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Home   News   Tebbutt: The bubbly US Open

Tebbutt: The bubbly US Open

Sep 09, 2015
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

You can get all kinds of refreshments at the US Open, from Perrier Jouet – Grant Brut champagne to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

On extremely hot, humid days as the weather has generally been so far, it might be useful to have a couple of belts of bubbly to start out the day and decide which matches are the most worth watching.

By the second Tuesday of the tournament main-draw singles matches are all in Arthur Ashe Stadium, so it takes a careful examination of the US Open Daily program to select among doubles and junior matches as to what might be the most interesting to watch.

On this Tuesday, maybe the most fascinating match outside Ashe was the second-round junior clash between reigning French Open champion Tommy Paul of the U.S. and Félix Auger-Aliassime, the prodigal Montrealer who won the ITF Junior Grade One tournament in College Park, Maryland, two weeks ago, finished as runner-up at the Canadian Under-18 juniors in Mississauga, Ont., last month and at the National Bank International Junior event in Repentigny, Que., just last weekend.

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Auger-Aliassime already has an ATP ranking of No. 760 and just turned 15 a month ago.

It turned out that it was a compelling confrontation that drew a smattering of tennis cognoscenti, well aware that Auger-Aliassime has the potential to one day be a generational player.

Paul, who turned 18 in May, won the match 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 but not before both players showed their skills, especially the precocious Auger-Aliassime.

He really didn’t disappoint, even after Paul got back into the match in the second set after a shaky start that included a double-fault for the decisive service break in the opening set.

The second set was very competitive after Paul took a bathroom break at the end of the first. On the whole Auger-Aliassime was the more solid player, with Paul’s forehand looking sketchy – flying long – in important situations.

Midway through the set, Team 8 super-agent Tony Godsick (Roger Federer’s business guy for over a decade) arrived at Court 5 and remained there until the end of the match – saying afterward that he was very impressed with Auger-Aliassime. He also was aware that Félix shares a birthday (August 8th) with his man Roger.

Godsick and his right-hand man Andre Silva weren’t the only big names present.

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Frances Tiafoe, the promising 17-year-old American (on right above) and Stan Smith, the 68-year-old former Wimbledon and US Open champion (white cap in front) were watching.

It wasn’t until he served at 15-all trailing 5-4 in the second set, that Auger-Aliassime showed the first real sign of tightness, serving a double fault into the net. That seemed to buoy Paul who, two points later, blasted a forehand cross-court service return winner on his first set point to wrap up the set.

The umpire then announced that the heat rule had been invoked with high humidity and a record high temperature of 36 degrees – both players agreeing – and they stayed on the court for a few minutes before leaving for most of the 10-minute break.

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Normal service was assumed in the final set, Auger-Aliassime pounding his big forehand and hitting laser-low two-handed backhands as the players exchanged breaks at 2-all (Auger-Aliassime) and 3-2 (Paul).

At that point it was hard not to think Auger-Aliassime was not the superior player with his willowy, boyish physique still able to explode big ground strokes all the while maintaining a calm demeanour. At 3-all, he had three break points on the Paul serve and misfired on all of them, and the Boca Raton resident held to lead 4-3.

Paul broke serve to lead 5-3 when he returned short and Auger-Aliassime overhit a forehand long from close to the net.

Then Auger-Aliassime showed his steeliness when he saved two match points – the first on a nervy Paul double fault and the second when the Montrealer redlined an inside/out forehand that Paul couldn’t handle. He went on to break and then held serve to love for 5-all.

Finally at five games each, and after more than two hours and 20 minutes on court, Paul edged ahead, reaching 6-5 on a well-placed backhand cross-court winner after a tough rally to 40-30 and then the game on a missed service return by Auger-Aliassime.

In the final game, at 6-5 for Paul, Auger-Alisassime bent over and leaned on his racquet at 15-all, maybe a sign that his lean, not fully grown 6-foot-1 frame was reaching a breaking point. But he still led 40-15 before Paul ran off four points, winning on his third match point when Auger-Aliassime erred wide with a forehand.

The final point count was tipped in Paul’s favour – 103 to 102 in total points – on that very last miss by Auger-Aliassime.

But Auger-Aliassime clearly has time on his side – Paul, 18, has an ATP ranking of 437 while the 15-year-old Canadian is No. 760.

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“It was tough conditions,” Auger-Aliassime said afterward. “I went out and started not bad. I think I ate too much because in the first set I thought I was about to puke. I wasn’t feeling good at all but I just managed to increase the intensity a bit on the return game. I got a break and then I was just holding my serve.

“The second set I started hitting harder and putting more balls in – it was really tough. I came back (from a 3-0 deficit). I fought with what I had. I wasn’t in my best shape, playing a few weeks of tough tennis. So yeah, of course I was tired.

“The third set was a battle against the conditions again. But it was a good experience. I played at a pretty good level and it was good playing such a good player as Tommy. I appreciate it.”

About what might have been the difference in the match, Auger-Aliassime said, “I got the first break in the third set and my intensity dropped I was like ‘okay, I’ve got the break now I’m okay.’ I had to hold my serve and I didn’t.

“He stayed pretty calm too. He wasn’t playing his best tennis and he stayed pretty calm. It’s a match I could have won. If I’d played my best tennis, it would have been different. He was a little better in these conditions and he stayed pretty calm. He was a better player today.”

Auger-Aliassime said he tweaked his knee in the last game when he hunched over but he wasn’t too concerned, adding, “at one point in the match I was feeling dizzy a bit (middle of the second set). I wasn’t seeing right – it was a tough day at work.”

It has been his first Grand Slam tournament and when asked about that in reference to Tuesday’s match, he said, “the first few points of the match you’re a bit nervous, in front of a lot of people. At the US Open a lot of important people are watching. I try not to think too much about it, just think about my game, forget it and just play my match.”

Has he been at all surprised by people at the US Open knowing who he is after his dramatic emergence as a mere 14-year-old? “Yes, a few people know me,” he said, “but I don’t think about it really – just stay focused on the game.”

There was one man in the crowd from Quebec City who kept yelling out “pas de cadeaux,” which translates as “no gifts” meaning no free points, to Auger-Aliassime. “Yeah, he kept saying that,” Auger-Aliassime said with a smile. “Once I was like ‘c’mon, the guy (Paul) hit a good shot.’ I’ve got to get used to it I guess.”

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There were a number of knowledgable tennis folk in the crowd, including above tennis writer Jon Levy, ESPN commentator Chris Fowler and John Evert, brother of Chris and director of the Evert Academy in Florida. There were also several young players including American Taylor Harry Fritz, the top seed in the boys singles and Canadian Charlotte Robillard-Millette, the girls No. 7 seed.

Auger-Aliassime has now made his Grand Slam stage debut – and later on Tuesday he and fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov won their opening round doubles match 6-3, 6-7(5), [10-7] over Argentines Geronimo Espin Busleiman and Franco Capalbo.

Fitness and good health co-operating, there will be many years ahead for Auger-Aliassime, who could hardly have been more impressive on Tuesday with his aggressive, take-the-ball early game.

It seemed as if everyone watching saw a future champion. One astute American tennis writer, who watched the whole match, said, “five years from now he’ll being playing today.” That meant in the quarter-finals of the men’s event at the US Open.

Nestor out in doubles

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Daniel Nestor and partner Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France were ousted in the third round of the US Open doubles on Monday, beaten 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-3 by No. 6 seeds Rohan Bopanna of India and Florin Mergea of Romania.

“It was definitely an opportunity lost,” Nestor said. “It was a little unfortunate that we didn’t hang with them a little more in the second set. It seemed their level dropped the first few points of the second set and I shouldn’t have lost serve early in the second. We had a chance to pull away if we’d stayed close.

“We still had small chances to break back in the second but they played pretty well for the most part and then in the third their level kept rising and ours maybe the other way.”

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Nestor is never comfortable in hot, humid weather, but he didn’t think that was a major factor in his team’s form falling off. “There were moments, but that’s not the reason,” he said. “Ten per cent can make a difference sometimes, but who knows? You can’t win a Grand Slam without dealing with days like this.”

Nestor and Roger-Vasselin have an 11-2 record at three events – including winning the ATP Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati – since joining forces at Rogers Cup in Montreal last month.

They are currently in 13th place in the race to make the year-end ATP World Tour Finals in London in November.

The plan now is for them to play Asian events in the next month or so and then they will see where they stand. Nestor mentioned that if one of the lower-ranked teams (not one of the top seven) wins the US Open – taking the ATP Finals spot given to a Grand Slam winning team – he and Roger-Vasselin’s chances of making London would decrease.

Roger-Vasselin’s regular partner, Julien Benneteau, is recovering from injury and could play with him as soon as European events in mid-October, depending on how he and Nestor stand regarding points for the London year-end finale.

Robillard-Millette and Andreescu exit

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Misfortune seems to be following Canadians at this year’s US Open – even in the junior events. After Charlotte Robillard-Millette won her opening round on Monday – 7-6(7), 3-6, 6-3 over Olivia Tjandramulia of Australia – she was forced to withdraw from her second match on Tuesday. Robillard-Millette, seeded seventh, had to retire with an abdominal strain with her opponent, Elena Rybakina of Russia, leading 6-2, 1-0.

Robillard-Millette was seeded No. 1 in the doubles with Katie Swan of Britain. She has pulled out of that event as well, but she had company. Swan had heat-related problems playing the National Bank International Junior event in Repentigny, Que., last week – and they have continued in New York so she withdrew from the doubles as well.

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Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga has had a lot of success recently, winning the Canadian Under-18 Junior Championships last month and then triumphing at the National Bank International Junior Tennis Open in Repentigny, Que. She defeated Robillard-Millette in the final in a field that included some of the best juniors in the world.

But her stay was short in the US Open juniors. She lost 6-1, 6-1 to Raveena Kingsley of Fulton, Maryland,on Monday.

“I’m feeling a bit tired from last week and she played really good,” was Andreescu’s summary of the match.

Asked if she knew anything about the 17-year-old Kingsley, Andreescu said, “nothing, I asked some players and they didn’t know anything – they only told me she hit flat.”

Andreescu is not in the doubles because her partner withdrew and could not play.

Another irony – Mate Valkusz, who won the boys event in Repentigny, also lost in the opening round of the US Open juniors, having to retire in the second set of his match on Monday against Jeff Wolf of Cincinnati with… a heat-related problem.

Shapovalov moves on

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Denis Shapovalov, 16, of Richmond Hill, Ont., won his second-round match at the US Open on Tuesday, outplaying Ulises Blanch of Deerfield Beach, Fla., 6-2, 6-3.

The hard-hitting lefty served well and had too much power off the ground for Blanch. The victory sets up a third-round match against another unseeded player, Alex Rybakov of the U.S.

Inside the US Open

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In keeping with this blog’s ‘bubbly’ theme, this was a scene on Monday at the fountains outside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Everyone is looking for ways to cool off during this balmy US Open and here’s a dad helping out his young son by lowering him and dipping his feet in the water.