The first day of Australian Open qualifying is complete and the results were predictable for the three Canadian players in action – Peter Polansky (near court above) and Felix Auger-Aliassime advanced to the second round while Rebecca Marino lost her opener.
Polansky and Auger-Aliassime were higher-ranked and favoured against their opponents while the Marino loss had as much to do with her lack of preparation as with her actual performance. A back issue meant she had only been doing her fitness and on-court hitting work for two weeks heading into the AusOpen qualifying.
The No. 118-ranked Polansky was first up on Tuesday, playing on Court 8 on a mostly sunny day with a high temperature of 27 degrees. He beat his No. 191-ranked opponent, Ernesto Escobedo of the U.S., 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
The background between the two is interesting. They had played twice before in Challengers and the 22-year-old American had won both – 6-3, 6-7(1), 7-6(5) in Maui in 2016 and 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-6(4) in Las Vegas in 2015. Polansky could have been forgiven for thinking history might be repeating itself when he trailed love-40 on his serve at 2-all in the third set. Escobedo had gotten the three break points with bold shot-making but when it came to closing out the three break points his forehand, and his nerves, failed him.
But that didn’t last. He bounced back from 15-40 on his on his serve in the following game to level at 3-3.
Eventually, Polansky broke serve in the final game – a single break in each set determining the outcome.
Courtside coaching is permitted during the qualifying and above Polansky consulted with old friend and Davis Cup captain Frank Dancevic during the match. “Keep being aggressive” was Dancevic’s main advice.
“It seems hard when you’re down love-40,” Polansky said about that crucial 2-all game in the final set. “But I just wanted to hang in there. He was playing pretty aggressive and serving big – so it was tough.
“I thought I played well except for one game in the second set.”
In the next round, the 30-year-old Polansky will have a first meeting with No. 207-ranked Blaz Rola, 28, of Slovenia.
Asked if it was fun to be back in the Aussie Open qualifying (for a tenth time), Polansky (shaking hands with Escobedo above) smiled and replied, “it’s fun. It may not look like it, but it’s really fun.”
Auger-Alassime will join Polansky in the second round after a 6-2, 7-6(1) victory over No. 200-ranked Arthur de Greef. It’s Auger-Aliassime’s first visit to Melbourne Park since he lost in the third round of the junior boys event in 2016. There wasn’t much doubt about who was the superior player when Auger-Aliassime led 6-2, 5-2 in the Court 12 match.
But then things got a little complicated and the 26-year-old from Belgium rallied to 5-all as Auger-Aliassime had a rough patch of unforced errors, including a few wild framed balls.
“I was dominating the whole match and playing really well and then I had a little lapse of concentration to finish the match,” the 18-year-old Montrealer said. “That’s the kind of thing that happens at the beginning of a tournament. It’s never easy to finish off a match. I think he relaxed a bit and began to hit out. So we went to the tiebreak and then I was solid and served well. I’m happy to be in the second round.”
About the playing conditions, the No. 106-ranked Auger-Aliassime, who missed the main draw by just two spots, said, “the wind was tricky and I had the impression that the court was faster than some of the others here. So it was a little complicated but tennis is about adapting. You have to adapt to the conditions. I was able to so that’s good.”
About his preparation, which included training in Florida in December and then travelling to Pune, India, before Christmas to play the ATP 250 where he qualified before losing 6-4, 7-5 last week to eventual runner-up Ivo Karlovic, Auger-Aliassime said, “I did everything step by step and I think it will pay off this week and maybe later in the year. We prepared well and I had a good tournament in India.”
There was a wrap below his left knee but he reassured, “it’s just a precaution. It’s a bit from the trouble that prevented me from finishing the season last year. It’s nothing. I think I’m still growing a little so it’s a kind of pain that happens.”
Next he will play No. 171-ranked Christopher Eubanks of the U.S. In the second round of 2018 US Open qualifying, Auger-Aliassime defeated the 6-foot-7 Eubanks, 22, by the score of 7-6(5), 6-2.
— Félix AugerAliassime (@felixtennis) January 8, 2019
This is a fun post by Felix on twitter on Tuesday referring to his father Sam who’s from Togo.
It was always going to be a big ask for Rebecca Marino to prevail in her opening round qualifying encounter – her first match at the Australian Open, or any Grand Slam event, since she lost in the opening round at Melbourne Park in 2013 to Peng Shuai of China.
The match with the hard-hitting No. 130-ranked Caroline Dolehide of the U.S. began well enough. Marino, now 28 and ranked No. 216, was at 2-2 and serving 40-15 but wound up getting broken. From that point on it was Dolehide dominance although Marino had her moments of holding her own from the baseline before losing 6-2, 6-2.
“I’m really proud of myself to be back here when I wasn’t even playing a tournament a year ago,” she said putting things in perspective. “I’m really proud of myself that I even made it this far. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when you’re just going from tournament to tournament. But if I stop and think about it then that’s when I’m kind of like ‘yeah, this is pretty cool that I was able to do this – get this far from no ranking to suddenly in the qualies of a Slam.’
“It’s a proud moment for me that I’m back here after a big five-year break. The fact that I got this far is something in itself. This is my favourite Slam so I’m just happy to be here.”
Marino, above talking courtside to Tennis Canada’s Sylvain Bruneau, spoke about how much the back had been a factor in the match. She could be seen crossing her leg and stretching her left hip area during changeovers. “I knew coming here I wasn’t completely prepared,” she said, “dealing with that back injury. So things got a little stiff when I was out there, just movements that were a little difficult for me.”
“It was not ideal that I didn’t come here completely healthy and I didn’t have the off-season to train. That’s just the reality of it. I wanted to come down here and take the chance because I think I’d regret it if I didn’t. Just because of the fact that this was going to be my first Slam. I don’t think I did poorly out there. But she (Dolehide) played well. It’s not all doom and gloom. I’m pretty happy when I step back from it.”
Injuries also played a part in her 2018 comeback season, which began with three wins at $15,000 ITF Futures events in Antalya, Turkey, in February – results that that eventually contributed to zero all the way to No. 186 in the year-end rankings. But that dropped to over 200 before 2019 began because a change in the ITF ranking points at lowest level events has eliminated those results.
“I actually started the year off (in Turkey) with a shoulder injury and then I did well in Japan (March/April) but I was still dealing with my shoulder,” she said. “It was really during the summer series that I was playing injury-free and that’s when I had a lot of the better results – like playing the VanOpen (Vancouver), the Rogers Cup (Montreal) and Winnipeg (won the $25,000 National Bank Challenger). It sort of built up over the course of the year. It was beneficial to start playing those $15,000 tournaments even though it’s not glamorous and not that fun and I’d prefer not to do it again. It was really what I needed in order to get back and have that match play. If I’d been thrown back into playing the qualies of a WTA tournament, I think that might have deterred me from continuing to try.”
There was a moment when Marino, speaking with Ben Rothenberg (above) of the New York Times and yours truly, became quite emotional when talking about her motivation for making her comeback. It had a lot to do with her father Joe’s diagnosis with prostate cancer and her wanting to make the most of the moment. Things looked bleak for a time but her father is doing much better and she is optimistic about his prognosis.
Next for Marino is the $162,480 WTA event in Newport Beach, California, beginning on January 21. After that there’s possibility she could be named to the Canadian Fed Cup team that faces the Netherlands in ’s Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, the weekend of February 9-10.
In action on Wednesday in the Aussie Open qualifying – No. 200 Katherine Sebov plays No. 241 Jessika Ponchet of France, No. 197 Brayden Schnur takes on No. 176 Kamil Majchrzak of Poland and No. 107 Bianca Andreescu faces No. 181 Katie Swan of Great Britain.
Side by side outside Rod Laver Arena are Roger Federer and Shania Twain. Both have been show stoppers in Melbourne.