After all matches at the US Open, journalists can get detailed stats sheets that show everything from the average speed of a player’s first serve to the number of forced errors he or she committed.
Some of it is solid information – winners and unforced errors for example – some of it is a little more little arcane – such as average speed on second serves.
After Milos Raonic lost 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in Sunday’s round-of-16 at the US Open to John Isner, all of those numbers seemed irrelevant.
The most important thing was that he was treated on court at the end of the fourth set with the match dead even at two sets apiece.
Given the history of his injuries – including a torn quadricep muscle when he lost to Isner in four sets in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon just two months ago – it was easy to overlook all the numbers and focus on the fact that he needed a three-minute medical time-out after two hours and 28 minutes of action and with matters headed into a decisive fifth set.
Trainer Clay Sniteman came onto the court in Louis Armstrong Stadium and worked on the right lower back and hip area for three minutes. Raonic then got up and returned to play. After Isner held serve to 30 to take a 1-0 lead in the fifth set with an increasing boisterous, vociferous full-house crowd (14,053) backing him, Raonic immediately fell behind love-40 on his serve. But he clawed back to 30-40, including a glorious overhead smash on the first break point at love-40. But things basically unravelled for good when he hit a double fault into the net to lose his serve two points later.
Isner lost just one point in his next three service games and then Raonic dropped his serve to 15 in the final game – ending with a forehand into the net.
It hadn’t been too obvious that the hip/back bothered him until he ran wide for a forehand in the sixth game and pulled up at the end of his run. After that there were times when he didn’t seem to be able to really get down into his shots.
At his post-match media conference he said his right hip started hurting midway through the fourth set.
“I got up off the chair, and my hip felt tight,” he explained about the beginning of the discomfort. “I was experiencing sort of a sharp pain.”
He said that it affected him when he pushed up on his serve, and added, “(it) just started feeling like a bit of a sharp feeling in my hip. (I) tried to make it feel better. It was sort of a pain that dulled down, but I just wasn’t able to push that much. It was hard to jump on the serve.”
He said he had never previously felt that pain in his hip and, when asked the inevitable question of what he can do to try to prevent the rash of injuries that have affected him the past two or three years, he said, “I’ll sit down with my guys. We’ll discuss what happened, how it happened, what we can do. There’s really nothing else.
“I work hard. I try to be better. Hopefully there’s some kind of progress I can make that’s going to help somewhat mitigate the issues.”
Probably the most worrying thing about the injury is that it was on the right side – the side where he had hip surgery in July, 2011 after a fall on the grass on at the back of Court 3 at Wimbledon.
He has expressed a concern that his hip and lower body injuries have all been on the same right side, possibly indicating that they are related to the 2011 hip surgery.
The right-side injuries include:
Right ankle (Beijing)
Right quadricep (Paris)
Right adductor (Australia)
Right hamstring (Delray Beach)
Right calf (Tokyo)
Right knee (meniscus) (Training)
Right knee (meniscus) (Monte Carlo)
Right quadriceps (Wimbledon)
Right hip (US Open)
For the moment, he plans to check further into the matter. “I think I’ll take the next steps over these next few days to be able to really answer those questions. I’ll take a look with the people that we started talking with before at the beginning of the summer…discuss. I’ll have those meetings.
“We didn’t really have the time in the beginning of the summer because I was healing something else. By the time I got into shape, I wasn’t really in a shape where I could do tests properly. I’ll take the time to do that now.”
As for the match up until the fifth set, it was very even and kind of strange in that both Isner and Raonic really played dreadful games to lose their serves – Isner in the second game of the first set and the second game of the fourth set – and Raonic in the second game of the second set and the seventh game of the third set. The breaks basically decided the first four sets.
And play was very even between the two – for example in the second to last game of the fourth set Raonic actually led 95-90 in total points.
But credit is due to Isner who probably attained the highest level of the two – from the second set through to the fourth.
Raonic is now 1-5 against the 6-foot-10 American and conceded afterward, “I’ve definitely struggled with him specifically. There’s other guys that are big servers that I’ve played better against. For me, I think the biggest thing is there are not guys that make me hit returns above my shoulders. That’s sort of the hardest part for me. Today I was much more successful going further back, buying my time. I wasn’t sharp enough when I needed to be.”
When he was in full flight, Isner was very impressive with his ability to pressure with the forehand and finish points off at the net – no need to mention the effectiveness of his (or Raonic’s for that matter) serving.
At 33 and about to become a father, Isner has had a breakthrough year that included winning the Masters 1000 Miami Open in April and rising to a career-high ranking of No. 8 last month. He is now No. 11.
“I think this year, since Miami of course,” he said, “I really turned a corner there. There are some matches I’ve played where I only just rely on my serve. But I think more times than not this year I’ve shown some other ability. That comes from just being relaxed on the court. It’s not a product of more reps and more practice. The mental part of the game, being able to free up on the tennis court is much easier said than done. I’ve been able to, for the most part this year, do a pretty good job of that.”
Raonic, who turns 28 in December, can take solace in the fact that he is more than five years younger than Isner and potentially has many years in which to improve and find the fitness and experience to compete consistently for the greatest titles in the sport.
For the moment, the question will be is he going to be able to play when Canada faces the Netherlands in a Davis Cup World Group Playoff from September 14-16 in Toronto.
“I think this will be fine by then,” he said Sunday. “I told Frank (Dancevic, Canada’s team captain) when we spoke yesterday that I’ll be ready to play.”
Saturday was a tough day for Gabriela Dabrowski – first she and partner Yifan Xu were beaten 6-2, 7-6(2) by Sam Stosur of Australia and Zhang Shuai of China in the second round of women’s doubles.
It was a tough loss for the No. 4 seeds but it took an outstanding performance by the 34-year-old Stosur, the dominant player in the match, to pull off the upset.
Dabrowski’s second disappointment came in the mixed doubles. She and partner Mate Pavic of Croatia, seeded No. 1, were upset 7-5, 6-3 by the American duo of Christina McHale and Christian Harrison in the second round.
Fine play by McHale was a key to the win – and of course it’s worth noting that Christina’s sister Lauren is married to Christian’s bother Ryan.
Pavic has been battling a bit of a neck/shoulder issue that could have been a factor in his play.
Leylah Annie Fernandez from Montreal reached the second round of the US Open junior girls event on Sunday with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over American wild card Elysia Bolton. Fernandez, who turns 16 on Thursday, defeated the 18-year-old Bolton in an hour and 57 minutes.
The best junior Grand Slam finish for Fernandez in 2018 was reaching the semi-finals of the French Open in June.
In the second round, she plays 17-year-old Mylene Halemal of France.
Bryant Park, bordered by 5th and 6th Avenues and 40th and 42nd Streets in midtown Manhattan, is a hub of cultural activities in the summer months. Here’s what it looked like on a recent Sunday night with the Empire State Building in the background.
(Feature photo: Mauricio Paiz)