- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2019

Coco Gauff was the name on everyone’s lips as the main draw of the Citi Open kicked off Monday at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center.

The 15-year-old who upset Venus Williams and stormed to the round of 16 at Wimbledon this month qualified for the tournament’s main draw over the weekend, marking her first competitive tennis since that successful Grand Slam debut.

Gauff joins a field that also includes Americans Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys as the top two seeds, plus Hyattsville native Frances Tiafoe in the men’s singles draw. All of them are scheduled to play their first singles matches Tuesday.

“I just think it’s crazy how literally three, maybe four weeks ago, not many people knew my name,” Gauff said Saturday. “Now a lot of people do.”

Keys is familiar with the role of teenage phenom in this sport. At 16, she broke onto the scene with a first-round win at the U.S. Open, her Grand Slam debut. But hers was a more gradual rise than Gauff’s, she said.

“There wasn’t really Twitter or Instagram or anything like that, so I slid under the radar for a lot longer,” Keys said, adding, “How (Gauff has) handled that and how she mature she is — she’s so wise beyond her years.”

If it weren’t for Gauff, hometown hero Tiafoe might be the center of attention this week instead. Tiafoe said he knows Gauff and her family well and recently told her to “stay focused and stay humble.”

“I love what she’s doing. I love what she did at Wimbledon,” Tiafoe said. “She’s locked in, she’s ready to go … The sky’s the limit for her.”

Gauff is set to play Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan in the first round of the 32-player bracket Tuesday. Stephens will open up the stadium court at 2 p.m. with a match against Rebecca Peterson.

Keys will face District native Hailey Baptiste, making her WTA main draw debut. Like Tiafoe, Baptiste was a product of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park.

The action isn’t limited to the singles draws. Andy Murray returned to the District to compete in men’s doubles with his brother Jamie, their first time teaming up in three years.

Murray — who briefly retired from playing in January due to a hip injury — is still slowly working back to peak form, so he is sticking only to doubles matches for now. At last year’s Citi Open, in just his third event after his first hip surgery, Murray had to withdraw from the singles event due to exhaustion because one of his matches ended after 3 a.m.

Nonetheless, he wanted to return to the District.

“I like it here, I really like it here,” Murray said. “Obviously what happened last year, it was a shame. I was going through a tough time when it happened.”

Worth noting: Gauff also entered the women’s doubles draw with 17-year-old Caty McNally as her partner. They won their first match Monday, 6-3, 6-2, potentially foreshadowing Gauff’s form for the singles competition, as well.

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