It was quite a seven days in Canadian tennis – four men made it to the quarter-finals of ATP Tour events and, almost when no one was looking, 17-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez qualified for her second WTA tour event in a row.
The biggest news came from the Open 13 Provence in Marseille where Félix Auger-Aliassime reached the final of a tour event for the second week in a row. It was a precarious run that included saving two match points in his first round against No. 85-ranked Italian Stefano Travaglia and then three more in a rollicking round-of-16 match against No. 79 Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France.
Stefanos Tsitsipas won the final 6-3, 6-4 as Auger-Aliassime just didn’t have his best game from the start and the 21-year-old Greek played solid tennis to control most of the play.
Auger-Aliassime gave a max effort and the only real criticism coming from this quarter would be a tactical decision he made at 3-all in the second set. He had broken back, immediately after losing his own serve, in the previous game when Tsitsipas made three unforced errors and looked a little shaky. But on the first point of his service game at 3-all, Auger-Aliassime tried an ill-fated drop shot with a trajectory that was much too high. Tsitsipas swooped in and easily put away a cross-court forehand. That was no time for a surprise shot, Auger-Aliassime should have kept pounding and trying to exploit any vulnerability his opponent was showing at that moment.
On the following point, Tsitsipas hit a deep backhand that kind of handcuffed Auger-Aliassime and three points later he had the break. He lost just one point in his last two service games to wrap up the one-hour and 28-minute match.
Post match during the presentation ceremony, Tsitsipas, not the most popular guy with his fellow players, was long-winded and somewhat condescending in expressing his feelings to Auger-Aliassime. He sounded oddly like a player older and more accomplished than he actually is – his birthday is on Pete Sampras’ August 12 while Auger-Aliassime is on Roger Federer’s August 8th.
He’s exactly two years older. Speaking on court, Tsitsipas said to Auger-Aliassime, “the fact we were able to play each other so many times makes it so special, the rivalry we both share. I’m sure we’re going to face each other many more times in the future. You’ve improved as well a lot over the years. It’s great to be fighting on the court against you. I feel like you make me a better player, and I hope I make you too in front of this (sic) big stadiums.
“I’d like to congratulate you on a great week – someone had to win the title – it was a very close match. You have chased up the rankings a lot doing a great job, you and your team. I’ve been following you even when you’re not playing the same tournaments as me – keep putting in the hard, extra work every single day and I’m sure you can achieve a lot of things in the future, which are going to be very good for our sport and for the younger generations.”
Don’t forget this is the same guy who had a complete meltdown after losing 7-5, 6-2 to Auger-Aliassime (his fifth loss in a row counting three matches in the juniors) in the quarter-finals of Queen’s Club on grass last June. “It’s upsetting obviously that he’s better than me,” a downcast Tsitsipas said at the time. “I have to accept that he’s better than me. I might never beat him. But if I think that way, (I) just need to wait, years maybe, for that chance to come.”
He got that chance last fall when Auger-Aliassime was in a bit of a funk, beating him 7-6(3), 7-6(3) in the second round at the Shanghai Masters 1000.
A final observation on Auger-Aliassime – Tsitsipas: since Tsitsipas is two years older, here’s where he was at this exact same time in 2018 – his ranking was No. 82 and he had never played in an ATP Tour tournament final. That came two months later when he reached the Barcelona final on clay and lost 6-2, 6-1 to Rafael Nadal.
For the record – at 19 years and six months – Auger Aliassime has been to five tour finals and ranks No. 19.
This week Auger-Aliassime is entered in the ATP 500 event in Acapulco, a bit of a surprise in that he’s playing for the third week in a row and making a continent change as well. His opening-round opponent is lucky loser No. 137-ranked Alex Bolt. Auger-Aliassime beat the 27-year-old Aussie 6-3, 6-0 in the quarterfinals of Adelaide last month.
That brings to mind arguably Auger-Aliassime’s best match of 2020. He lost in the Adelaide semi-finals 7-6(5), 6-7(7), 6-4 to Andrey Rublev when the Russian was on a 10-match winning streak (it would stretch to 15). The quality of play was outstanding and it was a disappointing loss because No. 91-ranked Lloyd Harris awaited the winner in the final. Rublev ultimately beat the then-22-year-old South African 6-3, 6-0. A semi-final victory over Rublev would have given Auger-Aliassime an excellent opportunity to get his first tour title. But as they say in his hometown of Montréal, or Monte Carlo where he resides sometimes these days, “c’est la vie.”
As for the other players in Marseille, Vasek Posipisil continued his fine play – we have him at 29-8 in his (qualifying, Challengers and main tour) most recent matches dating back to the Shanghai Masters 1000 last October.
In Marseille he reached the quarter-finals defeating No. 29 Hubert Hurkacz in the second round before losing 7-5, 6-3 to eventual champion Tsitsipas.
Pospisil also won his first doubles title since Rotterdam in 2016 with Nicolas Mahut of France. On Sunday, he reunited with Mahut, ranked No. 3 in doubles, for a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic of Croatia in the final. Now 29, Pospisil has seven career doubles titles, including his very first – Wimbledon in 2014 with American Jack Sock.
“It’s a pleasure playing with Nico,” Pospisil commented on ATPTour.com. “I think he’s the best doubles player in the world, in my opinion. [He has] the best volleys and he’s also a really good guy. I think we just have a great time on the court and we are a great team.”
This week, the No. 92-ranked Pospisil is the top seed at the $81,240 National Bank Challenger event in Calgary. He has a bye in the first round of the 56-man draw tournament.
Denis Shapovalov, seeded No. 4, joined Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil in the Marseille quarter-finals after a bye and a win over No. 39-ranked Marin Cilic. But he came up against that curious character, Alexander Bublik, and, missing out on several golden opportunities to gain the advantage in the match, was beaten 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 by the gangly 22-year-old. Shapovalov, ranked No. 15, will next play the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells where he will receive a first-round bye.
For the second week in a row, Milos Raonic looked to be in a position to have his first ATP tournament victory since Brisbane (over Roger Federer) in 2017. After losing his opening match at the New York Open two weeks ago to No. 84-ranked Soonwoo Kwon of Korea, last week at the Delray Beach Open he got to the semi-finals before dropping a 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-3 match to No. 54-ranked Reilly Opelka.
Raonic took the first set 6-4 and then rallied from 5-0 down in the second-set tiebreak to reach match point leading 6-5. Opelka, who couldn’t make a first serve when he led 5-2 with two serves to come, managed to pull out an ace up the middle on the match point. A couple of misses by second seed Raonic and he and the fourth-seeded Opelka were headed to a third set.
In that set, there were no breaks until Opelka broke an error-prone Raonic to 4-3 and then took the next two games against a fading opponent. Raonic moved his ranking up five spots to No. 32 but will be defending 360 semi-finalist points at his next event in Indian Wells in two weeks.
Leylah Annie Fernandez continues her remarkable play – defeating No. 122-ranked Lizette Cabrera of Australia 6-3, 6-1 in the first round of qualifying for this week’s WTA International event in Acapulco before ousting No. 171 Vavara Lepchenko of the U.S. 6-3, 6-3 to qualify for the third (Hiroshima 2019, Australian Open 2020) WTA main draw of her young career. It was noteworthy that she beat Cabrera because she had lost, ranked No. 372 at the time, to the 22-year-old Aussie 6-1, 6-4 in the final of the National Bank Challenger in Granby, Que., last July.
In the main draw on Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET in Canada, she will face No. 82-ranked Nina Stojanovic. The 23-year-old Serb, currently at her career best ranking, is the top-ranked Serbian player and could be facing Fernandez again when Canada plays its Fed Cup Playoff in Serbia next month on April 17-18.
It was with extreme sadness and shock that the Canadian and worldwide tennis community learned that Grant Connell had suffered a stroke last week.
The 54-year-old Connell, father with wife Sarah of four daughters and a son, was out jogging in Vancouver when he felt a malaise.
He is currently in stable condition in a hospital in Vancouver.
During his playing career, Connell had a best singles ranking of No. 67 in 1991 and held the ATP No. 1 doubles ranking for 17 weeks in 1993. In 1991, he had a memorable victory over Ivan Lendl at Queen’s Club and then lost a close five-setter to Andre Agassi in the first round at Wimbledon, the year before Agassi triumphed at the All England Club.
In doubles, he won 22 career titles and was a three-time runner-up at Wimbledon – 1993-94 with Patrick Galbraith (now president of the USTA) and 1996 with Byron Black of Zimbabwe. He was also a finalist in 1990 at the Australian Open with compatriot Glenn Michibata.
He had a 23-9 record in Davis Cup and memorably almost singlehandedly led Canada to its first appearance in the elite World Group in 1991 by winning two singles and the doubles against the Netherlands in Toronto in September, 1990.
Post career, Connell has been enterprising and successful in the Vancouver real estate business.
Australian Todd Woodbridge, who with partner Mark Woodforde, defeated Connell and partners in the 1993, 1994 and 1996 Wimbledon finals, once joked with Connell that his success in those Wimbledon finals enabled him to pay for an extension he added on to his home in Melbourne.
On a more serious note, Woodbridge had the following to say on twitter upon hearing the news of Connell’s stroke.
— Todd Woodbridge (@toddwoodbridge) February 21, 2020
For a younger generation not familiar with Grant Connell, maybe the best way to describe him is that he was just as popular on the tennis scene then as Vasek Pospisil is today – only with a slightly more biting sense of humour.
French Open Poster
Pierre Seinturier, a French artist born in Paris in 1988, has created the 2020 Roland Garros poster.
Here’s what a French Tennis Federation media release says about the poster: “Pierre Seinturier’s original piece shows an intense depiction of how the courts at Roland-Garros are prepared, the moment before the players come out on court, like a pendant to dramatic art. On its noble wooden support, the poster shows vegetation in the foreground, highlighting the actions of the 189 groundsmen who work every day to prepare the clay on the 33 courts available to players during the tournament. It is as though he is gifting the public a privileged snapshot, hidden behind the vegetation of the Simonne-Mathieu court greenhouses.”
One question: after a full 40 years of Roland Garros posters without a hyphen (except for 2006 and 2007) – why has one been introduced in the 2020 edition?