Nationals

Nishikori gains revenge, reaches Citi Open final; Isner next

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Nishikori gains revenge, reaches Citi Open final; Isner next

WASHINGTON -- The rematch was 334 days in the making and provided the Citi Open with a first. Never before had Washington's stop on the men's tour included a finals rematch from the previous U.S. Open.

Facing Marin Cilic also meant Kei Nishikori could gain some measure of revenge after losing in New York last September. The Japanese star took advantage.

Nishikori rallied after a slow start for a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Cilic in the Citi Open semifinals Saturday. 

The first Japanese man to reach a Grand Slam final will battle American John Isner in Sunday's championship match. The eighth-seed whalloped 31 aces and survived three match points from Steve Johnson for a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (9) win to reach his third Citi Open final.

"It's good to win against a top 10 player and especially Marin," Nishikori said. "We had a battle last year at the U.S. Open. It's great to have revenge today and I hope I can keep going tomorrow."

In their only previous meeting, the 6-foot-10 Isner downed the 5-foot-10 Nishikori early this year on hard courts in Miami. 

In the women's draw, American Sloane Stephens thumped 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur 7-6 (4), 6-0 to reach her first career final. She lost her previous six semifinal appearances.

Stephens will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova Sunday. Pavlyuchenkova, a Washington finalist in 20112, advanced to the women's final after top seed Ekaterina Makarova withdrew before the third set with the match even at 4-6, 6-3. 

Despite Nishikori's revenge admission, neither player copped to thinking about the previous match emotionally, only tactically.

That certainly made sense for Cilic.

He won the U.S. Open final in less than two hours, winning all three sets 6-3.

"It was giving me a direction to think about the game, to plan what I could do in the match," the Croatian said about the prior meeting. "I think I was pretty focused to execute those things."

That is until the second seed found his rhythm in the second set.

One of the hottest players on tour, Nishikori improved to 42-9 in 2015. Only Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have won more ATP this matches (48) this year.

That winning version didn't show early as Nishikori lost the opening three games. After dropping the set, instincts kicked in.

"He was playing well so I kind of let go of the first set and I tried to hit a little more aggressive," Nishikori said. "Some of the shots I have to close my eyes and just hit the ball."

Nishikori raced out to a 5-0 in the second set despite needing medical assistance for left leg tightness.

Known for his powerful two-handed backhand, Nishikori also took a quick lead in the final set, breaking Cilic in the opening game. Trailing 2-4, the third-seeded Cilic fought back to even the match, but he lost his serve at 5-4.

Nishikori served out the match to become the first men's player from Japan to reach the Washington final. He owns two titles on tour this season and is 9-5 all-time in ATP World Tour finals. 

"I showed some good tennis, too. I think it was a great win for me," he said.

Additional chances during the hard court season remain for Cilic, including defense of his U.S. Open title. The 6-foot-6 bomber knows which part of his game needs work.

"Next matches I'm just going to try to be more focused with my serve, to be more deadly," he said.

Such a statement would be impossible for Isner after he used his powerful serve for his own revenge win. Johnson upset his fellow American in the Citi Open round of 32 last year. 

He was tantalizing close to pulling off the same trick and treat himself to his first ever final appearance on the ATP World Tour. Johnson missed a running forehand wide at 6-4. Isner erased two other match points against with aces, including one clocked at 141 miles per hour. Soon after he nailed a service winner to convert his second match point against one of his best friends,

"I'm a little heartbroken, obviously," Johnson said.

Coming off his first title this season in Atlanta, Isner aims for his first-ever championship in Washington after losing his previous two final appearances. He fell to Juan Martin del Potro in the 2013 finals.

"I'm so excited to be back in the final here," isner said. "Hopefully it will be third time lucky."

The Citi Open Tennis Tournament is August 1st through the 9th at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. For tickets and more information go to www.citiopentennis.com.

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Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

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USA Today

Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

Stephen Strasburg had the best hitting performance of his career against the Braves Thursday night, going 3-3 at the plate with two singles and a 420-foot three-run bomb. 

He didn't just set personal records but reached rare air in baseball history. He's the second pitcher ever with at least three hits, a HR, and five RBI since the DH debuted in 1973 and the fifth pitcher in the last 50 seasons to get two hits in an inning including a home run. 

Strasburg set franchise firsts with his performance, dating all the way back to the Expos. 

An extraordinary milestone for the Nationals' ace, hopefully Strasburg's performance will inspire the team during a crucial four-game series with Atlanta. 

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‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

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‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

Perhaps no position group on the Redskins has more questions or uncertainty than the wide receivers.

Josh Doctson enters the final year of his rookie contract, and has yet to record over 550 yards in any of his three professional seasons. Washington signed Paul Richardson to a five-year deal in 2018, but he just played in just seven games for the Burgundy and Gold in 2018 before having season-ending shoulder surgery. Second-year receiver Trey Quinn is expected to fill the role in the slot after Jamison Crowder departed for the New York Jets this offseason but has yet to prove anything on the NFL level. 

The Redskins addressed the position during the 2019 NFL Draft, selecting Terry McLaurin in the third round and Kelvin Harmon in the sixth round. But it's unclear how much either one will contribute to the Washington offense in 2019.

So, it's likely the Redskins will need to address the position during the 2020 NFL Draft, and probably very early on it. Well, this works in Washington's favor, because the 2020 wide receiver class is loaded. 

On a recent episode of the Redskins Talk podcast, J.P. Finlay and Pete Hailey spoke with NFL Draft expert Jordan Reid (no, not the Redskins' tight end) about the top wide receiver prospects heading into next year's draft, and which players the Redskins could potentially target.

Before diving into the top 2020 prospects, Reid gave an initial assessment of the current Redskins' receivers.

"The Redskins just don't have that headliner, top go-to guy," Reid said. "They were expecting Josh Doctson to be that when they did draft him in the first round of 2016. But he's had some injuries, and he's already come out and said he's looking forward to free agency. That just not something you want to hear."

Reid was high on McLaurin, though, the first receiver the Redskins selected in 2019.

"They drafted Terry McLaurin in the third round, I liked him a lot even going back to the Senior Bowl," he said. "I think he's going to have a really good year, not just as a receiver but the special teams phase as well. He's going to flash in a lot of ways."

As far as the 2020 draft wide receiver class, one school stands on top, and it's a school the Redskins are very familiar with: Alabama. The Redskins used their first-round picks in 2017 and 2018 on 'Bama guys and signed another Crimson Tide alumni this offseason in safety Landon Collins.

"We know the Redskins love Alabama guys, and there's a lot of [wide receivers] coming out this year," Reid said. "It's not just Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs is another guy that's getting a lot of steam. They're going to have the chance to get the receiver they want. This is a very special wide receiver class."

Crimson Tide receiver Jerry Jeudy is the consensus top receiver in next year's class, but Reid believes his speedy teammate could challenge him for that spot by season's end.

"With Ruggs, I think he's a bit more as far as polished a route runner [than Jeudy]," he said. "I think his hands are a bit better, and I wouldn't be shocked if he runs below a 4.3 at the combine. He can absolutely fly."

If the pair of Alabama receivers currently hold the top two spots for best wide receiver prospect, there's another guy who's right on their heels: Oklahoma's Ceedee Lamb.

"He reminds me a lot of DeAndre Hopkins coming out," Reid said on Lamb. "He's not a thick guy, but he plays much stronger than what he indicates. Very reliable hands, and his body control is out of this world. He had a one-handed catch against UCLA, it didn't count, but it's truly amazing."

As a true sophomore, Lamb totaled 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018. Sure, it may have helped to have Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray under center, but Lamb has proven he's an elite talent.

Two other prospects Reid is keeping an eye on are Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. and Texas' Collin Johnson.

"He's not as polished as some of these other guys, but he's more of a do-it-all type of receiver," Reid said on Shenault Jr. 

Where Shenault may be a do-it-all receiver, Johnson plays to his 6'6 size.

"He's a really good route runner," Reid said on Johnson. "It's just a matter of how consistently can he separate, and how fast he is. If he goes to the Senior Bowl, I think he can light it up."

While many of these guys seem like sure-fire guys, there's still a full season of football to be played before the draft. Players will rise, but just as many, if not more, will fall off.

"You just have to let this play out, that's what happens with the draft process," Reid said. "Guys fall off, and then you have guys that come out of nowhere. Quinton Williams from last year is a prime example. He was a 270-pound defensive end at this time last year; we had no idea who he was and he ends up being the No. 3 overall selection."

But if everything plays out close to how it's expected to, this wide receiver draft class will be one to remember. 

"This class is special man," Reid said. "I think it's going to rival 2014, with Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and all those guys, Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams too. It's going to be very similar to that. It's very special."

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