Peter Polansky defeated Blaz Rola of Slovinia 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-3 on Thursday and will face No. 145-ranked Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia on Friday for a spot in the main draw of the 2019 Australian Open.
Bianca Andreescu also advanced to the final round beating Valentini Grammatikopoulou of Greece 6-4, 6-1 but Felix Auger-Aliassime wasn’t as fortunate – losing 7-6(4), 6-3 to big-serving Christopher Eubanks of the U.S.
When Polansky was asked in fun about now having a chance for his fifth Grand Slam event lucky loser spot in a row – after his ‘Grand Slam’ of LL’s in 2018 – he smiled and said, “the dream is still alive. I counted yesterday, this is eight of the last nine now (in the final round of a Grand Slam qualifying). I’ve heard the 10th time is the charm.”
On Court 13 on a coolish (20 degrees) Thursday, Polansky basically looked like the winner for most of the match but failed to convert a match point leading 6-5 in the second-set tiebreak and matters then proceeded to a third set. After taking a comfort break, he had to save four break points in the first game of the third set but, once he had done that and broken Rola in the second game, normal service was more or less resumed.
“It seemed like he was just kind of hanging in the match,” Polansky said about Rola. “I had so many break points (15 and converting four) and then he would serve really well every time. It seemed like I had 10 or 11 break points in the second set and didn’t convert any.”
On that match point in the second-set tiebreak, Polansky had a dispute with superstar umpire Mohamed Lahyani (above) after he got a good service return in play. Layhani over-ruled late saying the serve had been long. Rola then proceeded to hit a second serve that Polansky returned out. Two points later Polansky botched a routine forehand out of court and the match was going three sets.
Over the course of the match Polansky was much more consistent off the ground but the 6-foot-4 lefthander was able to compensate with his serve. “Once I was in the point I felt comfortable and was pretty much taking control,” Polansky said. “But that’s his thing – he’s got a good serve, he’s lefty, so he’s tough.”
The match-up with Kokkinakis will be a re-play of last week when the 22-year-old Aussie beat Polansky in the Brisbane qualifying.
Looking ahead, the 30-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., said, “physically I’m feeling really well. This year I think the courts are playing a lot quicker than last year. Tomorrow’s going to be a hot day so it’s going to be even faster. I’ve got to be ready for that because he’s going to be serving big and hitting big forehands. I played him last week – it was a close match, he won 3 and 4 and I wasn’t as sharp as I am this week. It should be a good one.”
About the heat – heading for 32 degrees on Friday, Polansky joked, “as long as it doesn’t crack 40, I’ll be okay like (in 2017) when I almost died. I think it was 42, which is ridiculous to play tennis in.” (Note: A dizzying Polansky retired then trailing 3-0 in the fifth set of his first-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta.)
Despite what it might look like in the picture above, Bianca Andreescu won that point as she did many in her 6-4, 6-1 win over the No. 173-ranked Grammatikopoulou.
Andreescu had 21 winners and 17 unforced errors while Grammatikopoulou was 18/27. But the number that tells the real story is overall points: 64 – 44 for the 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont.
It was competitive in the first set but then the zest seemed to fade out of the 21-year-old Greek’s game
“She started off playing really well,” Andreescu said about Grammatikopoulou. “I just kept my composure, focused on every point and I think I played the important points better than her.”
Andreescu’s dominance was effective enough that the above group of guys from the Greek community in Melbourne never got a chance to get rowdy, which they had showed signs of having the potential to do.
The Andreescu – Grammatikopoulou match was originally scheduled for Court 15 on the west side of the grounds but was moved to Court 22. “I was ready,” Andreescu said, “they gave us like 20 minutes.”
Having only played 31 minutes in her first match against Katie Swan of Britain, then 67 minutes against Grammatikopoupou means her two matches basically total what might be expected of just one normal singles match. “It’s definitely good for the body…and for the mind so I’m really glad,” Andreescu said about her expeditious performances. “I’m just playing really well right now. I’m using my momentum from last week (a runner-up finish in Auckland).”
About any adjustment from Auckland, Andreescu said, “I guess the courts are a bit faster here but I’m trying to adapt the best I can.”
In Friday’s final round, she will play No. 137-ranked Tereza Smitkova, 24, of the Czech Republic. About the possibility of qualifying – her second Grand Slam after Wimbledon in 2017 – Andreescu said, “it would definitely be amazing playing at the Australian Open. It’s my favourite tournament so it would be pretty special.”
Has she been surprised by any of the attention she has received after her success in Auckland last week? “A lot of politicians from Canada followed me on Twitter,” she replied. “That’s the one that got me. I’ve been getting a lot of supportive messages from them which is really nice.”
It was one of those days for Felix Auger-Aliassime – maybe one that is to be expected from an 18-year-old.
He was matched against the 22-year-old Eubanks, a 6-foot-7 beanpole who knows how to hit a serve. He also must also have the skinniest legs on tour as can be seen in the picture below.
It was one of those serve-a-thons where both players are holding serve without much trouble and the first set Thursday on Court 7 got to a tiebreak without a single break point either way. Auger-Aliassime lost two points on serve in the tiebreak on forehand unforced errors while Eubanks lost just one – on a double fault.
In the second set Auger-Aliassime had break points in the opening and fifth games but again misfired with forehands.
His left knee was wrapped and he had the trainer out trailing 2-1 and had him back out again down 3-2 to do a re-wrap that was completed during the changeover.
The wheels came off a bit for Auger-Aliassime in the penultimate eighth game trailing 4-3 when Eubanks blasted a return winner on the first point. The American then got help with a double fault and backhand error on the last two points to earn the only break of the match. Auger-Aliassime saved one match point in the final game before Eubanks got the win, avenging a 7-6(5), 6-2 loss to the Montrealer in the second round of qualifying at the 2018 US Open.
Most of stats on the match were eerily comparable, except for the breaks points converted – Eubanks was 1/1 while Auger-Aliassime was 0/2.
“Eubanks served well,” said Auger-Aliassime’s coach Fredéric Fontang said after the match, “and Felix didn’t find any answers on the return. He played a player like that last week (losing 6-4, 7-5 in Pune, India, to 6-foot-11 Ivo Karlovic). They’re guys who serve hard, take risks. Felix has to improve his return. In a sense it was kind of a trap match.”
As for the knee problem, which Fontang attributed to normal growing pains for an 18-year-old, he suggested it may have bothered him with some movements.
When they shook hands at the net, Eubanks inquired about Auger-Aliassime’s knee and then offered a sympathetic “get better man.”
Despite the disappointment of the loss, Auger-Aliassime did accommodate two young kids who requested autographs as he left the court.
Roger Federer was interviewed before the draw ceremony in Margaret Court Arena on Thursday evening. He regaled the assembled fans with stories about how he learned to milk a cow from Aussie great Roy Emerson and also said that he was inspired to play late in his career like another Aussie legend did, Ken Rosewall.
When the draw was done it was determined he will play Denis Istomin in the first round and, as No. 3 side, he fell in No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal’s half of the draw.
The three Canadians in the main draw have certainly got challenges ahead of them. No. 16 seed Milos Raonic plays tempestuous, super-talented Aussie Nick Kyrgios. Their head-to-head is 3-3. He might then play Stan Wawrinka in the second round.
Denis Shapovalov (above with co-coach Rob Steckley), is seeded No. 25 and has drawn No. 82-ranked Spaniard Pablo Andujar, 32, in the first round. In the third, he could encounter top seed Novak Djokovic.
As for Genie Bouchard, out of the gate she faces No. 129-ranked Peng Shuai, 32. Bouchard, ranked No. 79, has a 2-0 head-to-head versus the 32-year-old Chinese. Likely looming in the second round for Bouchard…none other than Serena Willams.
ROD LAVER ARENA
There’s a new colour scheme for some of the seats in Rod Laver Arena. On Thursday, with Rafael Nadal and Kevin Anderson practising, it’s was easy to notice that the darker blue seats nearest the court, or on the ends, appear to signify the priciest locations.
AUSTRALIAN POST CARD
It may not be the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ but the artist Pink can lay claim to having the only inlaid tile in the spacious plaza in front of the new Player Pod at Melbourne Park.