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Tebbutt: Bianca wins a big one

May 23, 2018
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

It may have been intimidating to play the top seed in this year’s French Open qualifying event, a player who won a $60,000 ITF tournament last week on clay in France to reach a career high ranking of No. 77, but Bianca Andreescu didn’t show any evidence of that as she upset Vera Lapko of Belarus 6-4, 7-5 on Wednesday.

“I try not to pay attention to that because it goes in my head,” she would say later referring to Lapko’s recent success, “and I don’t really deal with that well.”

The 17-year-old (18 next month) from Mississauga, Ont., dealt with some sticky situations in the first-round match to pull off the victory over the 19-year-old Lapko.

After leading the opening set 3-1, she soon found herself down 4-3 with the Belorussian seeming to have taken command. But Andreescu upped her game and became the more aggressive player and Lapko was the one to falter. On her third set point, Andreescu wrapped up the set as Lapko erred long with a forehand.

In the second set, Andreescu again found herself in a dicey position, trailing 5-3 and even having to save a set point. But again she bounced back and eventually took the set and the match on an advance to the net – finishing with a combination of a smash and then a high volley.

“She was serving for the set,” Andreescu said about the second set, “and I was really focused then compared to the whole match. I feel that I should be as focused as I was then throughout the whole match…it’s hard to do that but that’s what I’m working on.”

Summing up her performance, especially encouraging after a poor first-round qualifying loss – 6-1, 6-1 to No. 190-ranked Alexandra Dulgheru at her previous Grand Slam in Australia in January – Andreescu said about her ability to rally in both sets, “I picked it up and I just focused on myself and what I’m doing well. I just kept executing that and I pulled though.”

All her numbers looked good – she had 26 winners and just 24 unforced errors to 22 winners and 31 unforced errors for Lapko. Everything was sound in her game – including winning 10 of 11 points at the net. The one exception might have been points won on first serve – she was just 54 per cent. Her second serve was actually better at 56 per cent but both looked great compared to Lapko’s measly 26 per cent points won on her second serve.

Andreescu didn’t have any idea who she would meet in the second round, as she explained to tennis reporter Ian Chadband (above) in a post-match interview. “No actually, I have a superstition,” she said. “I don’t look at draws before I play. My coach will tell me.”

Her opponent is No. 138-ranked Viktorija Tomova of Bulgaria. The 23-year-old has ranked as high as No. 130 (May, 2017) but has only played in one Grand Slam event main draw– losing in the first round of this year’s Australian Open. But at two WTA tournaments and one ITF event on clay (main draw and qualifying), as well as her first round on Wednesday, Tomova has compiled a respectable 8-3 match record so far this spring.

The match will be played – third on Court 13 following a 10 a.m. (4 a.m. ET in Canada) start to the day’s play.

Wednesday proved rain-free after late showers curtailed Tuesday’s order of play. Talking about the conditions on Wednesday on Court No. 14, Andreescu said, “There were some bad bounces here and there. I know it rained yesterday so the courts are a bit heavy and also the balls. But I really like the clay – playing at Roland Garros is my favourite Grand Slam so I’m really happy.”

It’s a shame Genie Bouchard wasn’t in better shape for her first match in this year’s French Open qualifying because it was played on brand new Court No. 18 – a cozy little arena at the far west end of the grounds with seating for 2,158.

Bouchard, following two wins in Canada’s Fed Cup victory over Ukraine in Montreal on April 21-22, had an abdominal strain force her to pull out of a $100K ITF event in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France, and then another ITF event in Trnava, Slovakia last week.

She has had the problem a few times before, most notably in 2015 when she played Wimbledon with a grade two abdominal tear. That was the year after she reached the final and she was determined to play but really not up to it. She lost to No. 117-ranked Duan Yinying of China in the first round.

Wednesday’s 6-0, 2-1 ret. loss to No. 121-ranked Dalila Jakupovic of Slovenia was doubly disappointing because a year ago she was in a similar situation – that time caused by an ankle injury two weeks before the French Open. Then she played and somehow managed to win a round (Risa Ozaki) before losing to Anastasija Sevastova. Pushing the envelope to play Roland Garros affected her ability to perform in some of her following tournaments.

Wednesday on Court No. 18, she was error-prone from the start, consistently flailing shots out of court, against a Jakupovic who played well, even if against a diminished opposition. Trailing 2-1 in the second set, Bouchard left the court for a treatment with a trainer and then returned after five minutes only to shake hands with Jakupovic saying she could no longer continue.

Hopefully Bouchard can bounce back but losing 70 points from reaching the second round last year will be yet another blow to her ranking – currently No. 167. It’s projected it will now drop to about No. 195.

At least right after she retired Bouchard was able to manage a smile as she explained to Jakupovic, following their handshake, what the physical issue was that caused her to stop.

It was nice to see how thrilled Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 Roland Garros champion whose ranking is now an unflattering No. 265, was following her 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Carol Zhao in a match resumed on Wednesday with the score at one set apiece. Unfortunately Zhao was the loser and might well have won if rain had not interrupted matters on Tuesday evening. At that time, Zhao had won the second set and the 37-year-old Italian (38 next month) looked to be the more fatigued player.

But with overnight to recoup, she came out Wednesday and played like she had in Tuesday’s first set. She was the more dominant player, initiating more than Zhao. The 22-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., fell behind 2-0 from the start and was never able to really find the consistency to take advantage of some rocky patches from Schiavone – winless at her six previous events in 2018.

It was a tough loss for Zhao because there were moments in the match when he looked like she might be able to unsettle the aging Schiavone. As mentioned elsewhere in today’s blog, if it’s any consolation she should be the top Canadian in the WTA rankings when the dust settles after the French Open in the second week of June.

There was more disappointment for Canadian players when Felix Auger-Aliassme took to the courts later in the afternoon, facing No. 155-ranked Jaume Munar. The 21-year-old Spaniard was 9-7 on clay so far this year, including a 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-5 victory over Auger-Aliassime in the Barletta (Italy) Challenger tournament last month.

On Wednesday in 263-seat Court No. 5, which was actually outside of the area of all the other qualifying courts and inaccessible to most people, Auger-Aliassime got off to poor starts in both sets. He lost his serve in the opening game of the first set and did the same in the second set on his way to falling behind 4-0 before making a late rally.

Essentially Munar was just a better, more experienced clay-court player. He hit deep and hard with regularity, played the angles well, occasionally got to the net (9/11 in net approaches compared to Auger-Aliassime’s 7/13) and served-and-volleyed efficiently as well as hitting some remarkable drop shots – executed with incredible quickness seemingly out of nowhere.

The players had a comparable number of winners – 19 for Munar and 18 for Auger-Aliassime but the Montrealer had more than double the number of unforced errors – 31 to 15. He also struggled on serve, hitting six doubles faults and only managing to win 41 percent of second-serve points to Munar’s 61 per cent.

“It’s pretty obvious who played the better match and was the better player,” said Auger-Aliassime’s coach Guillaume Marx of Tennis Canada. “Felix was behind in the score from the very beginning of the match. After he lost his serve, the other guy sort took advantage of that confidence boost from the start. He was very solid and Felix had to force a little bit to try to get back into the match and that made him kind of lose his game at times.”

Questioned as to if there was anything Auger-Aliassime might have done to get back into the match once he fell behind, Marx said, “you can definitely come back by serving well. If you serve well you give yourself a chance to challenge the other guy and get to 3-all, 4-all and then he feels more pressure. But Felix didn’t manage to do that.”

People are endlessly comparing Auger-Aliassime to Denis Shapovalov – sometimes forgetting that he is younger by 16 months and will not turn 18 until the birthday he shares with Roger Federer, August 8th. He will develop at his own pace and could well make a sudden break-out over a brief period as Shapovalov did last summer at the Rogers Cup in Montreal and then the US Open.

Canadian news

That’s Denis Shapovalov in the foreground hitting a smash Wednesday on Court No. 1 – the charmer of a court, as mentioned in yesterday’s blog, that will be demolished after this year’s Roland Garros.

Shapovalov practiced on Wednesday with Richard Gasquet. The Frenchman seemed to be very frustrated playing the explosive Shapovalov’s shotmaking – at one point blasting a ball right out of the stadium in anger.

The draw for this year’s Roland Garros singles events will held on Thursday evening at 7 p.m. (1 p.m. ET in Canada) in the ‘Orangery’ in the botanical gardens adjacent the tournament grounds. The 19-year-old Shapovalov will be one of the 32 seeds for the first time as he plays in just his fourth Grand Slam event.

In other news, Daniel Nestor has been given a wild card into the men’s doubles event and will play with Frenchman Jeremy Chardy. Nestor, 45 and in his last year on the tour, has won Roland Garros four times – 2007 (Mark Knowles), 2010 (Nenad Zimonjic) and 2011 and 2012 (Max Mirnyi).

CORRECTION: In yesterday’s blog it was suggested that with her loss in the first round of qualifying on Tuesday, Francoise Abanda would drop from her current No. 125 ranking to about No. 195. There’s a mistake on the WTA’s website – it lists her points from qualifying and winning a round at last’s year French Open as 220. In fact, that should be 40 points for qualifying and 70 points for winning a round in the main draw – for a total of 110 points. So Abanda will only drop to about No. 153. But that, combined with Genie Bouchard’s loss on Wednesday, will guarantee that current No. 135 Carol Zhao will ascend to the No. 1 ranking in Canada on June 11th after the French Open is finished – unless Bianca Andreescu, currently No. 201, continues and goes on a deep run this year in Paris. 

Paris post card

The Citroen 2 CV (meaning ‘deux chevaux’ or two horsepower) was a popular but rudimentary automobile produced in France between 1948 and 1990. These days it’s become a bit of a collector’s item.

A German colleague at Roland Garros said that in his country they called the Citroen 2 CV “the duck.” He explained that was to Citroen what “the beetle” was to Volkswagen.