The season is over for Canada’s top players so it’s a good time to give out marks for the 2015 year.
Be forewarned, Tebbutt Tuesday sets high standards for the country’s best players – and is a hard marker.
Looking back, the year looks like one big frustration for the No. 1 Canadian male player – especially because it began with so much promise.
He reached the final in Brisbane with a highly-competitive, three-set, all-tiebreak victory over No. 5-ranked Kei Nishikori and then dominated world No. 2 Roger Federer for significant stretches of the championship match before losing 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-4.
At the Australian Open two weeks later, he continued to play solid through the first four rounds – beating Illya Marchenko, Donald Young, Benjamin Becker and Feliciano Lopez before falling in the quarters 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-2 to a Novak Djokovic on the way to his fifth Aussie Open title.
For the next six weeks, Raonic’s play was mediocre, with the early season marked by a valiant effort in a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 Davis Cup loss to Nishikori in Vancouver in March.
At Indian Wells, he showed renewed positive signs by beating Simone Bolelli, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Tommy Robredo and Rafael Nadal – 4-6, 7-6(10), 7-5 in the quarter-finals after saving three match points. The latter was his breakthrough win against the great Spaniard but it was followed by his ninth loss in 10 meetings with Federer – 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinals.
The spring clay-court season, unfortunately, signaled the start of his serious injury concerns. He withdrew from a quarter-final match at Monte Carlo against Tomas Berdych with a foot problem, and then won two rounds in Madrid before limping through a 6-4, 7-5 loss to Andy Murray knowing he was about to have surgery for Morton’s Neuroma – a painful nerve constriction in the right foot near the toes.
That operation, in Strasbourg, France, on May 13 basically compromised the rest of his year.
He won two matches at both Queen’s Club and Wimbledon on grass but was hurting all over after both events and pulled out of Canada’s Davis Cup quarter-final in Ostend against Belgium in mid-July.
In hindsight, he probably should not have played Queen’s Club and Wimbledon. But he had been a semifinalist the previous year at The Championships and not playing would have meant a whole year lost in terms of grass-court tennis and just generally in going through the whole Wimbledon experience.
After a break to try to heal his body he returned a little rusty in August and lost to three good servers in a row – at Rogers Cup in Montreal (Ivo Karlovic), Cincinnati (Feliciano Lopez) and in the third round of the US Open again to Lopez as he continued to struggle with ongoing back issues.
Three weeks after his loss at Flushing Meadows, he was fit enough to win his only title of the year, at the ATP 250 in St. Petersburg, Russia, beating Evgeny Donskoy, Tommy Robredo, Roberto Bautista Agut and Joao Sousa in the final.
In his last two events he lost to Viktor Troicki in his opening round in Beijing and then 6-3, 7-6(3) to Nadal in his third match in Shanghai.
With the back acting up again, Roanic pulled out of the fall European indoor season and wound up the year with a match record of 33-16 compared to 49-20 in 2014.
His final 2014 ranking of No. 8 peaked at No. 4 in April of 2015 before tumbling to No. 14 by year’s end.
His year is not entirely over, as he is slated to play a few matches for the Philippine Mavericks (Serena Williams is also on the team) in the International Premier Tennis League in early December.
Summing Up: Raonic may have played only a handful of events in 2015 when he was physically close to his best, so a drop to No. 14 may not be too alarming as he nears his 25th birthday next month (December 27th).
But he has set a high standard in improving in each of his previous five seasons. Starting in 2010 at No. 156 he rose steadily to 31 (2011), 13 (2012), 11 (2013) and 8 (2014) and will be looking to find his old form quickly in 2016.
Highlight of the year: It would have to be getting a first win over Nadal in Indian Wells, followed closely by the thrilling victory over Nishikori in Brisbane and patches of tennis so explosive in the final against Federer that the great Swiss was uncharacteristically petulant as he struggled to deal with Raonic’s brute power.
Lowlight of the year: After winning the St. Petersburg title in September, he went to Beijing and turned in a remarkably ineffectual performance in a lackluster 6-4, 6-4 loss to No. 24-ranked Troicki.
The Genie Bouchard year can be divided into two parts – from the start until Indian Wells in March and everything thereafter, which certainly wasn’t pretty.
She had a relatively meaningless victory over a travel-weary Serena Williams during Hopman Cup the first week of the new season before playing well enough to reach her No. 7 seeding position at the Australian Open, losing 6-3, 6-2 to second-seeded Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals.
A fairly benign loss to Mona Barthel in Antwerp in February and a forearm injury was followed by two typically Bouchard dominant displays in her opening matches at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells – 6-2, 6-2 over No. 122-ranked Lucie Hradecka and 6-3, 6-2 over Coco Vandeweghe. Both were while working with new coach Sam Sumyk.
What happened next was a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” transformation as she lost a bizarre 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4 match to No. 85-ranked qualifier Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine in the round-of-16.
Bouchard looked off from the outset but rallied to win the opening set helped by Tsurenko rolling her ankle and requiring on-court treatment late in the set. The second set was role reversal as Bouchard suffered an abdominal strain and had to leave the court to be treated. She returned and served for the match at 5-4 but was broken and wound up losing the set. In the third, she led 4-0 only to inexplicably lose the next six games in a row.
There followed unusual losses to No. 113-ranked qualifier Tatjana Maria at the Miami Open and to No. 66-ranked Lauren Davis in Charleston.
“I was a bit hesitant during the match,” Bouchard would later admit about the Tsurenko debacle in Indian Wells. “I think I lost some confidence after that match, even if I shouldn’t because it’s just one match. After that I felt less confident on the court in Miami (Maria) and Charleston (Davis).”
In hindsight, Bouchard’s biggest mistake may have been playing Fed Cup against Romania in Montreal in April. It appeared she wasn’t going to play, instead take time off to prepare for the European clay-court season. But she changed her mind seemingly determined to ‘get right back up on the horse.’ Despite a hometown crowd, or maybe because of its expectations, she showed more vulnerability in losses – 6-4, 6-4 to No. 69-ranked Alexandra Dulgheru and 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to No. 104 Andreea Mitu. She was wracked by nerves and at her wits end to explain why she was playing so poorly.
The self-assurance and fearlessness that marked her Grand Slam success in 2014 – a Wimbledon final and semifinals at the Australian and French Opens – had been replaced by self-doubt and bewilderment.
The months went by – May, June, July, August – with subpar tennis from Bouchard that had everyone mystified. There had also been an ankle issue in April and then a second (grade two) abdominal tear that effectively sabotaged her Wimbledon. There, similar to Raonic, she should not have played but it’s hard to stay on the sidelines after being a finalist 12 months earlier.
Bouchard managed to win three matches between March and the US Open – Zarina Dyas in Rome, Alison Riske in Eastbourne and Kataryna Bondarenko in Cincinnati. But her overall record from March until the beginning of the US Open was a miserable 3-15.
There was a break with Sumyk after Wimbledon, the temporary hiring of Marko Dragic of Serbia as coach going into Rogers Cup in Toronto and then a consultation with the legendary Jimmy Connors before Flushing Meadows. BTW – several former players and coaches were intrigued by Bouchard’s woes and offered their assistance in one way or another.
Who knows why all this happened? But there was finally a ray of sunshine, and a bright one at that, in New York. After ho-hum first and second round US Open wins over Riske and Polona Hercog, Bouchard gave a genuine epiphany of a performance against former world No. 10 Dominika Cibulkova in the third round.
Astoundingly, out-of-nowhere she looked like her former self, toughing out a 7-6(9), 4-6, 6-3 victory over the feisty Slovak in two hours and 48 minutes.
Suddenly hope sprung eternal and a path to the US Open semifinals through Roberta Vinci and possibly Kristina Mladenovic looked eminently do-able.
But an ill-advised mixed doubles match with partner Nick Kyrgios later that same evening and then a fateful fall and concussion in the locker room put Bouchard’s revival on hold until 2016.
There was an attempt at a comeback in Beijing in October but dizziness returned and she had to retire trailing 6-1, 1-1 against Andrea Petkovic.
The 2015 season for Bouchard, and all her followers, has truly been something no one could have imagined in so many ways – a decline in results, a sophomore slump maybe, but who could ever have foreseen a dramatic loss of form topped off by full-blown Shakespearean tragedy at the US Open?
Heading into 2016 ranked No. 48 after finishing No. 7 in 2014, the hope has to be that the Cibulkova match at the US Open is the true indicator of what’s ahead, not all that uncharacteristic tennis that preceded it.
Highlight of the Year: It was vintage Bouchard as she overcame the gritty Cibulkova on Louis Armstrong Stadium at the US Open with the kind of gutsy performance that many doubted she was still capable of.
Lowlight of the Year: Having overwhelmed Lauren Davis 6-2, 6-2 in the third round of the 2014 Aussie Open, it was almost incomprehensible that Bouchard could lose 6-3, 6-1 in the opening round of Charleston to the diminutive American. The 6-1, 6-0 loss to Vinci in New Haven may have looked worse but she was distracted by having to helicopter later that afternoon to New York City for a Nike publicity shoot (see above) involving greats such as McEnroe, Sampras and Agassi, Federer and Nadal, as well as S. Williams and Sharapova – and the younger generation’s Madison Keys, Grigor Dimitrov and Kyrgios.
Vasek Pospisil had a remarkably consistent year, especially in comparison with 2014 when a nagging back issue resulted in eight losses in a row between February and June.
In 2015, he played 23 ATP main draws and won at least one match in 17 of them.
He was 25-23 in matches and finished the year ranked No. 39 compared to 2014 when he was 20-23 and wound up No. 53.
The high point of the year was his run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals defeating qualifier Vincent Millot, Fabio Fognini, James Ward and Viktor Troicki 4-6, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. A five-set doubles loss soon after the five sets with Troicki resulted in Pospisil being somewhat battered when he lost 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 to Andy Murray two days later in the quarter-finals.
In the second set of that match, he injured his hand – a bone bruise in his right wrist – and wound up missing Canada’s Davis Cup quarter-final in Ostend, Belgium.
Remaining fit was less of a problem for Pospisil in 2015 but there still were cramping issues in several matches including upper quad, calf, upper hamstring and even pecs during his opening round at Wimbledon versus Millot. But the most debilitating cramping occurred on a hot, humid evening in the first round of the US Open when he collapsed to the court in the fourth set with left quad, hamstring and calf as well as right quad and calf agonies. There was even a right forearm problem. He ended up being able to continue after help from an ATP trainer but lost 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(0), 6-0, 6-1 to No. 52-ranked Andreas Haider-Maurer of Austria, someone he would have been expected to beat.
In the fall, he went 8-5 at five events and if he had been able to win his semifinal against Joao Sousa in Valencia (definitely if he had won the final) two weeks ago, he had a good shot at being seeded for the 2016 Australian Open.
In doubles, Pospisil and Jack Sock fell one match shy of qualifying for ATP World Tour Finals when they were beaten 2-6, 6-3, [10-5] by Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo in the BNP Masters final in Paris on Sunday.
They finished the year No. 9 as a team, impressive for two guys who openly say that doubles is not a priority – winning titles at Indian Wells and Beijing and being runners-up at the Masters 1000 events in Miami and Paris (Bercy). Pospisil’s final ATP individual doubles ranking was No. 21.
He is scheduled to play in the International Premier Tennis League in early December for the Japan Warriors (Maria Sharapova is also on the team).
Highlight of the Year: It was a loss but his gritty performance on the greatest stage in tennis (Centre Court) – his first singles appearance there – in a 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 Wimbledon quarter-final defeat against Andy Murray showcased his fine, all-round game to the tennis world.
Lowlight of the Year: The US Open loss to Haider-Maurer was devastating for Pospisil because cramps got him again on a big occasion. He vowed to get to the bottom of the problem but did have further cramping issues in the fall.
In the ongoing education of a tennis player, Daniel Nestor, 43, would be classified as a mature student.
Looking at it from that perspective, Nestor had a pretty amazing year.
He finished with an ATP individual doubles ranking of No. 18, won three titles and was stopped one win short of his 1000th career match victory on tour.
In 2015, Nestor entered his first seven tournaments with Rohan Bopanna, winning titles in Sydney and Dubai. He then played eight with fellow forty-something Leander Paes with only modest success.
The real jump-start for him came when he hooked up with Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin (available because his partner Julien Benneteau was injured) for seven tournaments beginning at Rogers Cup in Montreal in August. They won the Masters 1000 in Cincinnati, finished as runners-up at the Masters 1000 Rogers Cup and the ATP 500 event in Beijing (to Pospisil and Sock).
Nestor’s 2014 match record was 48-23 and was a still an impressive 40-23 this past year.
A key factor going forward is that he won so many points with Roger-Vasselin in the second part of the year, which is important because he hopes to play at least until the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Those second-half ranking points, approximately 2,620, will remain on the ATP computer for purposes of getting into the Olympics. Even if he won no matches at all next year, he would still be about No. 30 in the individual doubles rankings around the time of the Olympics entry deadline. That should insure him a spot, likely with Pospisil.
Except for 1999 when his doubles ranking slipped to No. 27, Nestor has had a Top 25 doubles ranking for 21 consecutive years since 1995 and has held the No. 1 spot on-and-off for a grand total of 113 weeks.
In December, he is slated to play the International Premier Tennis League for UAE Royals (Roger Federer is also on the team).
Highlight of the Year: It was discovering terrific chemistry with the 31-year-old Roger-Vasselin. On the court, it had to be the Cincinnati final when he and the Frenchman dusted Nestor’s old partner Nenad Zimonjic and Marcin Matkowski by a 6-2, 6-2 score.
Lowlight of the Year: Nestor (8) and Paes (7), who have won 15 Grand Slam titles between them, never quite jelled and went winless at their first four events – Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome – heading into Roland Garros.
The French are known for their savoir faire, so hats off to the television people at the BNP Paribas Masters last week for staying with the players at the end of matches right through the handshake. There was no cutting away to nameless faces in the crowd applauding, just the appropriate focus on what is the ultimate emotional moment in any match.