As the heat index has risen at the Fitzgerald Tennis Center at Rock Creek Park this week, so has the number of Yoshihito Nishioka’s upsets.
He’s now into the quarterfinals of the Citi Open after another one, defeating 7-seed Karen Khachanov in two tiebreaking sets under a scorching sun Thursday afternoon, 7-6(2), 7-6(1). After losing in the first round in his last five ATP Tour appearances, the Japanese is into the quarterfinals for the first time since February.
There may be some players who after today would rather play this tournament in February. It was one of the hottest days of the year in the D.C. area, with heat indexes across the region easily reaching into the triple digits. That can feel even worse on a hard court surrounded by reflective bleachers.
“On court, I felt OK today, but conditions are very tough,” said Sweden’s Mikael Ymer, a winner over Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori. “I think we are playing one of the toughest sports on this planet, because besides dealing with the heat, you also have to constantly like make so many decisions.”
Players have had varying tactics for dealing with what most local residents are all too familiar with this time of year. Khachanov opened up a cylinder cooler full of ice and water bottles near his seat and stuck his head inside for a few moments during a changeover to cope.
His countrywoman, Liudmila Samsonova, took a different approach. She told Citi Open Radio that she intentionally trained at home in similarly-hot conditions in Russia for a month ahead of coming here so she could be ready for the North American hard-court season.
It’s paid off so far. After knocking off 5th-seeded Elise Mertens in the first round, she won again Thursday, dispatching Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Nishioka’s win was one of only two of the first six singles matches of the day to not go three sets. The other: Defending U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu’s.
“I think I died about three times in that match and then came back, honestly.”
The Brit, like Nishioka, gritted through two tie-breaking sets to hold off Colombia’s Camila Osorio, 7-6(5), 7-6(4). The world No. 10 was initially on cruise control in the first set, up 4-1 at one point before getting broken back and ending up in the tie-break. She brought her focus back, scoring 12 of the last 21 points to win the set.
“I was telling myself to stay sharp, keep working for every point,” Raducanu said on-court following the match. “Because I knew as soon as I let up, she’d be right back in.”
The 19-year-old noted how tired her feet were absorbing heat from the Har-Tru surface and also used a medical time-out in the second set to treat a blister on her racket hand. After a 2:50 match, she’ll face Samsonova in the quarterfinals.
“To me,” Raducanu said, “it’s just about recovering as best as I can for tomorrow.”
Area tennis fans remain undeterred by the warmth, with the day’s session selling out once again and a robust crowd taking in the action on multiple courts. It’s the 20th-straight day of sold-out Citi Open tennis dating back to 2009.
The conditions affected both No. 3 seed Taylor Fritz and 16-seed Daniel Evans in their match on John Harris Court. Evans held a bag of ice on top of his head to cool off, along with multiple shirt changes. It ultimately was too much for Fritz, who retired in the third set, 6-3, 6-7(6), 1-4.
The top American had been dealing with a stress fracture in his foot that he played on most of this season, but said ahead of the tournament that it hadn’t been an issue recently. Fritz wasn’t limping or favoring it as he walked off the court following the match. Evans will face Nishioka in the quarterfinals.