It was mission accomplished for half of the so-called Big Four on Wednesday, with Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray advancing. But there was disappointment for the only remaining Canadian at either the Montreal or Toronto Rogers Cup events.
Vasek Pospisil fought the good fight against John Isner but the 6-foot-10 American was superior in the crisis moments and came away with a 7-6(1), 4-6, 6-3 win in two hours and three minutes.
Nadal won his first hard-court match of the summer season, defeating Sergiy Stakhovsky 7-6(4), 6-3. It was a solid performance by the three-time Rogers Cup champion against the enterprising Ukrainian – one of a dwindling breed who makes moving forward to the net an integral part of his game.
The only game Nadal had regrets about afterward was when he served for the opening set at 5-4 and was broken.
Aside from that he dealt handily with whatever Stakhovsky had to offer.
Probably most important for the 29-year-old Spaniard, he is feeling fit. “I do what I feel is better for my tennis,” he said about his training and practice routines. “Normally before tournaments I practice two hours. Here I arrived on Thursday, so I practiced Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday – three hours every day. So more than usual.
“Playing doubles here helps to get more adapted to the hard court, with returns, with fast movements. That’s why I am playing doubles.”
Nadal spoke those words in the late afternoon and before he played a second-round doubles match in the evening. Almost as if to show that he is fit, alongside Spanish compatriot Fernando Verdasco, he won 7-6(8), 6-7(2), [10-4] over Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut. In the first evening singles match on Thursday, Nadal will play 33-year-old Russian Mikhail Youzhny. Nadal leads their head-to-head 12-4 and has won their last six in a row dating back to 2008.
After his match on Wednesday, the nine-time Roland Garros champion engaged in a little fun on court (above) – taking pot shots at the game Tennis Canada mascot “Smash” as part of a target-hitting contest with amateurs on the court.
Murray’s 6-4, 7-5 win was much less complicated than the last two times he played Tommy Robredo – victories last fall in Shenzen, China, and Valencia, Spain when he won but not until after saving five match points on each occasion. Memorably – in jest – Robredo gave him the finger as he approached the net for the handshake after the second encounter.
On Wednesday, the first question to Murray at his post-match media conference was about how he had become a world-class tennis player from Scotland. “Obviously a number of things go into it,” he answered. “My mum and her parents loved tennis, so they played a lot. My mum took me and my brother (Jamie) around. We had local courts next to us, which were a two minutes’ walk from our house. It was very easy at first to go and play so even if the weather wasn’t good, at that age, it doesn’t really matter. We’re just on the court, not necessarily playing tennis or playing points, but just different games on the court with any balls we could get or racquets.
“That was really how it started. But I think both of our parents are extremely hard workers, and I think that’s something that rubbed off on me and my brother.”
On Thursday, as well as playing his third-round singles match against Gilles Muller, he and partner Leander Paes will take on Andy’s brother Jamie and John Peers of Australia in doubles.
“In some ways maybe for our family it’s nice,” Andy said about the fraternal confrontation – their first of any kind since their junior days. “It sort of shows that we’re playing in a huge event against each other – that we’ve managed to get to the top level of the sport.
“But I think at the same time it’s quite awkward for everyone. There will be no hard feelings either way but it’s not going to be comfortable I don’t think.”
Pospisil was playing Isner for the second week in a row. Following a straight-sets loss in Washington last week, this time Isner prevailed again by a 7-6(1), 4-6, 6-3 score.
Both players broke serve twice during the match and it basically came down to the sixth game of the final set with Pospisil serving at deuce when the last two points were a double fault and a forehand unforced error wide.
Afterward, Pospisil said the heavy conditions slowed the pace and gave the (lumbering) Isner more reaction time. He also suggested he would have preferred to play during the day, but he gave Isner props. The world No. 12 came into Montreal off a win in Atlanta (Marcos Baghdatis) and a runner-up finish in Washington (Kei Nishikori).
“It was still a positive tournament for me,” Pospisil summed up. “I had a good first round (Yen-Hsun Lu). I played a good match today. John played well, served well. He’s confident. He’s just kind of in that period right now where he’s not thinking on the court. That’s kind of where every player wants to be. He’s won a lot of matches the last couple weeks – credit to him for playing a good match.
“At the same time it was still fun playing out there in front of the crowd, still really special being out there.”
Pospisil now moves on to Cincinnati where he will play the qualifying for the Masters 1000 next week.
One Canadian, Daniel Nestor, was successful on the day as he and partner Edouard Roger-Vasselin defeated Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas and David Marrero of Spain by a 6-3, 5-7, [10-5] score in a first-round doubles match.
The biggest upset Wednesday was Tomas Berdych (above), seeded No. 5, losing 7-6(5) 6-3 to Donald Young. Berdych led 5-2 in the first set and then when the set got to the tiebreak he was abysmal – making several regulation forehand unforced errors into the net and then double faulting on set point.
No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka was also eliminated, but only when he had to stop with a back issue – final score reading 6-7(8), 6-3, 4-0 RET for Nick Kyrgios.
One top seed who did advance was No. 4 Nishikori, champion in Washington last week, 6-3, 6-3 over Pablo Andujar.
Maybe the most surprising player to reach the third round was qualifier Ernests Gulbis (above). The unpredictable Latvian defeated Lukas Rosol 6-2, 5-7, 6-3. And he could go further because he plays Young in Thursday’s third round.
Gulbis, now ranked No. 87, will be a guest on the Sportsnet 590 show ACES on Thursday at 7 p.m. (EDT).
Don Fontana 1931-2015
Long a fixture of the Canadian tennis scene, Don Fontana died on July 17 in Toronto at age 84.
Here is an obituary from the August 12 issue of the Globe and Mail.
In the picture above, Fontana is seated in the Presidential Tribune at Roland Garros taking notes while watching a match. Just above him in the background is American Dennis Ralston, runner-up at Wimbledon in 1966, and below with his hand on his cheek is former player Michiel Schapers of the Netherlands. That may or may not be Dutch player Betty Stove – 1977 Wimbledon runner-up to Virginia Wade – right behind Fontana. The picture is from the late 1970s or early 1980s.
Carte Postale – Montreal
There’s a widespread bicycle culture in Montreal in the summertime – as the view above suggests.
Also worth noting in the picture – middle background – are Montreal’s typical “escaliers en colimacon” (spiral staircases) which wind up the front of many apartment dwellings.