It was not the way Bianca Andreescu wanted to reach the second round of the Australian Open qualifying event. But after a run to the final in Auckland last week – eight matches all the way from the qualifying – she could certainly use a minimal amount of time on court.
In total Wednesday that turned out to be just 31 minutes on Court 20 as she advanced 6-1, ret. when Katie Swan of Britain had to withdraw with a lower back issue. Swan didn’t carry the injury into the match and seemed to be moving well as the picture at the top from the sixth game indicates.
A week ago in Auckland it was Andreescu who was treated for a lower back problem during, among others, her third-round match against No. 3-ranked Caroline Wozniacki.
“Last week I was getting treatment every match,” said Andreescu (looking at Swan during the medical time out on Wednesday). “It’s not easy retiring from a match. I have a lot of respect for Katie. I really hope she recovers quickly.”
It had been a competitive set in the early stages – especially a lengthy fifth game which Andreescu finally pulled out to take a 4-1 (double-break) lead.
Displaying the same spunk and energy that took her to the final of the WTA International level event in Auckland, Andreescu then won the set. Then Swan called for the trainer.
It took about seven minutes for the trainer to reach distant Court 20 at the far eastern end of the grounds and by the time she got there Swan was visibly crying.
A doctor later arrived and Swan was distraught, continuing to cry. She eventually had to retire and left the court in a wheel chair.
Andreescu played hard in the short time she was on court and looked remarkably fresh after all the tennis she played last week – including finishing the last two rounds with a wrap on her right thigh. But there was no wrap on the leg Wednesday.
“I recovered pretty quickly the last two days,” she explained. “I’ve been getting a lot of treatment and I’m feeling really good.”
About the abbreviated time she spent on court against the 19-year-old Swan, Andreescu said, “there were a couple of close games but I think I just played the right points at the right moments.”
She added about her approach after her big breakthrough last week and all the attendant hoopla, “I just tried to stay in the present moment. Instead of using last week as pressure, I used it as confidence and momentum and I think that showed.”
There’s one constant from last week, she is still coughing occasionally. “Just to be clear,” she said, “it’s not a cold. It’s kind of like a virus thing because I did have a cold but that was a month ago. It kind of just persisted but I’m taking medication for that so hopefully in a couple of days it gets better.”
About her transition from the week of her life in Auckland to the down-to-earth reality of the AusOpen qualifying, she said, “Monday was my day off. I hit on Tuesday a bit and then I got a message.”
She will look to keep her hot streak going on Thursday when she faces 173-ranked Valentini Grammatikopoulou. The 21-year-old Greek played all four Grand Slam qualifyings last year, only managing to win a round at the Australian and French Opens.
Andreescu, seen above at practice on Wednesday with her coach Sylvain Bruneau, will face Grammatikopoulou (16 letters if case you were wondering) in the final match of the day on Court 15. That would roughly be at 1 a.m. ET in Canada on Wednesday.
Katherine Sebov, 19 from Toronto, was playing in her first Grand Slam qualifying and got off to a shaky start against 22-year-old Jessika Ponchet. The No. 240-ranked Frenchwoman has a quirky game – most noticeably a single-handed backhand that she hits with a kind of poking motion. But she’s effective and kept Sebov off balance in earning a 6-1, 6-4 victory in 63 minutes.
There were simply too many unforced errors by Sebov – her winners to unforced errors ratio was 12/33 while Ponchet was 15/15.
Having trailed 6-1, 4-2 and then 5-3 in the second set, Sebov had a chance to get back to 5-all but played a poor game on serve. It included a couple of forehand errors and a double fault.
“They played two years ago in Granby (Quebec),” Tennis Canada women’s national coach Bruneau said about Sebov and Ponchet, “and Katherine won in the semi-finals. Ponchet is hard to play. She varies the pace and speed, she has a good serve and she can go to the net. She’s an atypical player. She plays slices, she can hit big topspin and then she can also hit hard all of a sudden.
“She varied a lot and Katherine was a little too erratic and she didn’t adjust to the variety.”
Asked if he thought Sebov was nervous, Bruneau said, “probably because it was her first match in a Grand Slam – she played a few junior Grand Slams. But it’s her first in a Grand Slam qualifying so it’s a learning experience, learning her métier. She had her chances today and it was a winnable match but the Frenchwoman wasn’t easy.”
Brayden Schnur was playing in the fourth Grand Slam qualifying of his career with his best showing being a third round at Wimbledon in June last year.
On Wednesday on the same Court 10 where Sebov played, the 23-year-old from Pickering, Ont., was beaten 6-4, 6-3 by No. 176 Kamil Majchrzak of Poland.
Schnur seemed to be feeling the pressure when he served to stay in the first set trailing 5-4. At 30-all, he made an unforced error and said out loud, “you’re pressing.” He saved the ensuing set point with an aggressive ground stroke and a second with a service winner. But Majchrzak converted on the third when Schnur was forced into a forehand error.
At the end of the set Schnur (above) consulted a local coach he was been working with in Melbourne but couldn’t reverse the momentum against the 22-year-old Pole. He fell behind 3-0 to start the second set and was never able to catch up.
It was a windy day and the 6-foot Majchrzak handled the conditions better than the rangy 6-foot-4 Schnur. A key stat was Majchrzak winning a 86 per cent of second serve points to just 41 per cent for Schnur.
The Pole was more consistent tallying a 10/12 winners to unforced errors ratio compared to 24/40 for Schnur.
“I think Brayden was a little bit too tentative,” summed up Canadian Davis Cup captain Frank Dancevic about the match. “He was giving up too much of the baseline the whole match and the other guy was taking control on most of the points. He was on the baseline and Brayden was doing a lot of the running, playing a little bit more of a defensive game. In my opinion he could have taken a lot more of the points after his serve and got on top of the guy right away.”
About the windy conditions, Dancevic noted, “Brayden has a really high toss on his serve so I think that definitely affects his first serve because windy conditions can move the ball around a bit. And especially here with the Australian sun being right above your head. I’m not sure how much that affected him but I know in the past when I was serving here I would struggle with that, with the sun in the eye.”
Dancevic, who played 10 Australian Open qualifyings and main draws during his career, was asked if losing first round at Melbourne Park is the toughest of the four Grand Slams because of the distance traveled by most players to compete.
“I would say it is but not only is it such a long trip,” he said, “but most guys go through hell in November/December preparing. They’re doing everything they can to be ready for the new year. Sometimes that can put extra pressure on yourself to do well. It’s a very tough Grand Slam especially if you haven’t had too many matches under your belt.”
Hoping to continue their runs into the third round on Thursday will be Felix Auger-Aliassime who plays No. 171 Christopher Eubanks of the U.S., Peter Polansky who faces No. 207 Blaz Rola of Slovenia and Andresscu who’s matched against No. 173 Grammatikopoulou.
Federation Square in central Melbourne is a gathering place for tourists and locals alike. Here a street performer does his thing last weekend.