Three Canadians – Genie Bouchard, Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov – made it through to the second round of the Australian Open with relative ease on Tuesday. But if drama was lacking in their straight-sets results, Bianca Andreescu’s exhausting 7-6(1), 6-7(0), 6-3 win in two hours and 46 minutes over Whitney Osuigwe more than made up for them.
As pleased as Bouchard, Shapovalov and Raonic were to advance, nothing on the day could match the sheer delight of the 18-year-old Andreescu when she was informed that the win meant she was now in the top-100 in the WTA rankings. “No way – oh my gosh,” she responded, gasping with delight. “I don’t even know what to say. I’m just so happy.”
The movement up the rankings was more than might have been expected – from No. 106 all the way to No. 88 in the ‘live’ WTA rankings. That’s partly because the WTA rankings allot 90 points for a first round win at a Grand Slam event compared to just 45 points in the ATP rankings.
After she won the first set, Andreescu began having cramps and was treated twice for them during changeovers. Then in the third set, a back issue that has been a problem on and off for several months gave her trouble and she took a medical time-out and was worked on in a prone position on court.
Things looked bleak at many moments in the second and third sets as she was frequently bending over and trying to stretch out. One extended attempt to re-coup got her a time warning. It looked like she would suffer the same fate as the woman who beat her in the Auckland final, Julia Goerges – eliminated on Monday by American Danielle Collins.
“It was one of the toughest matches I’ve ever played,” Andreescu said while still almost shivering after spending too much time in an ice bath. “I’m just so happy that I pulled through. I have no idea how I won today – my body was a mess, especially after the first set. I was cramping in my calves – that was the problem. And also I felt my back a bit in the third set but I got some treatment. I just fought. I know Whitney was playing incredible. I think she’s going to be an amazing tennis player if she keeps playing like this.”
The good feeling between the two was obvious in their post match embrace (below) at the net.
When a reporter suggested that she had been fortunate that the sun (on a day with a high temperature of 33 degrees) went behind the clouds mid-match, Andreescu responded, “it helps when the sun is not out here but I was going to do the same thing – fight to the end and hopefully my body would have stayed healthy.”
While she was continually using an ice towel during the change-overs, the 16-year-old Osuigwe did not. When it was mentioned to Andreescu afterward, she said, “no ice towel – she was beasting today in every aspect.”
At the end of the second set, with her outfit drenched, Andreescu wanted to go off court to change. Supervisor Pam Whytcross (above) informed her that she could not because she had already taken a break at the end of the first set.
After the match, Andreescu’s coach Sylvain Bruneau talked about her exceptional effort. “She really had to dig deep inside,” Bruneau said. “From the middle of the second set you could tell she was suffering physically. It was a huge battle, long points and Osuigwe played super well.”
Talking about how Andreescu was not allowed to go off court to change her clothes after the second set, Bruneau smiled and said, “sometimes when you say no to her it gets her going – like a lot of good athletes.”
In Thursday’s second round, Andreescu, 11-1 since the beginning of the new year, will play No. 13 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.
While Andreescu was engaged in a battle royale on Court 15, Genie Bouchard fairly cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 victory over No. 128-ranked wild card Peng Shuai in 1573 Arena. It was quickly 4-0 in the opening set with the 32-year-old Peng hardly winning a point. From then on there was no question who was going to be moving on to a second round match-up with the great Serena Williams.
The disparity in the two players was discernible in total points won – 53 for Bouchard and just 35 for Peng.
“I think I was very solid and consistent from beginning to end,” Bouchard summed up about her play.”
Regarding her tennis frame of mind these days, Bouchard, who turns 25 next month, said, “I’m really enjoying it on the court, and I feel like I have done some good improvements in the last couple months – just enjoying the training and enjoying the matches. That’s the most important thing because I have definitely had moments where I didn’t enjoy it so much. So I have really loved being out there.”
As with Andreescu, Bouchard’s opponent did not use an ice towel while she used an ice towel as well as putting on an ice jacket during change-overs.
Working with new coach Michael Joyce and physio Scott Brynes, Bouchard seems to have found a comfortable core working group. There has been a slight change in her serve. “One thing I worked on was having a lower toss,” she revealed, “because my toss would throw off my timing, and of course in conditions like wind and stuff, it’s definitely trickier. So that’s something I have been working on since I started working with Mike.”
Obviously Williams is a daunting opponent and Bouchard, it seems, is not the kind of player who doesn’t want to know what lies ahead in a draw. Asked when she knew she might face Williams, who defeated No. 74-ranked Tatjana Maria of Germany 6-0, 6-2 on Tuesday, Bouchard replied, “the moment the draw was done.”
She continued, “it was not something I was thinking about, of course, because we all know anything can happen in tennis. But, yeah, I mean, I’m super excited. This is why we play the big tournaments, to play the best players.”
Williams played in Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see if she returns there on Thursday for the match against Bouchard.
There was a lot of hype about the first-round match-up between Milos Raonic and Nick Kyrgios. When it actually played out on Tuesday evening in Melbourne Arena there was an element of anticlimax about Raonic’s 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-4 victory.
Kyrgios started having problems with his right knee midway in the first set and had it taped before the 10th game with the set on serve. When he went back out he started with a botched a smash on top of the net and then made a poor forehand error into the net on his way to losing serve and the set.
If Kyrgios virtually donated the first set, Raonic took charge of the second set – playing some scintillating tennis in the tiebreak. Leading 3-1 and then trailing 4-3, the tiebreak was balanced at 4-4 when Raonic played two brilliant points. On the first he served and volleyed and cleanly put away a backhand volley and then he hit a blistering low service return that Kyrgios could only dribble into the net. Two points later, with a service winner, Raonic had a two-sets-to-love lead.
A Raonic break to 3-2 in the third and Kyrgios’ fate was sealed.
In his post-match media conference, the 23-year-old Kyrgios, now ranked No. 51, couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise for Raonic’s performance.
“I don’t think that was at all the reason I lost today,” the Aussie said referencing his knee, “he played unbelievable – unbelievable serving. Never seen serving like that in my life. I’ve never been a part of it. I was just watching it literally going side to side. I was trying to mix up where I was standing, trying to move before, during… like trying to do anything.
“He was in such a good rhythm on serve, I couldn’t do anything. He was way too good tonight. Every time I returned, he served and volleyed. He volleyed unbelievable. He was so composed on big points, he made returns, jag returns on big points on my serve. He was way too good for me tonight.”
As for Raonic, who is now 4-3 lifetime against Kyrgios, he said, ‘I’m glad I served well – that was incredibly important today. I got a little fortunate on the opportunities I had and that discipline paid off throughout the whole match.”
Raonic had 30 aces and one double fault while Kyrgios was 15 aces and 2 double faults. The No. 16 seed also did not face a single break point and converted on two of his seven on the Kyrgios serve.
And he was an impressive 16/21 on serve-and-volley points.
In Thursday’s second round, Raonic will renew a rivalry with Stan Wawrinka, a 3-6, 3-1 ret. winner over Ernests Gulbis when the Latvian had to stop because of back injury. They have played six times and the 33-year-old Swiss leads 4-2 but Raonic has won their two most recent encounters – at the 2018 US Open and the 2016 Australian Open.
During his post-match interview on court it was learned that he is travelling with his own chef. “That’s because I’m too lazy to go out,” Raonic told interviewer Dylan Alcott. “There’s great food here and I enjoyed it the first week but now I start hibernating. I want my food ready, I don’t like waiting in restaurants. So that’s the quickest way.”
Playing in 3,000-seat 1573 (a Chinese liquor) Arena immediately after Genie Bouchard, Denis Shapovalov was exceedingly sharp in a 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(3) victory over No. 82-ranked Pablo Andujar of Spain. All the numbers were impressive in the one hour and 55-minute contest. Shapovalov had 51 winners and 31 unforced errors to nine winners and 16 unforced errors for the 32-year-old Spaniard.
The 19-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., played one sloppy game – serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set – and got broken. But aside from that his tennis was immaculate. It was different from the way he played in a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 loss to No. 44 Joao Sousa of Portugal in the first round in Auckland last week. “I felt like I was really doing the things well in Auckland, but I just wasn’t able to make that forehand to get the break, or play a good point when I needed it,” he explained.
“Whereas today, I was a little bit more calm. Honestly, I was just in the zone really. I didn’t care, win or lose. I was just going out there battling against Andujar. Everything kind of came together for me. Those forehands that didn’t go in in Auckland, they were going in today.”
Next for Shapovaov will be 78-ranked Taro Daniel. The 25-year-old Japanese advanced to the second round when Thanasi Kokkinakis retired at 5-7, 4-2 with a pectoral injury.
In his media conference after his match, Shapovalov impressed many reporters in the room with his thoughtful explanation of his views on some of the politics currently going on with the ATP Tour. He spoke a bit about it but essentially said that at 19 years old he doesn’t really feel like he should be telling other players what to do.
He was more like someone his own age when he talked about practising with Roger Federer late last week in Rod Laver Arena.
“It was fun,” he said. “Honestly every time I’m hitting with Roger, I was like in shock still. Every time I’m talking to him, I’ve spent so many times chatting, he always stops and talks to me. He’s honestly my hero. Every time I see him, I’m still shocked, couldn’t believe it.
“I was practicing with him. It was honestly kind of a proud moment for me. I was like, ‘Wow, my level is there to hit with a guy like Roger Federer and practice with him, you know.’
“So honestly, it was really inspiring for me to be on the court with him. Obviously he’s such a super cool guy. He’s so loose and chitchatting, having a normal practice. For me, I was like, ‘oh, my God, oh, my God, I got to hit these shots, have a good practice for Roger.’
“It was it was great. It’s pretty crazy to see, what is he now, 37, 38 years old? He’s honestly still so fast. Obviously he’s got the best timing. It’s unreal what he can do with the ball. But I never realized how quick he was until we actually practiced a couple days ago. We were playing points. I felt like certain shots I should have had a winner on it. He’s just right there flicking another backhand at me. I felt like he’s constantly at the ball.
“It’s crazy to see how in shape he is, how good he is at his age. It’s honestly something nobody can imagine to do. I can’t imagine myself playing tennis at 37, you know? It’s shocking. But it’s so great to see. Honestly, he’s such a great ambassador for the sport. I don’t think there’s anybody better than him.
“The way he carries himself, the way he carries himself with other people. It’s not a show. From the day I came to the scene, he’s always made time to talk to me, see how I’m doing, just out of niceness. It’s just the way he is.”
This pretty picture, from Sydney harbour a few days after Christmas, will make many people in Canada envious during these harsh days of winter.