Bianca Andreescu and Denis Shapovalov scored solid victories on Thursday to reach the third round of the 2019 US Open. Both had too much game for their opponents – Andreescu outhitting Kirsten Flipkens 6-3, 7-5 and Shapovalov overpowering Henri Laaksonen 6-4, 7-6(3), 6-2.
Their matches followed each other on the 1,148-capacity Court 5, which is located between Courts 4 and 6 and is near Arthur Ashe Stadium that has almost all of its seats on the ends and occasional distractions coming in on the sides from the adjacent courts.
Following their wins, Andreescu and Shapovalov expressed the desire to play on a bigger court or stadium in the next round, and that would appear to be assured. Andreescu will be matched against no. 19 seed Caroline Wozniacki while Shapovalov faces men’s no. 13 Gael Monfils.
Both match-ups should get better exposure on Saturday, perhaps in the 23,771-capacity Ashe Stadium but surely in one of the other three biggest arenas – 14,067 Louis Armstrong Stadium, 8,125 Grandstand or 2,800 Court 17.
On a day when they didn’t have to spend too much competitive juice on their opponents, Andreescu and Shapovalov were able to indulge in talk about less consequential matters later in the main interview room. Andreescu had to drag herself away from the dramatic Simona Halep–Taylor Townsend match, right after Halep had saved two match points and made it 5-all in the final set, to answer questions from reporters who had waited about 15 minutes for her to appear.
Asked about the match points Halep had just saved, Andreescu replied, “I saw a couple, yeah. It’s a crazy match. Sadly I couldn’t watch it…but it’s okay.”
The fact that Townsend upset the fourth seed has made Andreescu’s potential path to the final rounds of the event a little less complicated – she was slated to play her Romanian-heritage friend Halep in the round-of-16 but could now face either no. 116 ranked qualifier Townsend, 23, or no. 106 Sorana Cirstea, 29, in that round if she’s manages to move past Wozniacki.
As for Shapovalov, he had a little chitchat with the media-room moderator as he was getting seated at the front – talking about his shorter haircut and how he finds it a little awkward at the moment because it’s sort of between long and short.
On the court on Thursday, Andreescu seemed in complete control against the 33-year-old Flipkens. After a service break at 3-2 and then a hold to go up 4-2 in the opening set, there was little doubt the 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., would be the one moving on.
She did fall behind 0-2 in the second set but quickly bounced back to 2-all and finally got the only other break at 5-all and then held serve easily – capping the win with a crisply-struck backhand, cross-court passing-shot winner past a helpless Flipkens.
There was a nice exchange at the net, with the no. 110-ranked Belgian later explaining, “if you win Indian Wells and Toronto – you’re a favourite. I told her I thought she could win the tournament and that she has to believe in her abilities. She played well.”
Andreescu made 71 percent of her first serves, won 68 percent of those points as well as 58 percent of her second serves.
Flipkens praised the Andreescu serve, saying, “she’s someone who can serve any side, anywhere –wide…T. It’s just difficult to read. Her placement is good, her speed is good. It’s a big weapon for her.”
In addition to the thin tape she had below her left knee for her first match on Tuesday, there was a wider wrap on her right thigh Thursday.
“I don’t know what you guys think we’re going to say,” she answered in a light-hearted manner to a question about the new wrap. “It’s either something hurts or we’re just preventing something from happening. It’s one or the other.”
Andreescu became most animated when she was informed that the ‘live’ WTA rankings now have her at no. 9, even though that was known on Tuesday after her win over American Wild Card Katie Volynets.
There was childlike wonder to her spontaneous response – with all the words that follow: “You’re kidding me. Really? Close? Wow, no, I don’t really – okay. Give me a sec. Wow.
“No, I don’t usually check these things. I like to just focus on my game, but that’s – wow. That’s all I can say right now. Am I getting red? A little bit?”
On the immediate matter at hand – playing the no. 19 ranked Wozniacki, a two-time US Open finalist (2009 and 2014) in the third round, Andreescu said, “I know that she’s an incredible fighter. She runs every ball down, and I know that it’s not going to be easy. I’m just going to go out there and play my game.”
As for Wozniacki, who lost 6-4, 6-4 to Andreescu at the Auckland, New Zealand, WTA event in the first week of January, she said about the 19-year-old Canadian, “I remember not really knowing who she was. I thought I played pretty well in that match and she still beat me. It was the first tournament of the year, so I was kind of unsure whether I was really hitting my level or whether she was playing that well.”
When Andreescu’s variety and ability to mix up her shots was mentioned, Wozniacki responded, “I think that fits my game fine. I do that myself. We’ll just see – just depends on who plays better on the day.”
Shapovalov’s domination of the no. 119-ranked Laaksonen built gradually throughout the match, but by the end, the 27-year-old Swiss was comprehensively outplayed. The first set concluded on a service break in the final game and the second set proceeded on serve to the tiebreak. Once there, Shapovalov was completely in control – grabbing a 5-1 lead before closing it out 7-3. By the third set, Laaksonen, whose career-high ranking was no. 93 in 2017, was close to capitulation mode.
It was a windy day and there were late-day shadows on the court that made matters a little tricky, but Shapovalov still played at a good level – finishing with 38 winners and 24 unforced errors in the one hour and 51-minute match. He did not face a single break point.
Shapovalov’s thoughts now turn to the inimitable Monfils, 32 years old and a US Open semi-finalist in 2016 (losing to Novak Djokovic).
“I’ve never played against him,” Shapovalov said about the Frenchman. “I’m a big fan of his. He’s been so exciting to watch from when I was super young. I’ve always seen him come out with crazy points, crazy hot shots. He’s so athletic on the court. I think he’s one of the best athletes in the world in any sport.
“It’s definitely going to be a very physical match. I’m expecting a long battle. He gets a lot of balls back. He’s pretty tricky. He can really do everything. He can play aggressive, he can stay in the rallies, he’s got a big serve.
“It’s going to be a tough match.”
Monfils, a man with undeniable flare, ended his 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Romanian Marius Copil on Thursday with a leaping 360-degree shot that has become one of his calling cards.
Later in his media conference, he was remarkably informed and analytical when it came to talking about Shapovalov. “It’s a big match for me,” he said about their third-round meeting. “I’m going into it like I’m playing a seeded player. He’s gone down a bit, just outside the seeds. He’s the kind of guy who really likes the big stage. That’s important because, when you play a big match and you know the other guy likes a big match, generally that means it’s going to be that much more difficult. You’ve got it or you don’t – and he does. I’ve never played him so it will be something new for me too. And he’s hungry, he’s young and he wants to shine too. I think it’s going to be a really big match.”
Shapovalov has former world no. 8 Mikhail (Misha) Youzhny as his new coach on trial basis.
“He only retired a year ago,” Shapovalov said about Youzhny. “He’s played these guys a lot of times. It definitely helps to kind of get a feel for how he felt when he played them. I think he scouts really well. He’s done a good job so far.”
Monfils analyzed the Shapovalov/Youzhny connection noting, “the experience Misha has in the Grand Slams – he made a semi-final here (2006) – it’s important and with Denis, who works hard like he does, it could be an incredible partnership.”
He then took a deep dive into his past experiences with the 37-year-old from Moscow, a man against whom he had a career head-to-head record of 1-3.
“My matches with Youzhny were very complicated,” Monfils said. “I had trouble playing him. He was a guy who could really make you uncomfortable. He’ll have good advice for Denis. But Denis has a different game, he’s left-handed, a guy who hits a lot harder. Misha was very crafty – he sliced it well and kept the ball very low. It was complicated for me.”
Shapovalov, who was ranked as high as no. 20 in April, was at no. 38 two weeks ago but is now actually up to no. 30 in the ‘live’ ATP rankings after a semi-final in Winston Salem last week and his two wins this week.
“Maybe we all get going a little bit too fast,” Monfils commented regarding Shapovalov’s so-so results in recent months. “He’s in his rhythm now. There was a lot of pressure on him – maybe there were one or two matches where he was expected to win and it didn’t happen right away. But he’s really young and really good and we all know he’s the future.”
Vasek Pospisil exited the 2019 US Open in singles late Thursday night – beaten 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-4 thanks to a solid effort from world no. 72 American Tennys Sandgen.
Pospisil’s fate was probably sealed on Wednesday when he woke up after an inspired but grueling five-set win over no. 9 seed Karen Khachanov the previous evening.
Thursday’s match was played in a raucous atmosphere on Court 13, with rival sections of the crowd chanting “Vasek, Vasek” countered by “USA, USA.”
After he evened matters by winning the second set tiebreak 7-4, Pospisil seemed to be right back in the match. And when he had two break points at 15-40, 1-all in the third set, it looked like the tide might be turning. But Sandgren survived and eventually broke serve at 4-3 with a sensational running backhand passing shot down-the-line off a sharply-angled Pospisil backhand volley that looked like it had ended the point. Sandgren served out the set in the following game.
The fourth set went on serve to 4-all when a fatigued Pospisil tried a desperation drop-shot that Sandgren put away for the final service break. He only needed four points in the ultimate game to finish off the two-hour and 49-minute victory.
Afterward, Pospisil spoke candidly about how it felt on his end during the match.
“I was surprising sore this morning still from the first match,” he said. “Considering I had a day off yesterday, I was pretty surprised that I was still kind of tired today. I’m obviously not used to playing a five-set match with the intensity I played on Tuesday. I was 10-15 per cent less fresh today and that was the difference.
“Tennys makes you work hard and you have to play the extra shot and this sport is so physical – and that’s probably the No. 1 factor at this level. Physically he was the superior player today.”
Although cramps have been an issue for Pospisil at times in the past, they weren’t a factor on a pleasant Thursday night in the packed 1,104-seat Court 13. “I was expecting to feel better today, I was really beat up yesterday,” he said. “I was super happy that things got rained out yesterday and I didn’t have to play doubles (with Hubert Hurkacz of Poland). I thought I’d wake up better today but I was still pretty sore overall.”
A loud, partisan crowd is normally something he enjoys – but not so much Thursday night. “I usually love that but I was so tired I was trying to conserve energy,” he said. “Usually I like to feed off the energy of the crowd if it gets rowdy but today was not the case. Normally I would love to play in that kind of atmosphere but today I was in survival mode.”
Summing up, he said, “it was a really positive tournament for me and I’m really disappointed right now because I feel I have better tennis in me – it’s very frustrating to lose because of physical reasons. I just feel like it’s happened so often to me in Grand Slams where it’s less about tennis and more about physical endurance of the body. It’s just getting more frustrating as my career goes along. Obviously I came back from a (back) surgery (in January) – I’m being a little bit hard on myself because I haven’t had that much time to really be sharp overall. I’m disappointed because I felt I was ready and my tennis is there to have a deeper run at a Slam, but the body isn’t.”
Pospisil plans to play a $54,000 Challenger in Columbus, Ohio, the week of September 16 and then go to Asia for three more Challenger tournaments.
A FINAL NOTE: watching the match courtside, when a Sandgren supporter called out “c’mon Tennys,” it certainly sounds a little strange – and definitely a very neutral encouragement.
Dominic Moore (in white above) who played in the National Hockey League from 2003 to 2018 – including five years with the New York Rangers and stints with nine other NHL clubs including the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs – was a hitting partner on Thursday for women’s world no. 2 Ashleigh Barty.
Moore, 39, is a fine tennis player who reached the semi-finals of the over-35 Canadian Seniors Championships event last week in Toronto, losing to ITF world No. 1 over-35 player Henry Choi of Vancouver.
The practice court display pictured above could be viewed on the grounds of the US Open on Thursday. When asked how he had teamed-up to hit with Barty, Moore simply said, “just through the grapevine.”
New York City is a tough town. But a bus that has EVIL written on the front if it – isn’t that going a little too far? EVIL, of course, is simply an advertisement for a television series.
Feature photo: Mauricio Paiz
NOTE: No blog for Friday’s action, will return Saturday.