The 2015 US Open began with what can only be described as a full house, as 37,601 went through the turnstiles on Monday – a record for the opening day of the tournament.
For the three Canadians in singles action on day one, the results were dramatically different. Genie Bouchard and Milos Raonic reached round two with straight-sets wins but Vasek Pospisil wasn’t as fortunate. Suffering from cramps mid-match, he was beaten in five sets.
As everyone in the tennis world knows, Bouchard has floundered of late and a victory of any kind was going to be a moral boost, especially after losing 6-1, 6-0 to Roberta Vinci in her previous match last week in New Haven.
There was a capacity crowd when the match began in Court 17 and, as probably has happened before in Bouchard’s career, a young male fan called out, as she walked to the baseline to serve the opening game, “I love you Genie!”
It certainly didn’t have a negative effect as she won the first game decisively but soon fell behind 3-1 as unforced errors crept into her game. But her reaction was quick. Assisted by some shoddy play by the No. 57-ranked Riske, Bouchard was soon back in control, leading 5-3.
Still, a service break by Riske closed the gap to 5-4, giving her new life before Bouchard finally broke back for the set on her third set point when Riske miss-hit a forehand long.
The second set was deadlocked at 3-all before Bouchard pulled away for her fifth win in a row over the 25-year-old from Pittsburgh.
An examination of the stats looks good on Bouchard – she had 25 winners and 18 unforced errors while a nervier Riske was a less flattering 15 winners to go with 33 unforced errors.
Needless to say, after her much publicized association last week with the legendary Jimmy Connors, the assembled media were almost expecting the response they received. “I definitely felt different than last week,” Bouchard said referencing that 6-1, 6-0 loss to Vinci, “just more inspired, more confident, more motivated. You know, just kind of trying to regain the confidence and the belief in myself. I’ve been working on that.”
Connors, now 62 and a five-time winner of the US Open, was not present on Monday but Bouchard did talk to him before the match and said she would phone him following her media conference.
Through most of the match, Riske, who really doesn’t have any real weapons except her tenacity and court sense, concentrated most of her shots on the Bouchard forehand. Early on, she got a lot of unforced errors that Bouchard flew long over the baseline. But the No. 25 seed tightened up on that wing and was the superior, more dynamic player off both sides by the end of the match.
“Working this week with Jimmy has really given me a different side of things, like a different point of view,” Bouchard said. “He’s very energetic. He’s kind of lifted my spirits a little bit. He believes in me. He helped me kind of believe in myself more and regain that confidence.”
Bouchard is now 4-15 dating back to the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, in March. She had become something of a punching bag and the butt of jokes, and admitted as much when she said, “everyone kind of jumped on the bandwagon last year and were super quick to be at my throat this year. You know, it’s a bit hard in a way. I try to block it out as much as possible.”
A win always makes the vibe looser and more relaxed during media conferences, and that resulted in Bouchard being asked about her reaction to ESPN interviewing Coco Vandeweghe on court after she won the first set against Sloane Stephens on Monday. That’s something revolutionary and innovative for the hidebound sport of tennis.
“I just heard about it right before coming in here,” Bouchard said with a smile. “I had no idea.”
Would she be amenable to being interviewed between sets of a match?
“I’m not sure,” she replied. “I haven’t had time to think about it. I heard about it 15 minutes ago. I’d have to think. Maybe only if I win the first set.”
Summing up her opening round, she said, “every match means something to me. Yeah, I’m proud of myself for today. I just got to try to perform well in my next match.”
Her next one will be against Polona Hercog. They have played once before – way back in 2011 in a Fed Cup tie in Koper, Slovenia. Bouchard was just 17 and Hercog won 6-0, 6-4. Now the 24-year-old is ranked No. 54 and has spent much of this year playing qualifying – succeeding six times in making it through to the main draw. That includes three weeks ago at Rogers Cup in Toronto where she went on to upset world No. 12 Ekaterina Makarova in the second round before losing to Ana Ivanovic.
With the No. 7 seed Ivanovic eliminated on Monday by Dominika Cibulkova, a win on Wednesday over Hercog could mean the No. 50-ranked Slovak would be the biggest obstacle between Bouchard and a spot in the round-of-16, which is as far as she went a year ago in Flushing Meadows.
Raonic beat Bouchard into the winner’s circle on Monday after a 6-4, 7-6(8), 6-1 victory over Tim Smyczek of the U.S. in the match preceding his compatriot in the cozy confines of Court 17, a circular arena seating 2,800 that’s much in the style of Court No.1 at Roland Garros.
It’s widely known that Raonic is short of match play – just two matches (no wins) since Wimbledon – but there was one shining moment that clearly could not possibly have been any better during his two-hour and 10-minute victory over Smyczek.
After taking the first set, he faced a set point for the American at 6-5 in the second-set tiebreak and made a sensational shot. It looked like Smyczek had slashed a forehand cross-court passing shot passed him but Raonic lunged to his right and stuck a forehand half-volley winner.
After the match, the on-court announcer woman said to him, “you made an absolutely amazing play to save set point in that second set, all without a single hair moving out of place. Tell us what goes through your mind on those pressure points?”
“My mind is a lot more rattled than my hair, that’s for sure,” Raonic responded with a comedian’s fine timing.
In many ways it was a typical Raonic match. His serve was the key as he started his very first service game with a 139 mph serve and one sensed that Smyczek, just 5-foot-9, felt the weight of the 6-foot-5 Raonic’s big game.
That was later somewhat substantiated by the respective fastest first serve speeds – Raonic’s was 147 mph while Smyczek’s mightiest blow was 122 mph, fully 25 mph slower!
If he hoped to stay with Raonic, Smyczek probably needed a little luck and he didn’t get it when Raonic got the crucial service break in the opening set with a reflexed backhand service return that nicked the top of the net and trickled over.
As it turned out, the second set was basically the match and it was very close, with the only break points before the tiebreak going to Raonic in the first and seventh games.
The ultimate tiebreak was a seesaw, choppy affair – with Raonic completely flubbing a smash right near the net at 5-all, right before saving a set point on the Smyczek serve with the aforementioned fantastic half volley. The next three set points were for Raonic as Smyczek began to fray – including a double fault to go down 7-6 and a badly miss-hit forehand long to lose the set and the tiebreak 10-8.
The third set was a formality as Raonic broke twice to take a 4-0 lead before closing it out 6-1 with another break.
Considering his lack of preparation – muscle spasms in his back had limited him to just three free-swinging hitting sessions heading into his first-round match – it was a sound performance.
Raonic won 15 of 19 serve-and–volley points, many of them on his second serve, a move that proved remarkably successful. “I don’t know what the numbers were,” he said about the tactic, “but I think it was pretty good. He was standing pretty far back, so it gave me quite a bit of time to get close to the net.”
About S&Ving on second serve, he noted, “it gives me time to get closer – especially when the guy stands far back.”
Raonic had to be happy with a three-set victory, even if it was against a world No. 99 who was clearly over-matched.
Regarding his sketchy preparation, he said, “I’ve missed the feeling of just being able to play tennis without thinking twice. You know, just to go out there, spend as much time as you want on court, and be as productive as you can – focus on ‘this is my objective, this is what I want to improve today.’ It hasn’t always been that way for the last few months. It’s been more, ‘can I do this? Can I do that?’
“It’s sort of that second-guessing, which can be a bit tiring but also frustrating when things aren’t going as smooth as you hope.”
A year ago as the No. 5 seed – this year he’s No. 10 – Raonic was beaten by Kei Nishikori in the round-of-16. In order to progress further this year, he will have to beat 31-year-old Fernando Verdasco, a former No. 7 who currently ranks No. 42. Their head-to-head is 3-3 with Raonic winning their lasting meeting 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3 on hard courts in Shanghai in October 2013.
There was a bit of an amusing moment right after the match when a boy behind Raonic’s courtside chair ask if he could have a racquet. Politely Raonic replied, “sorry about that.”
Vasek Pospisil was in no mood to even speak to fans after his crushing 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(0), 6-0, 6-1 loss to Andreas Haider-Maurer of Austria on Court 7.
It was a bizarre match for the No. 45-ranked Canadian. Unfortunately, as was the case earlier this summer at Wimbledon (vs. Vincent Millot) and in Atlanta (vs. Yen-Hsun Lu), both matches which he won, Pospisil was struck with cramps.
Trailing 3-0 in the fourth set, he went down in a heap and looked in very bad shape – lying on the ground for close to 30 seconds before supervisor Lars Graff and ATP trainer Hugo Gravil made it out onto the court to treat him.
They explained to him that if he conceded two games, he could get treatment, but the score would then be 5-0 in the fourth set for the No. 52-ranked Haider-Maurer.
The treatment helped in that Pospisil was able to continue to play but he was obviously restricted the rest of the way even though he sometimes hit effective aggressive shots.
At the end change after a very long opening game of the final set with several game points on his serve, Pospisil lost it temporarily – launching his racquet along the court up to the net, kicking his bag (see below) and then a water bottle towards the net. That got him a point penalty from umpire Mariana Alves, with whom he had already had some problems. So he began the second game of the set trailing love-15.
“I was so exhausted at one point that I just… I’ve never kicked my bag and been talking out loud, never done that stuff in my career,” Pospisil said “Midway through the fifth when I got a little bit of air and I felt a little bit better and I wasn’t cramping any more, I was like ‘I can’t believe that that all happened.’ It’s very unlike me to do those kinds of things.”
Full credit to Haider-Maurer, who can be quite combustible himself on court, for keeping his cool and maintaining a high level of play against the distractions of Pospisil’s obvious ails.
At his post-match media conference, Pospisil’s first remark was a strong declaration, “there are some things I’ve got to figure out for sure. I’ve got to figure some physical issues with humidity which I’ll do in the off season. I’ll come back stronger – next year I’ll have it sorted. This is the last time that I’m going to lose a match because of physical problems.”
Explaining how it developed, he said, “I knew it was coming at the end of the third set. It was the same thing as two years and last year – although last year I didn’t cramp. Even at 5-4 in the third it was starting a little bit and it came back in the tiebreaker and I was trying not to show it. Then at one point it just became too much and it was going all over the place.
“(It lasted) really until 2-0 or 3-0 in fifth set then I kind of just stopped cramping but I was pretty exhausted in general. It was kind of tough to get your rhythm back at that point.
“I knew I was getting super dehydrated even in the second set, I could feel it. The way I was moving, moving super slow. Moving well on the court but my legs were heavy. This is the last event of the year where I’m going to feel this.”
He will play the US Open doubles with partner Jack Sock and then head to Asia for tournaments in Beijing and Shanghai before finishing the season at indoor events in Europe where heat and humidity are not factors.
“I sweat a lot, that’s just the reality,” Pospisil said. “I think everybody can see that. I changed about nine shirts and I barely even played the fourth and fifth sets. That’s always going to be a battle, but there has to be some kind of solution and I’m going to find that for sure this off-season.”
About the crisis moment when he went down trailing 3-0 in the fourth set, Pospisil said, “I was cramping a lot and they told me I could get a rub if I forfeited the two games, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to. There was no chance I was going to win those two games, so it was better to get a rub and see if that would help me.”
Itemizing the body areas that were affected, he enumerated, ‘my left quad, hamstring, calf, and the right quad and calf and the right forearm when I hit a few shots – and also the psoas (hip flexor). That was an issue as well on the left side. Mostly it was on the left side but every now and then on the return it was on both.”
Seeded No. 11 with partner Jack Sock, Pospisil will now attempt to win his second Grand Slam doubles title following a victory with the 22-year-old American at Wimbledon last year.
The US Open media centre is about to be officially named the Bud Collins US Open media centre. It’s hoped that Collins, 86, will be present for a dedication later in the tournament. Collins, who grew up in Berea, Ohio, near Cleveland, is best known for his work as a tennis writer for the Boston Globe and his television commentary for NBC.
That “friend” that is the last word on the dedication plaque is appropriate because Arthur ‘Bud’ Collins has always been generous with his time and knowledge with his peers in media work rooms all over the world.