This week at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. four qualifiers will be playing their first ATP tour-level matches. The qualifying draw happened to be unusually weak for a ATP 500 event due to the amount of events on the tennis calendar this week. With a 48-player draw in Washington, an ATP 250 event in Los Cabos (not to mention another 250 in Kitzbuhel, Austria, on clay), and five Challengers taking place this week, these four players took advantage of the opportunity and now find themselves playing on the big stage for the first time in their careers.
26-year-old Italian Alessandro Bega booked his spot in the main draw after beating American Danny Thomas and Brazilian Joao Pedro Sorgi. Bega is currently ranked #351 and has spent most of his time this season on the futures circuit. He’s won one title this year in Basiglio, Italy on a hard court which he lists as his favorite surface. Next up for Bega is the experienced Tunisian Malek Jaziri. It’s certainly a winnable match for Alessandro Bega, but Jaziri is coming in to the tournament after upsetting American Reilly Opelka last week in Atlanta after saving eight match points.
New York-born Israeli Edan Leshem qualified after beating American Alex Rybakov and Columbian Alejandro Gonzalez. Lesham has also spent most of his season on the futures circuit and has had a lot of success. He’s won three and has lost three finals on the season (all in Israel). He also made a run at the Winnipeg Challenger earlier this month, reaching the semifinals before falling to Blaz Kavcic. Up next for Edan Leshem is fan favorite Marcos Baghdatis. The Cypriot struggled last week in Atlanta against Kyle Edmund, but is always a dangerous player this time of the year during the US Open series.
Former University of Florida standout Sekou Bangoura also advanced to the main draw over the weekend after defeating Americans Ryan Goetz and Austin Krajicek. For Sekou Bangoura, it really seems to be long overdue for his first appearance. He’s been on the verge of main draws many times throughout his career. In 2015, he fell to Yoshihito Nishioka in the final round of qualifying in Delray Beach, and in the same year lost to Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the final round of qualifying in Winston-Salem after beating Lucas Pouille 6-4 6-1 the round before. In 2016, he was one win away from a spot in the US Open main draw before falling to now-top 30 player Mischa Zverev. In the first round, he’ll face Romanian Marius Copil who hasn’t played a match on a hard court since the Miami Open in March. I would say Bangoura has the best chance of the four players making their debut to reach the second round. He’s always had the talent, but it’s just a matter of putting it all together to become a more complete player to compete on tour.
Last, and probably the most interesting path to get to the Citi Open qualifying, is Alexios Halebian. Ranked #644 in the World you’d assume he would have no shot of getting in to a ATP 500 event qualifying draw. Even he didn’t think he would get in–Halebian was playing a USTA sanctioned event in Tacoma, Washington, where the winner receives $4000. After finding out he’d have an opportunity to make the qualifying draw, he withdrew while still in both the singles and doubles draws, and it paid off. He’s now in the main draw with the likes of Juan Martin Del Potro, Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori, and Gael Monfils–not to mention that even with a first round loss he’ll receive $6,600. His opponent is Slovakian Lukas Lacko, who is coming off a quarterfinals appearance last week in Atlanta.