It was a mixed bag for Canadians on Thursday at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells – Genie Bouchard started well but finished poorly in a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 loss to Germany’s Annika Beck while Vasek Pospisil overcame the disappointment of a missed set point in the opening set and regrouped to beat Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-3.
Bouchard was playing only her second match in 47 days since exiting the Australian Open in the third round and suggested afterward that she paid the price. “It was lack of playing, lack of match play – and (against) someone who was there on every point,” she said. “So it was tough.”
She spoke about an abdominal strain that affected her after the Australian Open in terms of training and also prevented her from playing the WTA Premier 5 event in Dubai in mid-February.
As for its affect when she lost her opening-round match 7-6(4), 6-1 to Ajla Tomljanovic in Acapulco last week, Bouchard said, “not during the match, no, but I was a little affected after.”
The problem has to be a bit of a concern considering it bothered her on several occasions in the past – in Indian Wells two years ago, in Charleston two years ago and also at Wimbledon in 2015 when she made a game attempt in the first round despite playing with a grade two abdominal tear.
On a pleasant evening in the California desert, any Bouchard injury fall-out wasn’t apparent when she rallied from a 3-1 deficit to run off five games and take in the opening set in 49 minutes in main Stadium 1. She assumed control with superior hitting and showed why she, at 23, has ranked as high as No. 5 (2014) while Beck, also at 23, has never been better than No. 37 (2016).
The sound of the ball off Bouchard’s racquet was much more solid than off Beck’s but the whole match turned on some extremely sloppy play by Bouchard at the outset of the second set, especially when she lost the second game to go down 0-2 with unforced errors and a double fault. She also hit a double fault on the ultimate set point in the second set and then had two more in one game that saw her fall behind 0-4 in the third set.
Essentially, Bouchard was in charge if she could hit out and keep Beck off balance. But once unforced errors flooded into her game the No. 61-ranked German was able to capitalize and double down on her determination.
Beck’s explanation of her strategy pretty well said it all. “I tried to make the points longer for her so she had to take more risks to go for her shots,” she said about Bouchard.
The final stats tally told the tale – 30 winners and 67 unforced errors for Bouchard and a more balanced 21 winners and 33 unforced errors for Beck.
Thomas Hogstedt made on-court coaching visits when Bouchard trailed 3-2 in the first set and before the final set began. “He kept saying to try to move forward,” Bouchard said about his words of wisdom. “I was trying to dictate play but she was getting a lot back and I felt like I was a little bit uncomfortable trying to finish the points. I found myself a couple of times in no man’s land and hesitating about whether to come in all the way or not.”
Bouchard, who said she was able to serve freely without any discomfort in the match against Beck, will next play the Premier Mandatory Miami Open in two weeks. She will then play two International Series events – the Monterrey, Mexico, tournament the first week of April (hard courts) and then in Istanbul (clay) in the last week of that month. “Sometimes when I’m lacking confidence – I’ve done this since I was a junior – I will play smaller tournaments to just be able to win matches,” she explained. “Because sometimes you forget how to win and it becomes a habit. If I can string some wins together it will help me.”
She had looked more like her old self in Australia at the beginning of the year, reaching the semifinals in Sydney (3-1) followed by a third round at the Australian Open (2-1). Asked about her inability lately to sustain her level for two sets, she replied, “the last two matches are pretty bad examples of that. However at the beginning of the year I felt that I was more consistent. And I do think that’s just lack of training, lack of matches. Like I said, there’s no secret. It’s just back to the drawing board and getting back to the basics.”
With the loss, Bouchard’s current No. 53 ranking will drop to about No. 57. Regarding her emotional state after going out to Beck in the first round, she said, “it’s always different after every match. Sometimes it hurts more than others. Today I’m trying to look at it with less emotion and more with logic like what I didn’t do well and the lack of practice. It’s not the very worst but I never like losing.”
After levelling his match on Stadium 3 with Lu at one set apiece, Pospisil got the crucial service break in the final set at 3-all when he won five points in a row after Lu led 40-love. The final point was a desperation forehand lunging passing shot down-the-line that Lu let go only to watch as it landed on or near the sideline.
Lu never seemed to get over that and Pospisil held serve and broke again at 5-3 to seal the victory.
“I’m thrilled to be playing well, competing well, bouncing back after I didn’t have a great end to that first set by any means,” he said. “I was very happy with how the body was feeling and how I was playing especially as the match progressed.”
There was considerable concern about his back which had tightened up midway through the third set of his 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Rajeev Ram in the final round of qualifying on Wednesday.
About how it held up, Pospisil remarked, “surprisingly well. I woke up pretty stiff this morning and I went to see the physios and they did a great job. I was a little bit anxious about it in general and it ended up better than it did in my previous match.”
Pospisil was helped by a solid serving day – 72 per cent of points won on first serve and 51 per cent on his second as well as a 16/26 success rate at the net. But maybe the most telling and unlikely way he separated himself from Lu was the following – he ran 1,135 metres during the match to 1,957 for the No. 65-ranked Lu. That’s a sizeable difference.
In the second set, Pospisil got an early break but surrendered it as Lu got back on level terms to 3-all. But then Pospisil smacked his racquet on the back screen in anger and proceeded to break back on four straight points. “I think I did well to re-group right away,” he said, “not let that linger, just let out a bit of frustration.”
He went on to add about that key juncture, “Lu 40-love at 3-all, that’s where I think my head is in the right place now. It was 40-love and I was still thinking and trying to win that game one point at a time. I’m just competing well again like I always have my whole career minus last year. I feel that I’m on the right track and the other tennis adjustments I’ll make along the way.”
Pospisil’s reward for his win is a second-round match-up on Saturday against none other than world No. 1 Andy Murray. “The draw isn’t the best, I could have had a better opponent in the second round for sure but – that’s how it goes,” he said. “I’m going to do my best. It’s a good opportunity for me. I don’t have a win against any of the big four (he’s 0-3 with Federer, 0-1 with Nadal, 0-4 with Djokovic and 0-4 with Murray) so I’m going to go out there and see what happens – obviously I have no pressure. He’s the guy to beat and I’m just happy to be playing well again.”
Pressed about the ongoing back issue, Pospisil elaborated, “the core root of the problem is the same that it was back in 2013 and 2014 when I had the injury. It’s just like a lingering thing that I’m managing and it’s getting better and better every year. It’s the same thing that’s it’s always been except that I’m working pretty hard and I have a daily routine that I’m doing. I think that’s why I’ve been feeling so much better the last year and a half or so. I still get some problems but it’s going to be something that I’ll probably have to deal with throughout my career. At the moment the back is just getting better and better as the years are going by.”
With Thursday’s win, Pospisil equals his performance of a year ago in Indian Wells when he beat Juan Martin del Potro in the first round before losing to Grigor Dimitrov. But this time he also gets 16 more points for qualifying and his ranking should move up from No. 129 to about No. 124, which is exactly where Peter Polansky resides at the moment. A win against Murray on Saturday and he would take another step toward getting back into the Top 100.
With him this week at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden are his parents Mila and Milos. “They’re here every year,” Vasek said. “It’s always nice to have family. I tend to play well when I have my brothers or parents around so definitely it’s nice to see them there in the box.”
The landscape in Indian Wells and the Coachella Valley is certainly varied as can be seen in this shot of a bone-dry river bed with the snow-capped San Jacinto Mountains in the background.
NOTE: Back with a blog on Saturday following the Pospisil – Murray match.