there would be a message delivered to the crowd in Washington.
“It’s the right thing,” Svitolina said. “I asked for the WTA to respect the decision of Ukrainians. And they did.”
The scoreboards read: “At the conclusion of the match, there will be no handshake between the players. We appreciate your respect for both athletes during and following the match, and for your understanding during these difficult circumstances.”
The message was also shown after the first set.
In the 2nd-round, Svitolina will meet 5th-seeded Kasatkina from Russia, who beat Belgian Elise Mertens, 6-3 7-5.
It was sweet revenge for Kasatkina, ranked No 11, who avenged her loss at the Miami Masters earlier this year to Mertens, landing 73% of first serves, but it was on the second serve return where the Russian thrived, winning 68% of the time when Mertens had a second serve.
Svitolina holds a commanding 7-0 lead in her head-to-head with the Russian, including a win at Roland Garros this year.
“I just want to give it all now [in] these years that I have left,” Svitolina said. “I have this motivation to go for more, and just give it all.”
In other Monday results, Davis, who qualified, eliminated her American compatriot, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, 7-6(8) 3-6 6-1; and 6th-seeded Belinda Bencic advanced when Russia’s Anastasia Potapova retired in the first set with an injured left ankle, the score standing at 6-5 in the Swiss’ favour.
Davis knocked off Stephens, the 2015 champion of the event, in 2 hours and 37 minutes in part by saving 9 of 14 break points.
Sofia Kenin, the Australian Open champion and French Open runner-up in 2019, withdrew from the DC Open because of an injured left thigh, and was replaced in the field by Peyton Stearns, who lost in qualifying.
The tournament was established in 1969 and has a long and prestigious history, played on hard courts at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, located in Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC.
Throughout the years, the DC Open has seen some of the biggest names in tennis compete for the titles, and past champions include Andy Murray, Juan Martín del Potro, Kei Nishikori, Sloane Stephens, and Svetlana Kuznetsova, among others, but this time around, it is a combined for the first time, with both tournaments being on the 500 level.
The women’s field includes top seed Jessica Pegula, Garcia, Kasatkina, Maria Sakkari and Coco Gauff, but the WTA Draw is smaller than the men’s and carries considerably less prize money, which has prompted debate.
Changes are due from 2025 with tournaments taking steps to reduce disparity, but many believe it should come in sooner, with the men’s champion receiving $353,445, while the women’s prize money is $120,150 for the winner.
Britain’s Katie Boulter, who lost in the 2nd-round of qualifying to Canadian Leylah Fernandez, stirred up the prize money debate, adding that the reduced draw size meant the cut-off was No 39, and had stacked players into qualifying, while the ATP’s cut-off 142, further emphasising the disparities at the event.