Mauricio Paiz

A Canadian man and woman in the fourth round of a Grand Slam event; it’s something tennis fans north of the 49th parallel would like to get used to.

It will happen on Sunday after Milos Raonic outlasted Gilles Simon (players before the walk-on above) 4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 and Eugenie Bouchard dispatched Johanna Larsson 7-5, 6-4 on Friday.

The Raonic – Simon joust took place in Court Philippe Chatrier with the partisan home country crowd boisterously backing Simon – nickname “Gilou” – in a match that was a roller coaster of opportunities won and lost.

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Before the coin toss (above), Raonic did a bit of dawdling – a la Rafael Nadal – by his courtside chair as Simon waited on court with umpire Jake Garner. That drew some whistles of derision from the pro-Simon crowd. 

Once the action started, Simon took the first set with a break in the ninth game. But Raonic quickly reversed the tide with break in Simon’s first service game of the second set and another in the sixth to level the match.

It was much the same in the third and fourth sets – Simon broke twice in the third set to win it and Raonic did likewise in the fourth.

It all came down to the fifth set with probably only 50 minutes of adequate light left to finish it. Raonic had played poorly near the of the first set to lose it and had patches of sketchy play after that, but basically he got stronger and served better as the match went on.

“I put more first serves in, and I felt like my serve was a bit predictable for chunks of the match,” he would say afterward. “I think that hurts me. Doesn’t matter how hard I serve, the guy knows where I’m going, especially on clay, he’s going to have a great opportunity to get it back. And he was getting it back and deep.”

His first serve percentage did not go up as the match went on, but his efficiency did. Here is his first serve points won percentage for the match set-by set: 1st – 71%,  2nd  –  77 %, 3rd – 62 %, 4th – 81 % and 5th – 81 %.

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It was a good sign that Raonic was holding his own in many rallies with Simon, a tenacious clay-courter who played a brilliant match against Rafael Nadal in a three-set loss in Rome two weeks ago. Raonic was also the fresher looking of the two in the late going, and that’s a sign of the hard yards he has put in training.

The fifth set appeared to be firmly in Raonic’s grasp when he broke serve to 2-1 and then held all the way to 5-4 and serving for a place in the fourth round.

Suddenly, he was broken on a backhand passing shot by Simon and three unforced errors.

That should have rocked Raonic but he bounced right back in the next game and broke a suddenly shaky Simon – almost as if the effort to stave off elimination with the break of serve had left the Frenchman without enough mental or physical energy to hold his own serve.

Roanic won the final game to 15, finishing with a forcing forehand that Simon couldn’t control, drifting a backhand long.

He wasn’t too pleased about not serving out the match at 5-4 in the final frame.

“It was unfortunate that I was serving twice for the match,” he said self-critically with a smile about the last three games of the match. “It should have not been that way. I live and die with my serve, so I’d rather be serving for the match than anything else.”

About the spectators who were getting quite frenetic in support of their “Gilou” when he had that misstep while trying to serve out the match for the first time, Raonic said, “I don’t think the crowd made more (difference). I think I just played two tight points and then he played well the first game. Then I feel like he sort of let me get ahead in the second (and final) one.That’s how I was able to close it out.”

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Following up on his fine play in the semi-final of the Italian Open in Rome against Novak Djokovic two weeks ago – a match he feels was superior to Friday’s vs. Simon – Raonic continues to grow his bona fides on the “terre battue.”

It was a mature performance on Friday, a determined performance and it earned him his first ever Grand Slam win in a major event centre court stadium. Previously, there had been losses to Lleyton Hewitt and Roger Federer in Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne and to Andy Murray in Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.

Raonic has begun to separate himself from other monster servers such as Ivo Karlovic and John Isner with his superior movement on the red clay. Here is what he said about his better handling of longer rallies: “the biggest difference is, even in the long rallies, I always feel I’m either neutral or I’m getting sort of ahead. Whereas before the longer the rally went, the further back I’d be and the less and less opportunity or possibility there was that I would win that point.

“Whereas now I feel like I stand still pretty close to the baseline so I still have just equal an opportunity if it’s three shots or ten shots or fifteen shots in the rally. But I don’t think I really go more than that.”

Mauricio Paiz

Raonic is now in his fifth round-of-16 in the 14 Grand Slam tournaments he has played.

He will next face the winner of Marcel Granollers and Martin Klizan – who left off with Granollers up two sets to one when their match was called by darkness on Friday.

Raonic has not played either of them but with his No. 9 ranking he has a solid chance of winning against either Granollers, No. 39, or Klizan, No. 59.

If does he will reach his first Grand Slam final eight, there’s a strong possibility that Novak Djokovic will be his opponent…if the world No. 2 can overcome Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Sunday.

Simon, a kind of tennis intellectual, did a masterful job of analyzing Raonic’s game in his post-match media conference. Here’s it is:

“He has certain patterns,” Simon said. “He has some shots that he hits really well and his great strength is to get you into those patterns and only those patterns. But actually when he tries some other things, bizarre things can happen on the court. There are drop shots that bounce four times before they get to the net. It’s bizarre all right, but you really can’t ask a player with Milos’ size to have the touch and the timing of a smaller player. Everyone has their strengths.

“His strength is foremost his serve. It’s 15 degrees (Centigrade) at the end of the match (Friday) and he serves 220 km/hr (137 mph) all the time for five hours. It never stops. He has incredible power. In the end, with a tennis game that’s pretty erratic at times, he has this ability to hit the shot that’s needed at just the exact moment it’s needed.

“For most of the players that you play on the tour, certain of them can hit winning forehands eight times out of 10 but will, inevitably, miss them at the most important moment.

“With Milos, it’s the opposite. He’s on his backhand and he doesn’t make many…then all of a sudden, in an important moment, he lets go a backhand passing shot on the full run. It’s just his way and it kind of really rattles you because that’s just the way he is.  

“I personally always see a match in a more general way. I have the feeling that I have to win more points than my opponent over the long haul. With him, he’s a player of the moment – all of a sudden there’s a break point, and he hits the ball on a dime. After that, he can hit 12 out. But he could care less because he’s got the break. It’s a quality that I would like to have – but it’s something that’s really part of his gamestyle, and that’s what makes him so dangerous.”

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Bouchard’s win on Court 2 didn’t come with as much drama or volume of sound as that which surrounded Raonic in Court Philippe Chatrier.

There were some early hiccups for Bouchard as she fell behind 2-0 and then 5-3 in the first set, but she later claimed there was no panic. “I still had a lot of confidence in myself to just get my groove,” she said. “After a few games, I started playing much better and really got into the match. The whole match I felt very comfortable and confident…but she plays well, especially on clay.”

Against Julia Goerges in the previous round, Bouchard actually lost the first set before revving up and winning 10 games in a row to take the final two sets 6-2, 6-1. This time against Larsson, there was one more wobble – ahead 5-2 in the second set, she allowed the Swede back to 5-4 before concluding on a service break to wrap up the hour and 23-minute encounter.

Both Goerges and Larsson are 25, but Goerges has ranked as high as No. 15 while Larsson only once had a cup of coffee in the top-50 at No. 46 – so there was a sense that Bouchard felt less apprehensive against her opponent on Friday than she had two days earlier.

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The match was played in the cozy confines of Court 2 (above), historically one the most charming spots to watch tennis in the Roland Garros grounds. “I like that court,” Bouchard said. “I played on it once in the juniors and had a horrible match. So, I changed those memories – it’s definitely a cool court. The fact that people can sit so close and then also stand above is unique.”

It was hardly a clean match for the No. 18 seed against No. 99-ranked Larsson – 27 winners and 30 unforced errors – but one of those that’s more about just getting through and moving on to bigger and better things.

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In the second round-of-16 match of her Grand Slam career (after Australia in January), Bouchard will face No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber.

On Friday, the German defeated Daniela Hantuchova 7-5, 6-3, and enters the match with Bouchard in a revitalized frame of mind. Her clay court season leading into Roland Garros had basically been a wipe-out. She lost in the opening round of her first three European events and then, as top seed, beat two unheralded opponents in Nuremberg, Germany, last week before losing in the semi-finals 7-6(5), 6-4 to big-hitting Karolina Pliskova off the Czech Republic. (Bouchard beat Pliskova in three sets for the title the following day.)

“I’m feeling better and better from match to match,” the 26-year-old lefty said on Friday. “I think the most important thing for me is that I feel the ball and I’m back – I’m fighting for every single point. My heart is there.

“So I think that’s the most important thing for me right now – that I’m really fighting.”

Kerber, seeded No. 8,  beat Bouchard 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 in their only previous meeting, in the second round of last year’s US Open. “It was a really tough match,” Kerber recalled. “I’ve never played against her on clay, so I think it will be just completely different match.

“She’s played well the last few weeks, so I need to be ready from the first point. For sure it will be a very tough battle.”

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A year ago, Bouchard lost in the second round to Maria Sharapova but got to play in the centerpiece Court Philippe Chatrier. For Sunday’s match, the odds are that she will play in Court Suzanne Lenglen because Maria Sharapova – Samantha Stosur and Garbine Muguruza – Pauline Parmentier (a Frenchwoman) are likely to get the two centre-court slots for the women.

Bouchard’s quarter of the draw opened on Friday with the upset of the highest remaining seed – No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska. So, the prospective path to the semi-final for her now runs through Kerber and likely Spanish clay-court specialist Carla Suarez Navarro.

Then, of course, it could very well be that longtime idol of Bouchard’s – a certain Maria Sharapova – in the semi-finals.

On Friday, Bouchard played about 20 metres from Court Philippe Chatrier where compatriot Raonic was locked in a dogfight with Simon. “We were actually playing pretty close,” Bouchard said, “because the court was right next to me.”

As she spoke those words in the media conference room, Raonic was up a break at 4-2 in the fifth set. “If we don’t hear the French crowd cheering, that means he’s doing a great job, right?” Bouchard said. “That’s what I figured.”

Having a French name even if she’s an English-Canadian, Bouchard may be able to garner some of that Latin support the farther she goes in the tournament.



Daniel Nestor and partner Kristina Mladenovic of France won their opening match in the mixed doubles on Friday with a 7-6 (1), 6-4 victory over Chan Hao-Ching of China and Max Mirnyi.

There was the typical power playing from Mladenovic as she and Nestor, winners of the 2013 Wimbledon and 2014 Australian Open mixed titles, outplayed the Chinese – Belarusian combination.

Mladenovic hit an ace to hold serve to 6-5 in the opening set and blasted a few big ground strokes to allow her side to take complete control of the first-set tiebreak.

On Saturday, Mladenovic, who upset second-seed Li Na in the first round, will take on Andrea Petkovic for a spot in the round-of-16 in singles.

There was some very bad luck for Sharon Fichman on Saturday. After her partner Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova had to retire during her second-round singles match on Thursday, there was almost an inevitability about her not being fit for the second round of doubles with Fichman. The official reason was a left lower back strain.

At least Fichman and Pavlyuchenkova, who won the Australian and French Open junior titles together in 2006, remain unbeaten with a 1-0 record in the pros.  


Needless to say – it doesn’t get much more Parisian than this picture from last Saturday evening!