Milos Raonic won the inaugural Eisenhower Cup Tiebreak-Tens event at Indian Wells on Tuesday night with victories over Gael Monfils (10-7), Marin Cilic (10-3) and Stan Wawrinka (10-6).
The three rounds consisted of (10-point) match tiebreaks with the winner of the exhibition receiving $150,000 (U.S.). It was played in front of 7,441 spectators in 8,000-seat Stadium 2.
As well, over half a million dollars was raised for four local charities.
Wawrinka edged Rafael Nadal (above watching the final with other eliminated players) 12-11 in the semi-finals to set up the final with Raonic. Wawrinka led 3-1 but then hit a backhand unforced error into the net and Raonic took over from that moment – finally finishing off with a booming inside/out forehand winner. Both his serve and his forehand were firing on all cylinders.
“I’ve done this event once before (2018 Australian Open),” Raonic said. “And to have a chance to compete in a high-pressure situation before the start of the tournament is good for me against some of the best players in the world.”
There were fun touches to the matches such as the players using ‘rock-paper-scissors’ (instead of the traditional coin toss) at the net to determine the right to serve or receive.
Raonic lost both his first and last attempts at ‘rock-paper-scissors’ but it obviously didn’t affect his performance.
He rode the stationary bike between tiebreaks to keep his body honed. “The last thing I’d want to do is come out and compete in these events and sort of tweak something,” he said. “I’m cautious with those kinds of things and I tried to take care of things, especially because it got a little cool after the rain delay early on. I just wanted to stay on top of that.”
Raonic (above with Wawrinka) has made a coaching change for what he described as being “for the time being”.
His new mentor is former world No. 17 (2001) Fabrice Santoro, the much beloved two-handed shot-maker/artist.
“We started three days ago,” Raonic explained after his victory on Tuesday night. “I spoke with him and we had some similar views on the way I need to do things. It was a year since (former coach) Goran (Ivanisevic) and me did some good things and I felt like it was the right move.”
About what he hopes the 46-year-old Frenchman will bring to his game, Raonic said: “Hopefully organization among a few things that I do well and that I don’t. He was extremely analytical – I spoke with Tennis Canada’s Louis Borfiga because he coached him for a few years. I spoke with Guillaume (Marx – Felix Auger-Aliassime’s coach). They grew up together in the national centre (in France) and they had great things to say about the way he (Santoro) breaks things down. Hopefully with some good communication we can get some good things going for my game.”
The men’s draw for the BNP Paribas Open was done Tuesday afternoon and Raonic, seeded 13th, will have a first round bye before playing the winner of No. 51-ranked Sam Querrey and No. 57 Matteo Berrettini. After that he could possibly face 23rd seed Alex de Minaur in the third round and No. 3 Sascha Zverev in the round-of-16.
Denis Shapovalov, seeded No. 24, gets a bye and then will play the winner of the all-American clash between No. 38 Steve Johnson and No. 46 Taylor Fritz. No. 11 seed Marin Cilic could be his opponent in the third round.
On Tuesday, Shapovalov hit with Martin Klizan, the 29-year-old Slovak whom he beat in the fourth match of Canada’s 3-2 Davis Cup qualifying victory in Bratislava last month.
Tennis makes strange bedfellows, for practice at least, and Félix Auger-Aliassime was hitting on the No. 1 practice show-court Tuesday afternoon with Lucas Pouille, the Frenchman whom he upset for his biggest win (No. 18), up to that point, at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last summer. He has since defeated No. 16-ranked Fabio Fognini – two weeks ago in Rio de Janeiro.
Pouille is now being coached by two-time Grand Slam champion Amélie Mauresmo, who can be seen in the background in the picture below.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Auger-Aliassime and de Minaur, old junior rivals but seemingly good friends, took part in some Mario video game tennis on the jumbo screens in the main Indian Wells Tennis Garden plaza.
One of the amusing things of the game-playing between the 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime and the 20-year-old de Minaur was observing several very young kids around them who offered tips to maximize their performances. It appears that “Boo”, a ghost playing for de Minaur defeated “Wario”, Auger-Aliassime’s man in the contest, by two tiebreaks to one. In the end a good time was had by all.
At Tuesday’s draw, the No. 58-ranked Auger-Aliassime, a wild card, was picked out to play No. 48-ranked Cam Norrie of Great Britain in the first round with the possibility of taking on ninth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas (has a bye) in the second round.
A year ago, Auger-Aliassime qualified and defeated Vasek Pospisil, who was at Indian Wells on Tuesday after his recent back surgery, in the first round before losing to Raonic.
On Tuesday on practice court 19, right next to Shapovalov on No. 20, Genie Bouchard was one of many players getting in their tune-ups before things start for real with the first day of the women’s singles on Wednesday.
Bouchard, who opens against No. 56-ranked Kirsten Flipkins, won’t start until Thursday and that could be a good thing as she appeared to have a case of the sniffles on Tuesday as she practiced with her coach Michael Joyce (below on the phone) while fitness trainer Scott Brynes and her mother Julie watched.
It was Bouchard’s 25th birthday on February 25th and she will be playing for the first time since losing to No. 2-ranked Simona Halep two weeks ago in the second round in Dubai and then pulling out of the doubles event with an abdominal issue.
It will be Bouchard’s seventh appearance in Indian Wells since 2013. She has an overall record of 6-6 – three times she has reached the third round and on the other three occasions she has lost in the first round, and that includes 2018 when she was beaten 6-3, 6-4 by No. 100-ranked Sachia Vickery.
Thursday’s match will be her first against the 33-year-old Flipkins from Belgium.
While Bouchard won’t be involved in singles on Wednesday, she will play a doubles match with partner Sloane Stephens – fourth match on Stadium 2 – against Flipkins and Sweden’s Johanna Larsson.
Bouchard is in the top half of the draw and that means that Bianca Andreescu, who’s in the bottom half, will play her first match on Wednesday – second on Stadium 2 – against No. 70-ranked Irina-Camelia Begu.
Both players are of Romanian heritage and for the second time in her last two events the 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., will be facing a player from her parent’s homeland. Last week in Acapulco, Andreescu defeated No. 31-ranked Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2, 7-5, avenging a 6-0, 6-2 loss to the 30-year-old Romanian at the 2015 Rogers Cup in Toronto when she was just 15.
In a Fed Cup match in February 2018, Andreescu played the then No. 37-ranked Begu and lost 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2 – holding her own with an opponent who is 10 years her senior.
“I played Begu last year in Romania – that was a pretty tough match,” Andreescu recalled. “But this is a different tournament and a different time. And I think I’ve improved a lot since that match.”
She insisted playing Romanians is no different than playing non-Romanians. “I try to play every match like it’s just like any other match.”
Questioned about what she needs to improve in a game that has resulted in her having a remarkable 21-3 record so far this year, Andreescu said: “Being able to last mentally and physically in long rallies is very important because players on tour are more physically fit than they’ve ever been. So that is number one for me. I’ve definitely been working a lot on that and it’s definitely improving.”
The current No. 60 added: “I’m pretty aggressive so I’m also working on using my serve and return as an advantage in the points right from the start.”
Andreescu is enjoying the benefits that come from her newfound renown – including attending a Toronto Raptors basketball game two weeks ago. It was a win over the Washington Wizards memorable for Pascal Siakam scoring 44 points and Jeremy Lin making his debut with the Raptors. Andreescu sat courtside and admitted that it would be hard to watch games from anywhere else in the future because she enjoyed it so much close-up.
Peter Polansky lost a tough one on Tuesday evening playing in quaint Stadium 9 at the BNP Paribas Open.
He was beaten 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(3) by No. 133-ranked Lukas Lacko of Slovakia.
Twice Polansky was two points from defeat in the second set but survived to force a deciding set. Then he led 5-2 in the third set and appeared to have completely reversed the momentum of the match. But a small dip in his level and some bolder shot-making by Lacko allowed the 31-year-old to get back on even terms and then eventually pull away from 3-all in the tiebreak for the victory.
Polansky, who reached the second round as a lucky loser a year ago at the BNP Paribas Open, will likely see his ranking drop from No. 127 to No. 137.
This is a picture of an outside court match at the 2017 BNP Paribas Open. In tomorrow’s blog we’ll let you know who that is playing in front this diverse group of courtside spectators.
Feature Photo: Mauricio Paiz