- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2018

Without Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, all of whom skipped the tournament, and Andy Murray, who dropped out due to fatigue, the 2018 Citi Open lacked a little star power.

But Sunday’s final showcased a next-generation talent on the verge of joining that elite group in Germany’s Alexander Zverev, the D.C. tournament’s top seed who defeated Alex de Minaur in two sets (6-2, 6-4) to capture his second Citi Open title in as many years.

“You know you have a title to defend, and you still come out here to win,” Zverev said. “It feels great and it shows I think mental strength as well and it shows a little bit of maturity.”

After his semifinal win Saturday, the 21-year-old joked that he was the “only one that’s allowed to buy a drink in the U.S., right?”

He was correct. He topped 19-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas to advance to the men’s final. De Minaur, also 19, beat Andrey Rublev, 20, as he looked for his first title since breaking onto the tour in 2017. Because he isn’t old enough to drink in America, he noted he wouldn’t be celebrating his deep run that way.

It marked the first ATP semifinal featuring four U-21 players since 1995.

But one day after de Minaur’s comeback semifinal victory Saturday, in which he needed 35 games to top Rublev, he appeared to struggle with the German’s power serve. Zverev recorded six aces Sunday.

“Obviously, I had a great tournament,” Zverev said. “I played a lot of great players. Losing only one set was a fantastic week for me.”

In game three, de Minaur flicked his sweat-drenched white shirt in frustration when his forehand effort fell wide. Fans responded with cheers of support for the 19-year-old ranked No. 72 in the world and very much the favorite among the crowd in D.C.

Fans cheered again when Zverev’s next shot fell long, but the ovation was short lived. De Minaur double-faulted before his backhand attempt hit the net en route to Zverev’s set one win, 6-2, which featured a late burst by de Minaur before Zverev controlled proceedings.

De Minaur showed flashes, but couldn’t sustain a serious comeback.

He didn’t even attempt to return a 123-mph ace from Zverev that leveled set two at one game apiece, unable to find a remedy to Zverev’s strong suit.

“He’s got a massive serve,” de Minaur said. “He played some great tennis and was too good for me.”

Zverev, ranked No. 3 in the world, isn’t noted for his net play. The 6-foot-6 Zverev, who launched one serve at 130 mph Sunday, struggled there at times against the nimble de Minaur.

Zverev, though, was technically the veteran in a matchup between the two young talents, and it showed as he held off de Minaur late, taking set two 6-4.

“There’s not a lot of players on tour which are probably smaller than me,” de Minaur said. “I encountered a bigger and better player today. He hit me off the court and he was too good.”

Tennis has searched for the next wave of talent to challenge the entrenched power circle atop the game.

Zverev seems destined to take that step as he captured his ninth ATP title and third of 2018. And despite the loss, de Minaur could be part of a group following not far behind.

“We all want to be the best,” Zverev said. “We all have a lot of hard work ahead of us. We all have great talent, as you saw this week. I mean, four next-gen players in the semifinals, that’s amazing for tennis I think. Me being the oldest kind of never happened to me before, but it’s interesting. I like where tennis is going.”

Svetlana Kuznetsova won her second title at the Citi Open, and first at any WTA tournament in two years, by erasing four match points to beat Donna Vekic 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2.

The No. 7 seed Vekic was one point from victory four times in the second set but was not able to close it out.

Kuznetsova is a two-time Grand Slam champion, but she is currently ranked only 128th, the lowest spot for a women’s champion at the hard-court tournament.

She also won the Citi Open in 2014.

On Saturday, Kuznetsova beat Germany’s Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 6-2 to reach the women’s final.

Vekic beat unseeded Zheng Saisai of China 7-5, 6-3 in the semifinals.

Rain throughout the week pushed action back and led to Murray exiting the tournament. The three-time major champion, coming back from hip surgery, finished his most recent match at 3 a.m. Friday and decided to withdraw rather than play again so soon afterward.

⦁ Based in part on wire reports.

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