TEBBUTT: AFTER A WAVER, RAONIC WINS
A day after Eugenie Bouchard suffered a nightmarish loss in front of the home folk at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, Milos Raonic expressed this thought: “I just wanted her to forget it as quickly as possible.”
When he misfired with a couple of forehands to give Jack Sock a service break in the fifth game of their match on Wednesday night at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, there had to be fears that a similar scenario was about to unfold 24 hours and 500 kilometers removed from Bouchard’s misadventure.
But though Raonic went on to lose the first set, he stayed the course and eventually recorded his third win over Jack Sock in seven weeks (Wimbledon and Washington) with a 4-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(4) victory in two hours and 24 minutes.
The current world No. 6 won his fifth consecutive tiebreak over Sock, and stretched his head-to-head advantage over the 21-year-old American to 5-1.
Raonic is now 27-18 in tiebreaks in 2014 – but that still puts him well behind the unlikely leader – Leonardo Mayer who was the surprise winner of the bet-at-home Open in Hamburg last month. The Argentine is 17-8 in tiebreaks for a winning percentage of .680.
“I feel good in those situations, especially if things aren’t going the way I like throughout the set,” Raonic said about tiebreaks. “(If) I’m not converting opportunities or giving away too many opportunities, I know if I get it to a tiebreak, I can sort of tip things in my favour.”
Much as it was when he lost 7-6(3), 7-6 (3) to Raonic in the Washington second round last week, the Sock forehand was his greatest weapon, and his greatest liability.
“I had a few forehands that I usually don’t miss, that I wouldn’t miss – that let me down in two kind of big points,” Sock summed up about his loss. “I had a good look at one at 3-2 up in the (third-set) breaker to go up a mini-break. And then obviously there was – whatever it was 3-4 (actually it was 1-0) and I missed another one by a few inches.”
It would be easy to attribute Raonic’s sketchy form in the first set to a Bouchard-like reaction to a highly-anticipated return home – but he suggested it had more to do with the change from Washington last week to Toronto this week. “Today was just the first match of a new tournament, and it’s never going to be pretty,” he said. “You’ve just got to go out and fight through – and I did that.”
In a 6:30 evening match on Thursday, Raonic will attempt to reach his third consecutive Rogers Cup quarter-final when he faces unseeded Julien Benneteau. The Frenchman upset No. 11 seed Ernests Gulbis 7-6(4), 6-3 on Wednesday.
Raonic lost his first match to Benneteau 6-4 in the third set indoors in Paris in 2011, but has beaten him convincingly in two subsequent meetings – 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 in Davis Cup in Vancouver in 2012 and 6-1, 6-4 on clay in Monte Carlo in 2013.
He said he expects to step in his next match. “It’s going to come down to serving well like I did today (79% of first serve points won and 65% on second serve) and keeping close to the baseline more than I did today,” he said.
On paper, Raonic should clearly be superior to the 32-year-old Benneteau, who currently ranks No. 47 and is only 15-16 on the season. Raonic is a much more impressive 30-10 so far in 2014.
The one thing that remains a challenge for him is breaking serve. He was zero for four on break points against Sock.
But he has to be confident on a six match winning streak and overall having won 11 of his last 12 matches.
Right after the match, Raonic succinctly summed up how he got through a tense opener against Sock, saying, “play big, I got lucky, I got through.”
Looming down the line could be No. 4 seed Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals on Friday and No. 2 Roger Federer in the semi-finals on Saturday.
Raonic seems to be on a charted course of evening matches for his potential next three rounds, heading to a possible afternoon final on Sunday.
TOO MUCH FUN?
Wednesday’s third match on the Stadium Court at the Rogers Cup was one of the most entertaining of the year as top seed Novak Djokovic was taken to the limit in a 6-2, 6-7(4), 7-6(2) win over charismatic/crazy Frenchman Gael Monfils.
Three times late in the final set, Monfils was two points away from victory but Djokovic managed to hang in and win his first match since his Wimbledon triumph on July 6.
Djokovic – Monfils was a huge hit with the jammed pack lower bowl crowd at the Rexall Centre. Monfils was at his athletic/theatrical best – hitting shots between his legs, charging forward kamikaze style when Djokovic had an easy put-away, running after a Djokovic volley racquet-less after losing his lunging for a volley and trying to hit a shot while on the seat of his shorts.
That between the legs shot was a huge crowd pleaser, and it seemed right afterward as if every pair of hands in the lower bowl was applauding, with many people on their feet.
“I like to play big matches,” Monfils would say afterward.
His showmanship sometimes blurs the line between clowning and competing, between fair play and foolery, between showboating and serious.
It was obvious that Djokovic, who looked in good position midway through the second set to run out a fairly routine win, was not pleased with all of Monfils antics.
One former player commented to yours truly that he thought Monfils had gone too far with his on-court carrying on. He emphasized that the 27-year-old Frenchman just doesn’t seem to have a professional commitment to trying to win. He cited the example of Monfils serving at 3-1, 40-30 in the final set. He missed the first serve and then when the return came back toward him had a little fun by heading the ball soccer style. The implication was that Monfils should have been more focused on making sure he held serve to 4-1 than providing a few laughs for spectators. Sure enough, Djokovic broke back to 2-3 and avoided falling into a hole from which he might not have recovered.
A French reporter may have described it best when he said that if Monfils played in a more convention manner – commited and concentrating like a player like Lleyton Hewitt or David Ferrer – he would be No. 1 in the world.
But that’s debatable, but certainly isn’t about to happen. The mischievous Monfils is often casual on court – appearing to prefer the cat-and-mouse approach to points over the basic efficiency of pound-and-put-away.
“At the beginning I kept playing with the same rhythm,” he said in French about playing Djokovic. “Then I decided to be a little more “bombé” (unpredictable) and I’d hit a few normal shots until I lulled him a bit and then I’d blast one.”
It nearly worked, as a rusty Djokovic missed shots he would normally make.
“At 4-4 (final set), he started returning better,” Monfils said about Djokovic. “And the first point of the tiebreak I hit a 223 km/hr serve and he hits it back in my feet.”
Djokovic and Monfils had a friendly handshake at the net at the end of the final-set tiebreak but it is unlikely the Serb would have been as cordial had he lost.
“Gael is Gael,” he summed up about Monfils. “That’s what he does. He loves jumping around, sliding, he’s very unpredictable. You don’t know what his next move is, so that’s why he’s so interesting.
“I’ve said before that he’s probably the only tennis player in the world that I would pay a ticket to watch the match. He’s really fun to watch but not so much fun to play against.”
That was the closest Djokovic came to saying something pejorative about the Monfils theatrics, even if his body language on the court suggested he was not always impressed.
On Thursday, the top-seeded Djokovic faces another Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in an afternoon round-of-16 match.
BOUCHARD BLUES IN MONTREAL
There have been amazing happenings in Canadian tennis over the past 12 months – a Wimbledon final for Eugenie Bouchard, two Canadians (Bouchard and Milos Raonic) in the top-10 at the same time and an ATP event in the United States with two Canadians (Raonic and Vasek Pospisil) in the final.
Just one of those would have been almost unthinkable four years ago – and anybody predicting all three would surely have had several too many chugs of Corona, the official beer of the Rogers Cup and the Coupe Rogers.
So there has been another first just this week, a Canadian, Bouchard, with a genuine shot at winning the Canadian Open – a.k.a. the Coupe Rogers – falling victim to all the hype of playing in Canada, and in her own hometown to boot.
Bouchard was the face of the 2014 Rogers Cup, the focus of most pre-tournament publicity. No one expected it, but the icy cool that has been her calling card during her meteoric rise melted in the glare of over 10,000 partisan spectators in STADE IGA in Montreal. An unanticipated bout of stage-fright for arguably the coolest customer so far this year on the WTA tour.
Canadians have been there before in individual sporting pursuits – particularly golfer Mike Weir at the Canadian Open. Weir, and more recently Graham Delaet, has shown it isn’t easy carrying the home hopes at home against credible international competition.
So Bouchard’s disappointing 6-0, 2-6, 6-0 loss to American qualifier Shelby Rogers in Montreal on Tuesday night is no big deal – a huge disappointment but no big deal in the larger scheme of things.
She will undoubtedly bounce back in Cincinnati next week and at the US Open in three weeks. Bouchard is 20 years old and all that happened, especially the emotional homecoming was something that no one could prepare for properly. She simply had to experience it, and on Tuesday evening it turned out not to be pretty.
“I was feeling the pressure a bit on the court,” she admitted. “I felt a little, you know, match rusty. But I knew this coming into the match, so I can’t use that as excuses. I knew it would be kind of a difficult situation.”
Bouchard’s reputation for mental toughness won’t be dented by this minor setback, even if it took place in the major setting of her hometown.
For her, an old cliché applies – “what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.”
ROGER’S SWEET TOOTH
Roger Federer made a visit to the Lindt booth at the Rogers Cup on Wednesday.
While there he met the Canadian dance pair of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (below). If he continues at this rate, Federer may have met – and been photographed with – every well-known Canadian athlete there is by the time the tournament ends on Sunday.
DAILY ANDY MURRAY PIC
This is our, seemingly, daily picture of Andy Murray – this time it’s a selfie.The 2013 Wimbledon champion won 6-2, 6-2 over Nick Kyrgios on Wednesday and will face a stern test on Thursday when he takes on Richard Gasquet in the third match of the afternoon session.