TEBBUTT: AGGRESSIVE CANADIANS
Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard use similar game-plans to wear down the opposition.
Raonic is so dominant on his serve that his opponents can feel they have zero room to maneuver on their own serve in a match.
Bouchard is so relentless at attacking, both in rallies and on service returns, that her opponents are often overwhelmed by the onslaught.
For the third match in a row for each of them at Wimbledon, on Saturday neither lost a set in advancing to next week’s round-of-16. Raonic over-powered Lukasz Kubot 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 6-2 to set up a meeting with the winner of a match between Kei Nishikori and Simone Bolelli that will be resumed on Monday with the score deadlocked at 3-3 in the fifth set. Bolelli was two points from winning the match five different times in the fourth set on Saturday.
Bouchard pretty well pulverized Andrea Petkovic 6-3, 6-4 and will next play Alizé Cornet who caused quite a stir by upsetting world No. 1 Serena Williams.
The Bouchard – Cornet match is first on Centre Court at 1 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT) on Monday, while Raonic won’t play his round-of-16 until Tuesday against either the No. 10-seeded Nishikori or the No. 132-ranked Bolelli, a qualifier.
It was no surprise that Raonic used his brutish serve to gradually wear down Kubot, a quarter-finalist at Wimbledon a year ago. He lost only nine points on serve the entire match and did not face a break point.
The barrage of big serving had a cumulative effect. Kubot, no doubt feeling the pressure, coughed up three of his five double faults a critical moments. One came at 2-1 for Raonic in the second set tiebreak – giving him all the separation he needed to go on and win it.
And two more came – including the ultimate game point – when Kubot served trailing 2-1 in the third set. That break was basically the ‘coup de grace’ for Kubot, who also lost his serve in the final game of the match.
“I don’t think there’s really been a match, to this point, especially in a Grand Slam, when I was able to be as dominant on my serve,” Raonic said. “I only lost nine points on my serve and that definitely makes my life a lot easier and puts pressure on him.”
His aces to double faults ratio could not have been cleaner – 30 aces and zero double faults.
The match was not played under the easiest of conditions. There was a rain delay that lasted about four and a half hours with Raonic leading 3-2 on serve in the opening set. “There was one point when I sort of said, ‘I don’t think there’s going to be any play today,” he said, “and I was able to take a nap in the massage room.”
Generally, Raonic was in a confident frame of mind, even with Kubot serve-and-volleying 95 per cent of the time. “I was sort of feeling stable even when he was making some great volleys,” Raonic said. “But you’ve got to say to yourself, ‘okay, I’ll make him do it again and again on an important point and we’ll see if he can step up.’”
Even though Kubot was fairly solid, Raonic had the right approach – the Pole did indeed miss a few at critical junctures.
Along with Andy Murray and Roger Federer, Raonic is the only player already in the round-of-16 who has not lost a set. That didn’t impress him. “It’s a very good thing, but it doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “You got to win matches.”
Being in the second week also doesn’t really carry much weight with him. “The tournament doesn’t really start until Monday (Tuesday for him),” he said. “There’s a lot of good tennis that’s been played, but now you’ve got to sort of step up your level. It’s not just about getting through. At this point in the tournament you’ve got to be playing good tennis and you’ve got to compete like crazy.”
Being comfortable on grass is a key to success on tennis’ most rarely played surface. Raonic talked about how in his first year (2011), before the right hip injury (later requiring surgery) in the second round, he kind of just played on the momentum created by his round-of-16 break-through at the Australian Open and his first title in San Jose, California. “Everything was helping me go forward,” he said. “Then I got hurt. Because of that, I lost the next year on this surface (Sam Querrey in the second round). Last year (a second-round loss to Igor Sijsling) I just struggled finding my tennis. – not only on grass but at the tournaments before.
“This time around I’m starting from a very low comfort and feeling pretty comfortable. So, I feel I’ve made pretty significant progress on this surface.”
Raonic, whose fastest first serve against Kubot was 138 mph and fastest second serve just one mph slower at 137, has a good chance to use his pile-driving big weapon to get him to at least the quarter-finals.
There was good news for him in the scheduling for Monday. Because three of the eight berths in the round-of-16 in the bottom half of the draw have not been filled, none of the players already through will play until Tuesday. It might have been assumed that Rafael Nadal, who faces young Aussie Nick Kyrgios, would have played Monday. That would have meant he would have had Tuesday off before playing the winner of the match between Raonic and whoever wins between Nishikori and Bolelli on Wednesday. But Nadal- Kyrgios is not on the schedule, meaning like Raonic, if they both win, he will have to play back-to-back round-of-16 and then quarter-finals on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The interesting possibility here is that Raonic could play Nadal in a quarter-final Wednesday, the same day and same round that Bouchard potentially faces Maria Sharapova.
There are four match wins still needed for that to happen, but it would be a memorable occasion for Canadian tennis players. It doesn’t get much bigger than Nadal and Sharapova – and there are not two more impressive rising tennis stars in the game than the duo of Raonic and Bouchard from the land of the red maple leaf – like the fans pictured above.
With Bouchard on Saturday, you always had the sense with her single-mindedness that she was not going to lose to Petkovic for a fourth time in a row – that she was going to get revenge for a tough semi-final loss to the 26-year-old German in Charleston in April.
Bouchard grabbed a quick 2-0 lead at the start but lost her serve to have it reduced to 2-1 before the rain forced a lengthy interruption.
But she immediately broke back upon the resumption and – would you expect any less? – didn’t take her foot off the gas pedal the rest of the way.
She was just pulverizing the ball in rallies but maybe, more tellingly, on her service returns. Petkovic had mentioned before the match that she would have to be ready for the Bouchard blasts back off her serve, but in the match the No. 13 seed from Montreal was just plain too potent on her returns.
Petkovic was only able to hold four of her nine service games – and though she broke Bouchard three times, it seemed inevitable that she would then immediately concede her own.
“She puts so much pressure on you, she actually makes you rush sometimes,” the No. 20-ranked Petkovic said. “Then, when you have an easy shot, you sort of want to go for too much instead of playing it safe and going to the net.”
Petkovic offered a scenario whereby you might be able to neutralize Bouchard. “If you keep your calm and you manage to hang in there after the first two shots, you get your chances,” she said. “She’s very good in the first two shots – the return and the first shot, and the serve and the first shot.”
Even after those two shots, Bouchard prevailed in most of the rallies – with Petkovic only able to win 36 per cent of the points played from the baseline.
It was a comprehensive win for Bouchard. “What I’m happy about is how I decided to be really aggressive,” she said. “Anytime I saw the ball going up, any chance I had to go for it, I did that. Even if I lost the point, that’s how I want to play. That’s a positive thing today.”
Her ratio of 30 winners to 14 unforced errors is even more remarkable for someone playing her kind of uncompromisingly offensive tennis.
Like Raonic, Bouchard had to deal with the rain delay, and said philosophically, “rain is a part of the Wimbledon experience. You have to have rain to go through Wimbledon.”
Monday’s match-up with Cornet will be Bouchard’s second visit to the Centre Court. She beat Ana Ivanovic 6-3, 6-3 there in last year’s second round.
Bouchard and the No. 24-ranked Frenchwoman played a cracker of a semi-final at the Strasbourg event before Roland Garros a year ago. Cornet won 7-5, 6-7(7), 6-3 but not before she went through some temperamental rants at her courtside coach – in including shouting variations on themes like “I’m tired, I can’t go on.”
Bouchard is well aware of the Cornet histrionics. “I’m not going to worry about her stuff on her side,” she said about the Frenchwoman. “I’m going to focus on me. I think it’s something I’ve improved on recently. No matter what, no matter how I’m playing, what’s happening, I know I’m going to fight till the end and stay positive and keep trying to play as well as I can.”
Canadian Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau has been part of the Bouchard team at most big events in 2014. He said about her play on Saturday, “Eugenie really maintained her level of play really well. There really weren’t any dips. She knew she couldn’t have any kind of a drop-off against Petkovic.”
Bruneau recalled about the Bouchard – Cornet semi-final last year in Strasbourg, “it was a really good match – a great battle and the cadence of the rallies was extremely high. Cornet really dug in. Obviously on clay it’s a lot different, but if she beat Serena, Alizé must be playing great tennis. It should be a good battle.”
Near the end of her media conference, Bouchard went into some detail about her new super-fan – actor Jim Parsons (second row right beside Eugenie’s mother Julie) from the TV series The Big Bang. “It’s been a year since we’ve been in contact,” she said. “Since then he’s watched pretty much every match he could watch or else he would follow on live scores. He’s emailed me after every single match I’ve played.
Joking (or not?) she continued, “he’s more positive than all my team combined. So it’s a refreshing change to get a nice email with exclamation marks and smiley faces.”
The first meeting was arranged through their agents. “I’m such a big fan of his show,” Bouchard said. “He says he’s such a big fan of me. So, it’s really cool that he’s here to watch me live.”
It’s widely known that Parsons is gay and has been in a relationship for 10 years, so there should not be any concern that there could be romantic distractions as Bouchard pursues her boundless ambition in tennis, which, as regards to her hopes at this year’s Wimbledon, may have improved dramatically with the upset of Williams on Saturday.
Saturday wound up being a day when the covers (tarpaulins), and the tented-type structures, were in evidence as intermittent rain fell on the All England Club.
Before the tournament began a week earlier, these people (above) were practicing pulling the covers on one of the outside courts in front of Centre Court.