Photo: Patrice Lapointe / Tennis Canada
Bianca Andreescu triumphed in her first match at the 2021 National Bank Open.
In front of a reduced but devoted crowd, the Torontonian won her opener and took the early steps to defend the monumental Canadian title she acquired two years ago.
At the outcome of the entertaining contest, Andreescu got the best of 25-year-old qualifier Harriet Dart of Great Britain in just over two hours (6-1, 3-6, 6-3).
It was Dart’s combativeness that made the bout a tough one. She was coming off two wins in the qualifying event and her first-round victory over hometown hero Leylah Fernandez.
As far as Andreescu, a few things were still up in the air. The local favourite had lost five of her last six matches and hadn’t competed since the first round of Wimbledon.
As it turns out, Bianca was ready. She quickly found her highly versatile A game and got ahead 2-0 to close out the set 36 minutes later at 6-1, while her opponent couldn’t manage to secure a game on serve.
Dart’s first serves were respectable, but her second serves fell short and Bianca capitalized on most of them to take the lead. Still, the No.152 made up for the chink in her armor by being resilient enough in the rallies to fight her way to 6-3 in the second.
Andreescu continued to attack and drew energy from her crowd to rack up her own 6-3 in the third. How did she feel out on Centre Court?
“It was so awesome!” she said. “All the feels… I had goosebumps walking on the court, and, at the end, it was super emotional. They only said 5,000, but it looked like way more. I know they will always have my back. So, it relieves a lot of pressure.”
A win is always great but Bianca faces a daunting task on the courts and in the WTA rankings. As the current titleholder, she must defend 900 points this week. Still, she’s not letting the goal distract her: “I’m trying not to look at it like that. When I do, it’s putting more pressure on me. I try to get another mindset: I won this tournament in the past and now I’m trying to win it again.”
And let’s not forget that she had to play another long three-setter like she so often did in 2019.
“No, I don’t really like those. My goal is not to be on court that long. I’m really trying to switch that habit. That comes with experience, I suppose. But I know it’s entertaining at the same time and the crowd loves it.”
On Thursday, Bianca Andreescu takes on the winner of the match between Ons Jabeur and Daria Kasatkina.
Zhao overwhelmed by Sorribes Tormo
Carol Zhao was the other Canadian in action on Tuesday. Currently ranked No.299, she was up against No.47 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain. Their head-to-head was 1-1 heading into the clash.
Sorribes Tormo, who’s got some great momentum going right now, had an easy time getting to the second round. Her opponent was obviously disappointed with the two-set outcome.
“There were good stretches during the match, but I did not execute during the important moments. I feel I had opportunities but she was tough on big points,” she said. “We had a lot of close games today but she had more confidence in the big moments. She made better decisions on the bigger points, but I’m sure there are things that I could have done better.”
Zhao is the fourth Canadian Sorribes Tormo has run into this season. Last spring, the Spaniard outmaneuvered Eugenie Bouchard in Acapulco before losing to Leylah Fernandez in Monterrey and then to Bianca Andreescu in Miami.
But Carol is still in the mix and will be back on the courts tomorrow for her doubles match. She and Mélodie Collard face fourth seeds Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk.
Wednesday special: Félix-Shapo combo
The Wednesday special on the menu in Toronto is a treat for Canadian tennis fans, who’ll get an eyeful of their talented young guns.
Félix Auger-Aliassime plays the first match of the day at 11 a.m. on Centre Court. He will have to contend with Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, who defeated Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland in three sets (3-6, 6-3, 6-3).
Auger-Aliassime (No.15) and Lajovic (No.44) have brawled only once before, in the quarters in Melbourne about 18 months ago. The win went to Lajovic: 6-2, 6-4.
As for Denis, he will kick off the evening session at 7 p.m. against lucky loser No.52 Frances Tiafoe, who took Sebastian Korda’s place and vanquished Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan (6-4, 6-3).
Shapovalov (No.10) has won four of his five run-ins with the American. Despite losing their first duel way back in 2018, the Canadian has had the upper hand ever since, most recently at the Queen’s Club Championships in May (6-3, 6-4).
All systems go for Coco
Among the top players in the women’s event of the National Bank Open in Montréal is World No.24 Cori Coco Gauff.
In her opening round, the 17-year-old faced No.64 Anastasija Sevastova, who happens to be 14 years her elder, in what could have been a tricky match. Indeed, Sevastova led their head-to-head 3-0 after racking up a trio of three-set wins in the last 11 months.
The phenom got off to a tremendous start and closed out the first set in just 28 minutes. In the second, Gauff got down 0-3 but eventually found her bearings and won six of the next seven games to end the hostilities at 6-1, 6-4 in 67 minutes.
“Yeah, I mean, I can’t sit here and lie and say I didn’t think about it,” said Gauff when asked about the slump. “I for sure thought about it. The last couple matches we played, I won the first and lost the second. We split sets almost every time, So I definitely thought about it. I think that’s what caused me to go down that break because I was overthinking it in my head too much. I think I just focused more on this match and not worried about previous matches.
Today’s contest was her first since Wimbledon, and her move to the hard courts seems pretty seamless.
“The transition from grass to hard courts is easy. Hard courts are just a nicer version of the grass,” said Gauff, smiling. “And the courts here are pretty fast but definitely not the fastest I’ve played on. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily slow, but it’s not as fast as the one I play on at home. (…) That’s the reason I practice on the fast court. Because it makes the matches on other courts seem slower.”
If she maintains her current level of tennis and confidence, she could become the next young sensation to add the Canadian crown to her trophy case. In 2015, then World No.20 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland ousted No.25 Eugenie Bouchard, No.5 Caroline Wozniacki, No.24 Sabine Lisicki, No.16 Ana Ivanovic, No.1 Serena Williams and No.3 Simona Halep AT ONLY 18 YEARS OLD!
rAFA DROPS OUT
At around 5 p.m., the men’s edition of the National Bank Open lost its titleholder.
Two-time champion Rafael Nadal (2018 in Toronto, 2019 in Montréal) had been out on the practice courts just a few hours earlier but was forced to admit he wasn’t ready.
Still, the Spaniard had some parting words for his Canadian fans.
The left foot injury is the same one that bothered him all last week in Washington.
“People who follow tennis, watched on TV, saw I was suffering, especially in that first match,” he explained. “And I was suffering in practice, too. But you always expect an improvement or you hope for improvement. That’s why I came here. And this improvement didn’t happen. So, I really believe I am not able to compete at the level I need because my foot won’t allow me to move the way I need to.”
How does this bode for the hard court season? It’s still too early to tell.
His countryman Feliciano Lopez is the lucky loser who will take his place in the bottom of the draw. Nadal’s withdrawal means one less obstacle for Stefanos Tsitsipas, Casper Ruud, Diego Schwartzman and Félix Auger-Aliassime.
The defensive shot of the tournament—and perhaps of the season thus far—belongs to Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan.
In the third set of his loss to no.1 seed Daniil Medvedev (4-6, 6-3, 6-4), he managed to deflect a deadly shot at point-blank range. An NHL goalie couldn’t have done better.
What’s more, Bublik won the point AND had a good, albeit brief, laugh with Medvedev.