Imagine Diego Schwartzman trying to cover the court in John Isner’s sneakers.
Those are some big tennis shoes to fill!
That’s how I feel as I take the reins of this Tennis Canada blog from Tom Tebbutt.
You may have smiled at the comparison, but know that it’s like Diego shaking hands with John at the net: with determination and SO MUCH respect for a man I can only look up to.
I want to make the most of this space right off the bat and express my admiration and respect for Tom. He’s a journalist and commentator that I’ve followed for many years in print and on the radio and television.
I recently found out that we have two more things in common beyond our shared passion for tennis. We were both born in Trois-Rivières, Québec and played at the Radisson tennis club along the Saint-Maurice about a decade apart.
I’d like to wish Tom a wonderful retirement, good health and some fantastic tennis as a player and fan.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been playing tennis for 55 years and talking about the game on TV and radio for the past 40. I also spent 10 years as a sportscaster (ATP, WTA, Davis Cup, Fed Cup, Laver Cup) and have written pages and pages about tennis.
Genie has a brush with greatness in Zapopan
We believed she could. We wanted it for her.
And Genie Bouchard probably did too. More than anything, she hoped to end a seven-year drought since her very first title on the grass in Nürnberg in 2014 and hoist a second winner’s trophy.
But it wasn’t to be.
At the WTA 250 Guadalajara Open hosted by the twin city of Zapopan, fatigue and the inability to adapt her strategy against Sara Sorribes Tormo—who was an absolute wall—sunk Bouchard, who watched the 24-year-old Spaniard reign supreme in her very first pro final (6-2, 7-5).
In the match, Genie focused on power and accuracy, just as she had all week. But unlike the three women she’d defeated—Caroline Dolehide (43), Kaja Juvan (91) and Cate McNally (44)—Sorribes Tormo (71) sent every ball back and forced the Canadian to hit tough shots and claw her way out of their rallies, which were as mesmerizing as they were grueling. Unfortunately, it was to no avail.
“That was super frustrating,” said Bouchard to the Canadian Press after the match. “I felt like I was playing 12-and-under tennis at some points there. I don’t know. She was just out-grinding me. I shouldn’t have lost four games in a row like that at the end. Sometimes I didn’t know what to do.” The frustration was very real when Bouchard, at the height of exasperation at 2-5 in the first set, smashed her racquet.
Even so, Eugenie Bouchard played with consistency throughout the tournament and proved how fit she is. She was rewarded with an ascension of 28 spots in the rankings to No. 116. The next layover on her Mexican journey is the Monterrey Open.
There, she won’t have to play her first match just 24 hours after getting off a flight from France, deal with jet lag from a seven-hour time difference or adapt to an altitude of 5,500 feet. Well rested and more and more confident as days go by, she’ll be pursuing her comeback into the Top 100.
Let’s not forget that just a year ago, on March 16, 2020, she was No.332. That’s a 216-spot climb!
“I feel like the work I’ve put in over the last year or so is finally coming to fruition a little bit,” said Bouchard. “I just feel like I need to give myself more chances. The more tournaments I play, the more chances I can give myself to win matches and hopefully titles.”
By the time this blog is online, she’ll likely have played her first match against 27-year-old Lin Zhu of China. In 2018, the No.100 fell in both her previous battles against the Quebecer.
It wasn’t a bagel. But what was it? A serving sweep, maybe?
Whatever you call it, on March 11 in the quarters of the ATP 250 Qatar Open in Doha, Denis Shapovalov did something no Canadian pro had ever done: he won all his service games without giving away a single point.
That’s 24 points in 24 tries, in 6 games. That’s a first set won 7-5.
By the second game of the second set, Taylor Fritz had spent nearly 40 minutes trying to secure his first point.
Such great stuff!
But the rest of the match didn’t go as well for the Canadian lefty. Fritz was remarkably steady and fought a masterful battle to stop the momentum and topple Shapovalov, who struggled under pressure (5-7, 6-3, 6-4).
This week, the Torontonian and Vasek Pospisil are competing in Dubai. Their fellow Canadians Félix Auger-Aliassime and Milos Raonic have elected to play in Acapulco. Both events are ATP 500 hardcourt tournaments.
As for Leylah Annie Fernandez, she’ll be in it to win it at the WTA 250 in Monterrey.
The return of the king
No, not Aragorn triumphantly descending upon Gondor to close out the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
And not Patrick Roy back on centre ice in Montréal to retire his No. 33 jersey and bury the hatchet 13 years after his bitter split from the Habs.
I meant Roger Federer of course, who found his way back to competitive tennis after nearly 14 months away.
What kept him off the courts for one year and 38 days? Double knee surgery and a global pandemic. Just a few months shy of the Maestro’s 40th birthday, we were all wondering if perhaps too much time had passed.
In the second round of the ATP 250 Qatar Open in Doha, the World No. 6 faced No. 28 Daniel Evans—a tough rival he had battled in a number of practice matches at home in Dubai in the days prior.
Evans could not have played much better than he did on March 10. And Federer was, well, Federer. Sure, he hit a few on the frame and missed some easy shots at the net, but otherwise no one went home disappointed, except for Daniel Evans who also had to compose himself with a small crowd that had come to see Roger Federer win. Nonetheless, the match was excellent.
After nearly two and half hours (2:26), the opponents closed things out at 7-6(8), 3-6, 7-5.
The next day brought much of the same. Federer, still not in top form, was up against a player who is able to dominate when he’s at his best. And that’s exactly what Nikoloz Basilashvili did.
A man of few words, the No. 42 stayed strong in the backcourt and eventually got the best of Federer, who was looking the worse for wear mentally and physically after two hours of play. No doubt the comeback and breakneck pace imposed by his adversaries had gotten to him.
In the end, it was 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 for the pride of Tbilisi.
After the match, Basilashvili was humbled and amazed by his own exploits. “It is unbelievable. He is one of the greatest of all time,” he said. “To just play him means so much to me. I am really happy that he came back and is playing again. To win against him is a dream come true for me. He was always my idol and I am sure he is to many tennis players and fans. He is an unbelievable player, so I am extremely happy.”
Federer then confirmed what we had all assumed would happen: he was skipping Dubai to focus on training. The upcoming months will tell us more about either a) the mythical aura of a living legend or b) the inevitable erosion and looming retirement of one of the greatest players (if not the greatest) the game has ever seen.
Will Novak outshine Roger?
Did I just trigger some of you out there?
On March 8, Novak Djokovic claimed one of modern tennis’ most prestigious records when he spent a 311th week at the very top of the ATP rankings (since the rankings were established nearly 50 years ago in 1973), surpassing Federer’s record of 310.
For the Djoker, the milestone also marked his 28th consecutive week at No. 1, regardless of anyone’s opinion on the rule bending and ranking freeze during the pandemic.
But 28, 50, 100 or even 150 is still way off Federer’s other record, since the Fed Express ruled the ATP for 237 straight weeks! No, that’s not a typo. Yes, that’s 237 weeks. In terms of dates, that’s February 2, 2004, to August 17, 2008.
His closest rivals are Jimmy Connors (160 weeks from July 29, 1974, to August 22, 1977) and Ivan Lendl (157 weeks from September 9, 1982, to September 11, 1985).
Novak Djokovic is 4th (122 weeks from July 7, 2014, to November 6, 2016).
That said, a total of 312 weeks (on March 15, 2021) at the top of the global hierarchy remains a tremendous achievement. Nole’s next task is to move up to the level of Serena Williams (319 weeks), Martina Navratilova (332) and Steffi Graf (377) for the open-era record.
We’ve still got a few matches to go before we get there, and the GOAT debate rages on. But what should we go on to establish the GOAT title?
If it’s Grand Slam titles, Federer and Nadal each have 20, and Djokovic is well on his way to 20 and beyond.
Should it be weeks at No. 1? Should it be consecutive weeks at No. 1?
What about ATP titles? Fed’s got 103, and Connors won 109. They’re followed by Nadal (86), Djokovic (82) and Lendl (94).
Is it about being a good role model?
We’ll come back to this.
And while we were on the topic of COVID-19 protected rankings and the great Roger Federer, I would be remiss if I didn’t share this gem relayed by the Tennis Talker on March 5th.
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