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Home   News   Tebbutt: Fallow February offers ops

Tebbutt: Fallow February offers ops

Feb 11, 2020
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

February is the most forgettable month on the tennis calendar, except possibly for this year’s anomaly that had the Australian Open women’s and men’s finals carried over to February 1st and February 2nd.

The tennis tours are now non-stop through until the WTA Finals end November 8th in Shenzhen, China, and the Davis Cup Finals wrap up November 29th in Madrid.

But the sport is still open for business this February and this week provides golden opportunities for Canada’s three top men’s players – No. 16-ranked  Denis Shapovalov, No. 21 Félix Auger-Aliassime and No. 32 Milos Raonic.

It’s worth noting that the sport’s Big 3 – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – generally maintain a low profile in February, giving the rest of the field more openings. Over the last five years Djokovic has averaged 0.6 tournaments in February while Nadal and Federer are 1.2 and 0.8 respectively.

An example of taking advantage of a chance that might present itself in February was Vasek Pospisil (above sipping maple syrup) getting to the final of the ATP 250 in Montpellier, France, on Sunday before losing 7-5, 6-3 to top-seeded Gael Monfils.

This week Pospisil, up 28 points to No. 104 in the rankings, has a special exempt entry into the Rotterdam ATP 500 event but hasn’t been very lucky – he will play top seed Daniil Medvedev on Wednesday. Pospisil pushed the No. 5-ranked Russian to 7-6(7), 7-5 in their only previous meeting at the Shanghai Masters 1000 last October. Including that event and in ATP tournaments, Challengers and qualifying, Pospisil has an impressive 26-6 record since early October.

Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime are also in Rotterdam while Raonic is at the New York Open on Long Island at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Seeded No. 8, the final seeding spot, Shapovalov had a tough first round against No. 22-ranked Grigor Dimitrov and was beaten 6-3, 7-6(3) by the Bulgarian on Monday. The two had only played once before – that was a Dimitrov win at the 2016 Rogers Cup in Toronto when Shapovalov was just 16 and fresh off a win over Nick Kyrgios the previous evening.

Auger-Aliassime faced Jan-Lennard Struff on Tuesday and had a character-building 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 victory. He looked well on his way to convincing win when he had eight break points in Struff’s first two service games in the second set – including a smash near the net that he somehow hit right back to Struff and wound up losing the point. That was kind of a dagger at the time but he re-composed in the third set, served out of love-40 deficit in the very first game and eventually broke to 5-3 and then served out the match to love. Now No. 22 in the live ATP rankings, he will play No. 21, Dimitrov, in the second round on Wednesday.

The player with the best possibility for success this week is Raonic. He’s seeded second at the New York Open and things look like they line up well for him. He has a bye in the first round and then plays the winner of qualifier Go Soeda of Japan, No. 112, and No. 84 Soonwoo Kwon of Korea in the second round. Raonic beat Kwon 6-3, 6-2 at the Kooyong exhibition in Melbourne the week before the Australian Open last month.

Then it could be 2019 New York Open runner-up Brayden Schnur, No. 94 Dominik Koepfer, No. 62 Kyle Edmund or No. 97 Yasutaka Uchiyama in the quarter-finals. The tournament is a tough one for the 24-year-old Schnur (below), starting out against Koepfer, because he has to defend 162 points from qualifying and reaching the final (defeating both Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson) last year. Now ranked No. 121, he could drop to as low as No. 175 depending on his results.

As for Raonic, in the semi-finals at the New York Open he’s slated to play No. 4 seed Ugo Humbert or No. 6 Miomir Kecmanovic.

If he made it to the final, and form held, he would take on either defending champion and No. 3 seed Reilly Opelka or top seed John Isner. In their head-to-head, Isner leads Raonic 5-1. But since 2016 in their only meetings, Isner twice beat Raonic in 2018 – in four sets at Wimbledon and in five sets at the US Open in the then brand new Louis Armstrong Stadium. On both occasions, Raonic was not 100 per cent in terms of fitness.

On the weekend, speaking on Sportsnet One’s coverage of the Fed Cup in Switzerland, Raonic, a quarter-finalist at the 2020 Australian Open, said, “it’s the first time in six years that I’ve finished the Aussie Open healthy.”

The 29-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., recorded his last tournament victory more than four years ago in Brisbane, defeating Roger Federer in the final.

On the women’s side, there have to be questions about Bianca Andreescu after she apparently is still not fit enough (left knee) for competition. Fed Cup captain Heidi El Tabakh said Andreescu “regressed a bit” when she got to Biel, Switzerland, for the Fed Cup Qualifier last week. That would appear to put in doubt Andreescu’s participation in next week’s WTA Premier event in Dubai and then the following week at the Premier 5 tournament in Doha.

If that happens, then Andreescu’s return probably would not be until Acapulco at the end of February. She could even possibly play the Oracle Series Challenger event from March 2 to 8 at the site of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. That would allow her to get re-acclimatized to competition at a familiar venue after four months out of action. The BNP Paribas Open main event begins March 11, although the No. 6-ranked Andreescu would have a bye and not start until Friday, March 13 at the earliest.

Everyone knows what happened at Indian Wells a year ago, so Andreescu would like to be as well-prepared as possible to defend her title.

Leylah Annie Fernandez was the revelation of the Fed Cup in Biel last week. She played No. 68-ranked Jil Teichmann tough in her opening match and then scored a sensational 6-2, 7-6(3) win over No. 5-ranked Belinda Bencic.

The 17-year-old Fernandez, currently ranked No. 186, is the second highest ranking Canadian behind Andreescu. Her plans for February include the qualifying at the Mexican WTA events in Acapulco and Monterrey in two weeks. Then, after Indian Wells and Miami, she intends to play in Bogota, Colombia, in April. There’s a chance she could play the qualifying for the Indian Wells, and also Miami, which is closer to her home in Boynton Beach, Florida, but she would require wild cards.

As for Genie Bouchard, her wrist injury has forced her out of this week’s WTA event in Hua Hin, Thailand. Her current No. 269 ranking is going to make entry into events difficult. Maybe she can get a wild card into the qualifying at Indian Wells and try to build on what was basically an encouraging start to the year in Auckland and at the Australian Open

As much as the results from the month of February are soon overtaken by what happens at the more prestigious tournaments during the rest of the year, they can be important for players in terms of piling up ranking points and also padding the old bank account.

MARTINA H.

Here are the best women players, along with Patty Schnyder, in the history of Swiss tennis – in the foreground Martina Hingis, a five-time Grand Slam champion, and in the background Belinda Bencic, the current world No. 5.

We’re not sure what’s going on here. During Fed Cup practice last week in Biel, we were trying for a picture of the Genie Bouchard serve with Hingis and her husband, Dr. Harry Leemann, in the background. Was Hingis waving at our camera? We’ll probably never know for sure.