Canada’s top men’s and women’s singles players were victorious on Wednesday in their first events of the season, securing spots in the quarter-finals of the Brisbane International and ASB Classic respectively – albeit in different fashions.
Milos Raonic, who is playing his sixth consecutive Brisbane International and was the champion back in 2016, eased past qualifier Miomir Kecmanovic 6-3, 7-6(2) in the second round. Helped by 21 aces, the Canadian was dominant as usual from the service line, but also displayed the hard work put into his fitness over the off-season.
Scrambling behind the baseline and coming up with miraculous defensive shots, Raonic was able to secure an early break in the first set. Kecmanovic, a former top-ranked junior and US Open boys’ singles finalist in 2016 (l. to Auger-Aliassime), was able to find a better defensive rhythm in the second set, hanging with Raonic in backhand-to-backhand rallies and coming within two points of the second set at 5-4. The former World No. 3, however, was able to find enough serves and forehand to weather the Kecmanovic storm, running away with the eventual tiebreak and earning a spot in the final eight, where he will face Daniil Medvedev.
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Genie Bouchard was similarly successful in her second-round encounter at the ASB Classic in Auckland, but faced stern resistance in the form of qualifier Bibiane Schoofs. The match was a seesaw affair as Bouchard dictated play throughout, but found herself at odds with a tenacious opponent as well as her own emotions, struggling to finish off several cat-and-mouse points at the net.
Yet Bouchard’s fitness and own tenacity shone through in the important moments. She was proactive throughout the match and was aggressive with swing volleys early on, which allowed her to open up a 5-3 lead in the first set. A few close calls would ultimately become the difference in momentum, however, as Schoof sliced and diced her way to winning the first set in the tiebreak against an increasingly frustrated Bouchard.
The 24-year-old Canadian has experienced a fair share of highs and lows throughout her time on the professional circuit, and if the match was to be a microcosm of her career then she was determined to make it a success. Bouchard was able to refocus and revert to the simple but successful patterns that saw her achieve a career-high ranking of World No. 5 back in 2014. After claiming the second set, she was able to surge ahead with a break of serve in the decisive set, opening the court with sharp backhands and forcing errors with the depth of her forehand groundstrokes.
In the end, Bouchard claimed a gritty 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4 win that could prove to be pivotal for her confidence early in the season. Up next is No. 2 seed Julia Goerges, who was the Montreal-native’s final opponent in 2018 (a tight three-set loss in the Luxembourg Open semi-finals).
(Feature photo: Getty Images)