AUS OPEN – #2 – January 19, 2015
Genie Bouchard won her opening match at the 2015 Australian Open on Monday evening with an uncomplicated 6-2, 6-4 victory over Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany.
There was really only one slightly anxious moment – when Bouchard served at 15-30 trailing 4-3 in the second set. She responded with three solid points – a forehand winner, an ace and another forehand winner to level at 4-all.
She broke in the following game as Friedsam faltered and then served out with “no worries” to wrap up the 118-minute match.
Early on, I had noted in my notepad about the No. 98-ranked German, “she can really whack the ball.” In fact, the 20-year-old is a fun, enterprising player to watch but simply not consistent enough. Also in the notepad was this: “she is just as good an athlete, and actually a more fluid, all-round shot-maker than Bouchard. But she doesn’t have the neurological toughness of Bouchard.”
The disappointing crowd – it was about half-full in refurbished, retractable-roof, 7,500-seat Margaret Court Arena – was treated to some entertaining tennis but there was little doubt, after Bouchard saved break points in her first two service games and then broke for a 3-2 lead, that last year’s Aussie Open semifinalist was going to prevail.
The final stats said a lot about Friedsam’s heavy-hitting, go-for-broke gamestyle – she had 15 winners and 23 forced errors on the positive side of the ledger to 20 winners and 15 forced errors for Bouchard. The most telling figures were the unforced error story – 34 for Friedsam, 17 for Bouchard.
An example of Friedsam’s power was her average first serve speed (peaking at 182 km/hr) of 172 km/hr to Bouchard’s average of 158 km/hr (peaking at 168 km/hr).
Bouchard’s victory came on a day when many of her most potentially difficult future opponents were beaten. Daria Gavrilova, the Russian now Australian who defeated Bouchard in the Aussie Open qualies two years ago, was ousted 7-6(8), 5-7, 6-2 by Kiki Bertens. The No. 72-ranked Dutchwoman will be next for the seventh-seeded Montrealer.
A possible third-round opponent, veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova, seeded 27th, went out 6-4, 6-2 to up-and-coming Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, 21 and ranked No. 36. That could be a third-rounder with an intriguing subplot because Garcia is coached by former world No. 3 Nathalie Tauziat, who spent a couple of years on-and-off mentoring Bouchard.
Another player to exit on day one, and the highest ranked at No. 9, was Angelique Kerber, bumped 6-4, 0-6, 6-1 by Irina-Camila Begu of Romania, a 24-year-old ranked No. 42. Also losing was No. 17 seed Carla Suarez Navarro. So there are no seeded players between Bouchard and her anticipated quarter-final showdown with second-seeded Maria Sharapova.
“I’m not aware of that,” Bouchard said about the prominent players eliminated on the opening day. “I didn’t even check the draw at all after the match. I asked my coach who my next opponent was. What does it matter who I’m playing in the fourth round? I have a second round. That’s all I’m concerned about. I don’t even have to force myself to not look at the draw. It really doesn’t interest me.”
Bouchard looked eager in the match, even if there had to be some nerves at the very beginning when she sprayed a few shots long.
At the last Grand Slam, the US Open, she went in off an injury the week before in New Haven but still managed to make the round-of-16 before losing to Ekaterina Makarova.
Comparing her fitness and mental state this Grand Slam with 2014 at Flushing Meadows, Bouchard said, “I think I’m at a different level tennis-wise. Definitely more refreshed mentally, I’d say. I haven’t played an official match in two and a half months, so it really does give your brain a break. For me it makes me so excited to play. I just feel good mentally on the court. I’m just so ready to fight and leave everything on the court. I don’t feel tired at all. It’s great to have that off-season. I feel excited for the new year.”
Her next opponent, Bertens, is a 23-year-old, 6-foot woman who has power and has recently improved her fitness. But she could still hardly be described as fleet afoot and Bouchard has a significant advantage in that area.
There have been no Top 10 wins for the Dutchwoman – a victory over No. 21 Alizé Cornet in the fall of 2014 is her best result.
After her outstanding year in 2014, Bouchard is a target, and she knows players like Bertens will be swinging freely against her. “I was going to be ready for someone kind of going for it, gunning for her shots, and that’s what happened,” she said about Monday’s match against Friedsam. “At this stage, it’s about being ready for that.”
Bouchard looked – pardon the expression – pretty in pink and may have been disappointed that no one asked her about her new Nike outfit after the match.
But she did have a little fun at the expense of her male counterpart at No. 1 in the Canadian rankings – Milos Raonic.
Here is that question and answer.
Q. A lot has been made about Milos Raonic’s haircut (see further down). Have you seen it – thoughts from you?
Bouchard: I’ve not seen it. I made fun of his hair last year. I don’t know how it’s different now. I just think he spends too much time worrying about his hair.
Q: More than you?
Bouchard: Yes, clearly.
Bouchard was in her bubble when she walked on the court, not even acknowledging the crowd’s applause. The subsequent on-court introduction included the announcer saying about her, “she has a twin sister named Beatrice, both named after Prince Andrew’s children.”
“When I was on court he mentioned my twin sister Beatrice – it was super weird,” Bouchard recalled later. “He even mentioned Prince Andrew and stuff. I’m doing overheads (in the warm-up) and I’m like ‘did he just say Prince Andrew?’ Like what does that have to do with my tennis career? I don’t know what that was about. I think I’ll talk to them.”
The Genie Army was present, positioned near the baseline in excellent seats. It was vocal, but nothing excessive, doing the usual sing-song chants.
Always very stoic on court, Bouchard did admit that she does sometimes hear the Army’s cheeky, amusing cheer routines. Asked which one was her favourite, she replied, “the one where they go ‘Genie’s hot, hot, hot.’”
RAONIC, POSPISIL UP ON TUESDAY
Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil make their Australian Open debuts on Tuesday – Raonic will play qualifier Illya Marchenko of Ukraine in the second match in Hisense Arena while Pospisil faces Sam Querrey in the fourth match on Court 6.
With a Grand Slam record of 35-8, Raonic, 24, is much more experienced than Marchenko, 27, who is a modest 4-8 in Grand Slam main draws. He had lost in the qualifying five times in a row before making it into the 2014 US Open and defeating Marco Chiudinelli of Switzerland in the first round.
It will be Raonic’s first meeting with the No. 144-ranked Marchenko.
Pospisil, who won two rounds a year ago at Melbourne Park defeating Aussies Sam Groth and Matthew Ebden before withdrawing from a third-round meeting with eventual champion Stan Wawrinka, has played Querrey once before. That was a hard-fought 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 win for the American in the first round of Wimbledon in 2012.
This is a match between the No. 2 players in Canada and the USA – Pospisil ranks No. 60 while Querrey is No. 35.
The bad news for Pospisil – if he were to lose the match and the 90 points he earned a year ago – is that he would drop to about No. 70 in the rankings.
The good news is that in 2014 he didn’t win a single singles match after Australia until June, so in the coming months he has virtually no points to defend and should climb back up the rankings.
DAVIS CUP FUTURES
Canada will start its 2015 Davis Cup World Group campaign in Vancouver from March 6-8 against a Japanese team led by world No. 5 Kei Nishikori.
If Canada wins, it might be looking at a winnable second round/quarter-final.
The general sense after Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka gave media conferences over the weekend is that the Swiss power duo will not play the first round in Belgium from March 6-8.
Without those two, and with No. 3 player Marco Chiudinelli likely not available after surgery, the Belgians with David Goffin (22), Steve Darcis (133) and Ruben Bemelmens (173) would be big favourites to beat a second (or third) rate Swiss squad.
So, in the quarter-finals a week after Wimbledon in July, Canada could be travelling to Belgium to play for its second ever (2013) Davis Cup semifinal.
ROGER FEDERER’S BACK
This is something that has always intrigued me – how did Roger Federer get his back in condition, after hurting it in the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November and withdrawing from the final, to be ready six days later for the Davis Cup final. He was able to win the doubles with Stan Wawrinka and the fourth match against Richard Gasquet, in which, he admitted on Monday evening, he re-tweaked his back at 4-3 in the first set and didn’t think he’d be able to finish the match, telling captain Severin Luthi to tell Wawrinka to get ready for the fifth match.
Here’s a Q&A where he explains how he recovered from the back problem:
Q: One year ago you said in the press conference
prior to the tournament you came here with the
back hurting to some point. This year you
suffered some hurt in the back in the World Tour
Finals in London. How did you manage to keep
the pain at bay from a medical standpoint, the
treatment you received, and so on?
ROGER FEDERER: I had the doctor take a train
from Lille Saturday night after the Stan match. I
called him up and asked him if he could come see
me. When I woke up he was there, which was great
because it’s not far away.
I hardly could get out of bed. Yeah, he had a look at me.
I don’t know, can’t even run so can’t play clearly.
I was like, ‘Are you sure? Can’t we wait?’
He was like, ‘I don’t know. You
can’t run so you can’t play.’
So, anyway, number one,
what we did was just let it heal, just do basically
nothing except some very minor treatment just so it
relaxes the most. It took two, two and a half days,
three days until I could run again. And then clearly I
was taking medication, heavy ones. Just got back in
time. Basically Wednesday night when I went for a
hit in Lille, that was the first time I felt like in that
afternoon I could run basically.
So that’s when Idecided, If you can run, you can play.
That’s my feeling. And I was happy that I somehow managed.
MELBOURNE POST CARD
This is a view from Federation Square, a gathering place for Melburnians and tourists alike. It’s at the main intersection of Swanston and Flinders Streets. Note the sign on the church in the background.