Tennis matches can come down to small margins at crucial junctures.
Near the end of the second set of her opening round-robin encounter at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, on Monday, Bianca Andreescu held a match point on Simona Halep. She hit an aggressive backhand cross-court and Halep managed to stab the ball back with a sliced one-handed backhand. For a moment, as the ball floated high in the air, it looked as if it might land long. But it did not – touching down just inside the baseline. The Romanian then countered with a nicely-angled, cross-court backhand of her own forcing an Andreescu backhand reply that went over the baseline.
Given a reprieve, Halep would then go on to take the eventual tiebreak 8-6.
The complexion of the match changed during the changeover at the end of the set. With the score at one set apiece, Halep called for the trainer and had a right big toe issue taken care of during a medical time-out. Then, completely unexpected, Andreescu asked for the trainer and received treatment for her left lower back (see below) during another medical time-out.
The third set started with a pair of service holds and then Andreescu broke serve to lead 2-1. The following game may have been the key to the outcome. It lasted seven-and-a-half minutes and, despite having three game points, Andreescu lost it.
At 2-all, two-time Grand Slam champion Mary Pierce, doing commentary on television, noted that Andreescu seemed “hindered” in her movement.
She won only one more game, losing the match 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-3. While much was later made about how well Halep played, it had to be equal measure Andreescu being unable to perform at her best because of the back.
“Yeah, my friggen back hurts,” she said after the match. She added about Halep and the way the match played out, “well she started putting more balls in the court, first of all. Then in the third set, I really don’t want to blame my back, but I felt like I didn’t have the same power as I did in the first and second set.”
Many tennis followers don’t like to take injuries into account when explaining the result of a match. But this observer believes that an accurate assessment has to involve examining the role they may have played. Did Grigor Dimitrov upset Roger Federer at this year’s US Open solely on his fine play – or was the Swiss clearly limited by a neck/shoulder issue? And did Stan Wawrinka truly outplay Novak Djokovic in his win (on a retirement) at Flushing Meadows or was the Serb’s wonky left shoulder the main factor in explaining what happened?
These are questions that can’t be accurately answered – with maybe only future meetings between the players providing insight into what took place.
As for Andreescu – Halep on Monday, the 19-year-old Canadian certainly looked the better player in taking the first set, winning four games in a row from 3-2 down. In the second set, Halep stepped up but Andreescu was still with her all the way to the fateful match point at 6-5, advantage Andreescu with the Romanian serving. Even in the tiebreak that decided matters, Andreescu got back to 6-all before two unforced errors gave Halep the set.
There were stretches in the match when Andreescu’s superior firepower dominated and they suggested she will be hard for Halep to handle in the future.
On the subject of the match and the possibility of again playing against Halep, with whom she shares Romanian ancestry, in the final after the round-robin phase, Andreescu said, “my serve, my return was good today, for most of the match at least. I didn’t feel intimidated at all stepping on the court.
“I know I looked up to her a lot, so being able to play her was really fun. Yeah, maybe I’ll get to play her again here – get my revenge.”
That might depend on how her back responds to a day off on Tuesday.
“I fought well with what I had in the third,” she said. “I’m proud of that – still pretty disappointed.”
Elaborating on whether she had previously experienced the same injury issue, Andreescu said, “I really don’t want to talk about my back right now. But no, I didn’t feel it before.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s second-match meeting with No. 2-ranked Karolina Pliskova, who lost 7-6(12), 6-4 to defending champion Elina Svitolina on Monday and 6-0, 2-6, 6-4 to Andreescu in the quarter-finals of Rogers Cup in August, Andreescu said about how she would prepare, “(a) ton of treatment, resting as much as possible, eating well, drinking a lot. Hopefully I can step on the court a little bit tomorrow (Tuesday) to work on some things.”
With the withdrawal on Tuesday of Naomi Osaka due to a shoulder problem, it would be a huge blow to the inaugural WTA Finals in Shenzhen if Andreescu also had to pull out. She and the 22-year-old Japanese are arguably the biggest marquee names at the event.
All and all there was a lot of fascinating tennis in the first ever match-up of Andreescu and Halep, who has had back woes of her own that contributed to one win/one loss records at each of her past four tournaments. Much in the way that Andreescu’s 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 loss to Osaka in Beijing earlier this month whetted the appetite for a re-match, Monday’s result against Halep creates a lot of interest in seeing the two meet again.
The final stats for the two-hour-and-34-minute match had Andreescu’s winners/unforced errors at 36/38 while Halep was 23/31. But if the first set is removed, it was more favourable to Halep – in sets two and three she was 18/21 while Andreescu was 21/28.
All this is just more food for thought for the next match-up, which could come sooner rather than later.
Milos Raonic reached the second round of the Rolex Masters in Paris on Monday, defeating No. 57-ranked Cameron Norrie 6-3, 6-2.
Playing on one of the two low-ceilinged, show courts in the bowels of the Accor Hotels Arena, Raonic did not face a single break point and converted on three of his six opportunities against the 24-year-old Brit.
Raonic ‘out-aced’ Norrie 14-0 and made 69 per cent of first serves – winning 28 of 29 (97 percent).
It was Raonic’s first tour (not counting Laver Cup) win since August 5 when he beat Lucas Pouille 6-4, 6-4 in the first round of Rogers Cup in Montreal.
In Wednesday’s second round he faces No. 5-ranked Dominic Thiem, winner of the Vienna ATP 500 event on Sunday. Raonic has a 2-1 head-to-head advantage over the 26-year-old Austrian, winning twice on hard courts in 2016. But Thiem prevailed in their last meeting 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 6-4 in the semi-finals on his way to winning the BNP Paribas Open title in Indian Wells in March.
On Tuesday afternoon in Paris, Denis Shapovalov advanced to the second round when his opponent, No. 53-ranked Gilles Simon, had to retire with an upper leg/groin injury with the score at 2-2 in the first set.
It was the first win in his third appearance at the Rolex Paris Masters for Shapovalov and he will face No. 11 seed Fabio Fognini in Wednesday’s second round. Shapovalov leads their head-to-head 1-0, having beaten the 32-year-old Italian 6-3, 7-5 at Rogers Cup in Toronto in 2018.
This week the $60,000 (US) Tevlin Challenger event is celebrating its 15th year at Aviva Centre at Tennis Canada in Toronto.
The No. 1 seed is a top-100 player – but just barely. Belgian veteran Kirsten Flipkens, 33, is ranked No. 99. An aggressive, all-court player, she was a 2013 Wimbledon semi-finalist and ranked as high as No. 13 that year.
There are five or six (depending on qualifying results) Canadians in the main draw led by 17-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez, ranked No. 242, and No. 388 Francoise Abanda (above), 22.
The event continues at Tennis Canada headquarters at York University until Sunday and admission is free.
Roger Federer won the ATP 500 event in his hometown of Basel on Sunday for the 10th time, defeating 20-year-old Alex de Minaur 6-2, 6-2 in the final.
Here’s a look at the great Swiss and the great Rafael Nadal, as well as 1970/80s Argentine Guillermo Vilas, and their max-multiple victories at tournaments:
Ils ont remporté au moins 8 titres dans un même tournoi…
🇪🇸Nadal – Roland Garros (12)
🇪🇸Nadal – Monte Carlo (11)
🇪🇸Nadal – Barcelone (11)
🇨🇭Federer – Halle (10)
🇨🇭Federer – Bâle (10)
🇪🇸 Nadal – Rome (9)
🇨🇭Federer – Wimbledon (8)
🇨🇭 Federer – Dubai (8)
🇦🇷Vilas – Buenos Aires (8) pic.twitter.com/EhHZGOIc1O
— Jeu, Set et Maths (@JeuSetMaths) October 27, 2019
Below is a video of Federer watching himself as a ballboy at the Basel tournament, receiving a medal from German player Michael Stich.
"At heart, I'm always gonna be a ball boy" ❤️
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) October 23, 2019
(Feature photo: WTA TV)