The opening day of Wimbledon ’17 was mostly a disappointment for Canadian players. Francoise Abanda succeeded in her Wimbledon main-draw debut, outplaying Kurumi Nara of Japan 6-2, 6-4 but Denis Shapovalov wasn’t as fortunate in his first pro appearance at the All England Club – dropping a competitive 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(2) match to Jerzy Janowicz.
As the day turned into night, Genie Bouchard failed to capitalize on a first set win and was beaten 1-6, 6-1, 6-1 by a resurgent Carla Suarez Navarro.
The Shapovalov – Janowicz encounter, with the No. 141-ranked Pole using an injury-protected ranking to enter, was one of the connoisseur matches of the first round.
After his fine showing at Queen’s Club where he qualified and defeated No. 47 Kyle Edmund before losing 7-5 in the third set to No. 14 Tomas Berdych, the talented Shapovalov had created a lot of interest among British tennis fans.
The match with Janowicz was highly-contested as the final point totals indicated – each player won 119 points.
On grass, matches can swing on just a few points and on Monday on Court 7 those went slightly more the way of Janowicz.
As early as the third game Shapovalov showed vulnerability as he double-faulted twice in a row but managed to hold serve to 2-1. But a double fault on break point in his next service game and Janowicz had all he needed to win the first set.
In the second, Shapovalov broke serve to 4-2 with a spectacular forehand inside/out winner and survived four break points in the final game to level the match at a set apiece.
Everything seemed to be going his way when he had Janowicz down love-40 on his serve in the opening game of the third set but the 26-year-old Pole salvaged those three break points, plus another, to finally hold. He then broke Shapovalov immediately to take control of the set.
Set four had no breaks and was decided by a tiebreak – and possibly on the very first point when Shapovalov, serving, had a good chance at a put-away near the net but over-hit a smash long. He did get as close as 2-3 but then the 26-year-old Pole took control to win out in two hours and 25 minutes.
A semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2013, Janowicz, who’s on the comeback trail after injury issues, won his first match at Wimbledon since reaching the third round in 2014 – pushing his overall record to 10-4.
The 6-foot-8 power player was constantly complaining about line calls – usually without justification – to umpire Gianluca Moscarelli. Finally in the third set when it seemed like the linesperson and Moscarelli missed a baseline call that made it 5-2 for Janowicz, Shapovalov expressed his displeasure to Moscarelli. At one point Janowicz suggested Shapovalov was incorrect and interrupted his discussion with Moscarelli. That prompted the 18-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., to express his feelings and said to Janowicz, saying “dude, don’t talk to me right now.”
Later Shapovalov would explain. “We had a little bit of a conflict when I started arguing with the ref – the one time I argued. If the call was made on his side of the court, he could have said ‘I saw it good or I saw it long’ or whatever. To be honest he was arguing on a lot of calls when they were actually correct. The call was right under my feet. I was having a conversation with the ref and there was no reason for him to step in there.”
Despite their verbal jousting, the post-match handshake at the net was cordial.
Janowicz is a hot-tempered, quixotic tennis player and following the match he was in interview room 6 and before reporters could begin to question him he had a heated one-minute plus argument with a Polish journalist. Then he abruptly got up and signaled for a Canadian reporter to follow him into an adjacent room. Once there he said the following about Shapovalov: “he’s a great grass-court player. I was watching his match with Tomas Berdych at Queen’s and for me he was the better player during the match. So I knew he was in good form and I had to come up with some big guns. I had to play some good tennis to actually beat him.”
After that Janowicz walked away in the opposite direction and did not go back immediately to speak to Polish reporters.
Despite the loss, Shapovalov, who just turned 18 in April, showed that he can hold his own with a well-established ATP tour pro. The stats actually indicated that his winners to unforced errors ratio was 56/27 while Janowicz was 32/22. He also had 22 aces to just five for Janowicz.
Maybe Shapovalov’s coach Martin Laurendeau summed it up best when he said, “Denis played the match at a high level but Janowicz has a lot of experience. Denis’ reflexes have really improved and his patterns of play are more dominating. In the last four months he’s really increased his level and there are a lot fewer weak spots in his game.”
Shapovalov, who had beaten Janowicz in a third-set tiebreak at a Challenger in Guadalajara, Mexico, in March, did a good job of putting things in perspective when he commented, “obviously we both knew it was going to be a battle. You saw how proud and happy he was to win. We’re both very good players and we would have both been very pleased to win that match.”
Shapovalov will now return to Canada and resume playing at a National Bank Challenger event in Gatineau, Que., the week of July 17th.
A future highlight will be the 8th of August at Rogers Cup when he and good friend Félix Auger-Aliassime (on his 17th birthday) will play in the feature afternoon matches at STADE IGA in Montreal.
Coach Laurendeau is pleased with the invaluable experience that Shapovalov has gained after playing for six weeks on grass.
“It’s mid-year,” the current Canadian Davis Cup captain said about his player, “but Denis has made giant steps since the beginning of the season.”
There weren’t too many subtleties to Abanda’s hour and 24-minute win over the No. 94-ranked Nara. In rally after rally she just had a bit too much power and placement and the 25-year-old Japanese couldn’t keep up.
It was a strong performance by the No. 142-ranked Montrealer. After qualifying and winning a round at Roland Garros, she has now done the same at Wimbledon.
“I haven’t played on grass since juniors,” said a thrilled Abanda. “I’m super happy to get through again and repeat the French Open scenario. I’ve dedicated a lot of time and practice and effort so for me to be in the second round feels really good and really rewarding.”
The win sets up a second round against the recent French Open champion, and fellow 20-year-old, Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia. “I know her very well from juniors,” Abanda laughed. “I was actually telling the national coach Sylvain (Bruneau) that she never beat me. But things have changed. She just won the French Open. She’s playing good, she’s ranked a lot higher (No. 13) than me and she improved so much. So it’s going to be a tough match.”
Ostapenko, seeded No. 13, won her first match 6-0, 1-6, 6-3 over No. 89-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus on Monday.
Abanda’s up-to-date ranking is actually No. 120 and she needs to win another round or two to make it directly into the US Open, which is based on the July 17th WTA rankings immediately after Wimbledon.
“I know that if I can push a few more matches I won’t have to go through qualies again – at least for the US Open – so it’s motivating,” Abanda said. “Qualies is always a tough challenge and I’ve been doing so many qualies this year I’m kind of over qualies. I really want to be in the main draw so I can go as deep and give myself the best chances.”
Bouchard’s chance are over for this Wimbledon after the loss to the No. 27-ranked Suarez Navarro. It was basically a tale of two matches with Bouchard in charge in the first set against an unsettled Suarez Navarro before the Spaniard gained the ascendancy in the last two sets – whaling the ball with confidence on both sides.
“I haven’t played that many matches this year and I just had momentum and I felt myself losing it and I just couldn’t quite get it back,” Bouchard said. “With more match play I feel like I have more match toughness. I was definitely feeling like I was lacking that today.”
Bouchard’s dip in form allowed the flashy Suarez Navarro to really get into her rhythm and by the end of the match she was belting stunning drives of the forehand and her renowned single-handed backhand. About Suarez Navarro stepping up, Bouchard noted, “for sure it was her but I do feel that I gave her opportunities to come back. I started making more errors, maybe being less aggressive and she totally took advantage and kept going for her shots. She wasn’t in the first set.”
Bouchard had a memorable 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 win over Maria Sharapova in Madrid in early May and felt like she was regaining her best form. But two weeks later, practicing before the WTA event in Nuremberg, Germany, she injured her right ankle on the red clay and has struggled ever since. “It’s so unfortunate that as soon as I started feeling like myself again, and started playing well, I had a setback,” she said. “I got an injury. Ever since my injury I haven’t felt like I’ve had that good form, like I have in the past. I don’t just have quite the same feeling on the court as I had and it will just take more time and more practice to get back to it.”
Her next tournament “officially” is the WTA International Series event in Washington, D.C., the week of July 31st. That’s the week before Rogers Cup in Toronto.
But she is also playing World Team Tennis and an exhibition against Venus Williams during the men’s ATP event in Atlanta the week before Washington.
Bouchard said she wasn’t sure how she would react to the loss – particularly because it is Wimbledon where she was runner-up in 2014 – but did insist that she has “lots of practice” ahead of her.
PARTY LIKE IT’S CANADA’S 150th (Part 1)
During the Tennis Canada party in London to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial, several players made speeches – including 17-year-old Bianca Andreescu. Standing beside Toronto tournament director Karl Hale, she spoke about her family’s roots in Romania and her pride in being a Canadian.
LONDON POST CARD
This is the home of the fabled Chelsea Football Club in Fulham. Not surprisingly, security is tight to the point that canines are enlisted to aid in the effort.