There’s only one way to describe the fates of Canadians Bianca Andreescu and Rebecca Marino in Friday’s third round at the US Open – they were beaten by better players.
Andreescu, champion three years ago, gave it everything she had against the sublime, super-aggressive tennis of Caroline Garcia, but was always a beat behind in rallies and lost 6-3, 6-2.
Marino didn’t face an opponent with the hyper-accelerated cadence of the 28-year-old Frenchwoman. In her case, her opponent, 33-year-old Zhang Shuai of China, was more of an unrelenting combination of precision and consistency in scoring a clear-cut 6-2, 6-4 victory.
There was a lot of anticipation in Louis Armstrong Stadium when Andreescu, the fiery upstart who stormed the tennis world three summers ago by winning Canada’s first ever Grand Slam singles title at the US Open, and Garcia, the tour’s most in-form player who now has a 21-3 record (including two titles) since Wimbledon, took to the court.
Right from the start in a half-filled Louis Armstrong Stadium (Serena Williams was the blockbuster attraction next door in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the time), Garcia was hitting a harder, more penetrating ball than Andreesu, and doing so with minimal errors. It was impressive and she really never let up – finishing with 31 winners and 20 unforced errors to 11 winners and 13 unforced errors for Andreescu.
“There was a lot of intensity in every rally,” Garcia said. “Every game was important. It’s true that I won the important points. What really made the difference was to put the pressure on each of her service games. I felt really good and really dynamic in my footwork.”
The ratios of break points converted – 5/10 for Garcia and 2/4 for Andreescu – says a lot about the competitive balance of the match, a match that was much more one-sided than the Frenchwomen’s 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4 win over Andreescu in the Bad Homburg, Germany, final in June on grass.
“I felt pretty good – coming into the match,” Andreescu said, “I expected her to just go for it, kind of be on because she’s been doing really, really well. She played great – hitting balls super close to the line. And she was just countering everything that I was doing. In the second set, I tried to be more aggressive – come to the net on my returns – sometimes serve-and-volley.
“I feel like I did my best with what I had today. That’s all that matters.”
The Armstrong stadium (capacity 14,069) crowd is usually a constant background din of conversations, the volume of which suggests a lot of folks are not paying much attention to the tennis.
At first, Garcia was jarred by the decibel level. “After the first game of the match I went and saw the umpire and asked her, ‘that’s the normal sound of Armstrong?’ She said ‘yes’ and I thought ‘gees compared to what it usually is – it’s never like that.’ There’s a permanent noise that’s pretty distracting, if you’re not used to it or not expecting it, compared to other courts or other tournaments. At the US Open, you have to be a little more open-minded and just deal with it.”
An example of the uniqueness of the US Open situation occurred during a change-over after the fifth game of the second set with Garcia leading 4-1. An attractive young woman in a body-clinging dress stood up and was featured on the huge screens in the stadium. She proudly held up a full glass of beer and chugged it down with the crowd cheering her on. If that wasn’t enough, she held up a second full glass and proceeded to down it as well – much to the crowd’s delight.”
Garcia noticed, and so did Andreescu who later laughed and said, “that was funny. It kind of put me in a calmer state just watching it.”
Asked about any thoughts on what she might have done differently in the match, Andreescu said, “maybe going after it more right from the start. Like kind of beating her at her own game – really right from the start setting that tone right away.”
When it was suggested that maybe she was expecting too much from herself considering that she was only playing her sixth match of the summer on hard courts, she responded, “maybe, but I feel if I put my mind to something, having matches under my belt doesn’t matter. But maybe today it did (laughs). I don’t know. She played really well – credit to her.”
As for her future plans, Andreescu said, “I’ll probably go to Europe, maybe. But I’m going to discuss that with my team.”
In the meantime, she will be able to get consolation from her toy poodle and constant companion. What would Coco say to her master after the loss? Andreescu replied, “whenever I see her I kind of forget about everything. I’m just like ‘oh you’re so cute’ and she’ll give me some kisses. Nothing negative.”
Earlier on Court 5, Rebecca Marino played No. 36-ranked Zhang Shuai for a spot in the round-of-16. There were moments in the match when Marino did damage with her serve and some well-placed forehands, but mostly the 33-year-old Chinese was in control, moving the ball around well off the ground, particularly with a deadly cross-court backhand.
“I thought she played very well, a very clean match,” Marino said candidly about Zhang. “There were not many spots for me to target. Nothing broke down, she played a really solid match. She’s been having an excellent summer and I’m really proud of how I tried to fight and play to the end.”
The late stages of the match were Marino’s most productive. She lost only one point on serve in her final four service games – unfortunately for her, she was broken to start the second set and could not get any traction in the 33-year-old Chinese’s service games. Zhang was 3/8 on break point conversions, and Marino was 0/0.
At the beginning of the match, in her second service game, Marino saved five break points to hold to 2-1. It seemed Zhang might be a bit vulnerable but she held to equal things at 2-2. Marino was broken to 3-2 but won the first point of Zhang’s next service game but then, some of it due to Zhang’s fine ball-striking, she lost an unlikely eight consecutive points on backhand errors to fall behind 4-2 and then lose her serve again to 5-2.
Zhang then wrapped up the 29-minute first set 6-2. There was a third consecutive break for Zhang to open the second set and that’s when Marino finally began to have some serving success. But it was too late because her opponent didn’t give her any openings on her own serve.
“It just wasn’t enough because she played really great,” Marino summed up, “so that’s the feeling I left with. It was disappointing because I wanted to win, of course, but I had a great result here too, and I have a lot to be proud of. So there are a lot of positives coming out of this match and this week as a whole.”
She also earned the biggest payday of her career – $188,000 US (or $246,500 CAN) – and 130 rankings points. It appears that she will end the US Open ranked about No. 90. That’s well inside a recent goal of hers to crack the top 100. Next in an effort to continue to climb the rankings, she will play upcoming WTA 250 events in Chennai, India, and Seoul, South Korea, beginning on September 12.
LEYLAH ADVANCES IN MIXED DOUBLES
Partnering with veteran American Jack Sock, Leylah Fernandez advanced to the second round of the US Open mixed doubles event on Friday with a 6-2, 2-6, [10-5] victory over the Belgian/German duo of Kimberley Zimmermann and Tim Puetz. Unseeded, the Fernandez/Sock pairing will now be matched against another unseeded team – Fernandez’s Canadian compatriot Gabriela Dabrowski and her Australian partner Max Purcell.
A SATURDAY SPECIAL
In Saturday’s third round, it will be Denis Shapovlov versus No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev in the second match after an 11 a.m. start (following Norrie – Rune) in the Grandstand.
Rublev, banned with the other Russians from playing Wimbledon, had not shown much on hard courts this summer entering the event – out the first match in Montreal to Dan Evans and in his second in Cincinnati to Taylor Fritz. But victories in Flushing Meadows over Laslo Djere and Soonwoo Kwon have him finding some form.
Shapovalov has been erratic so far but not at crunch time in his wins over Swiss qualifier Alex Ritschard and Spanish battler Roberto Carballes Baena. The 2-2 head-to-head record may not be too helpful with Rublev winning their last meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2020 and their first at the 2017 NextGen finals in Milan using the Fast4 method of scoring – 4-1, 3-4, 4-3, 0-4, 4-3.
“He’s definitely a tough opponent,” Shapovalov said about the 24-year-old Rublev. “It’s going to be an exciting match – both of us like to play under these conditions. He’s a big ball-striker so there’s going to be a lot of shot-making from both of us.”