As the 10th day of the 2015 US Open draws to a close (weather co-operating), there are merely six matches remaining in the men’s and women’s singles draws – two semifinals and a final in each.
That’s one of the eternal quandaries of the sport – you have 64 matches on each of the first two days, then just two over the last two days.
There’s a simple formula for knowing the number of matches played in a tennis tournament – one fewer than the total number of players because everyone loses once except the eventual winner. There are 128 players in the US Open’s men’s and women’s singles – so 127 matches in each.
Looking back at the 121 hypothetically completed by the end of Wednesday in each so far, everyone has their favourites. Here’s a few that yours truly particularly enjoyed.
- Petra Cetkovska defeated Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(1): I’m a sucker for the more aggressive player winning – and the No. 149-ranked Czech, 30 years old and on the way back from hip surgery, was remarkable. She was the one stretching the indefatigable Wozniacki from side-to-side in rallies. But most of all she saved four match points and played courageously on all of them, putting herself on the line each time with bold hitting – a perfect example of ‘go big or go home.’
- Bernard Tomic beat Lleyton Hewitt 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5: Again this was a match when match points were saved by the winner. Tomic salvaged two – a go-for-broke forehand winner on the first and a UE from Hewitt on the second. The match also had the added element of a cross-over of two Aussie generations. Tomic, 22, and Hewitt, 34 and showing nerves, gave the match added drama in the 2001 US Open champion’s final go-round at the event.
- Belinda Bencic def. Misaki Doi 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-3: This was a crusher for the diminutive Doi. She led love-40 on the Bencic serve (three match points) but crumbled under the pressure of upsetting emerging superstar Bencic. There’s an element of schadenfreude in most tennis fans. But the way the 24-year-old Japanese wilted was sad, but it also made the end of the second set must-see viewing.
- Benoit Paire def. Kei Nishikori 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4: Paire saved two match points – one when Nishikori missed his trusty inside/out forehand. The talented Frenchman is an unpredictable, often unorthodox shotmaker who, on this day, had the gumption to hang tough against the No. 4-seeded Japanese who was always going to be vulnerable considering his injury during the Rogers Cup semifinals last month in Montreal and his inadequate preparation for Flushing Meadows.
- Any match involving Feliciano Lopez. The smooth Spaniard is a gorgeous shot-maker, and one whose central focus is forward thrust. Many saw him against a diminished Milos Raonic in the third round but more in an artistically successful display against top seed Novak Djokovic – a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(2) loss – on Tuesday night in the quarter-finals. God bless serve-and-volleyers like Lopez, at his peak at age 33, who add a needed forecourt dimension to the game and maintain a tradition of attacker vs. counter-attacker that goes back to McEnroe – Borg, Sampras –Agassi and, to some extent, Federer – Nadal.
Shapovalov is last out in singles
It was not Denis Shapovalov’s day on Wednesday in his third-round junior singles match at the US Open.
He was beaten 6-0, 7-6(6) by Alex Rybakov of Coral Springs, Fla. The first set was basically a write-off for the 16-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont.
The second set was totally competitive and at times near the end of it Shapovalov was hitting harder and more aggressively in the forehand to forehand exchanges. There was a fair amount of tension in the players’ left arms – both are southpaws – as Shapovalov lost his serve at 5-all only to immediately break back against a shaky Rybakov, forcing a tiebreak.
In keeping with the seesaw nature of the set, Rybakov led the tiebreak 3-0 only to have Shapovalov rally and go ahead 5-4.
The reigning Canadian Junior Under-18 (indoor and outdoor) champion eventually was able to save one match point trailing 6-5 before his two errant forehands gave the 18-year-old Floridian the victory.
Both players were lefthanders, and both had single-handed backhands. Last month at the US National Junior Championships in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he reached the quarter-finals, Rybakov was asked if he had ever played another lefthander with a single-handed backhand. He could not remember one. Then, within weeks, he was on Court 9 at the US Open on Wednesday facing Shapovalov.
As disappointing as the result was for Shapovalov, he had played a lot of tennis recently and has been carrying a bit of a bicep issue.
Later on Wednesday, he played a second-round doubles match with Félix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal against fellow Canadian Alejandro Tabilo of Toronto and his Portuguese partner Felipe Cunha-Silva. The pairing of Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime pulled through 6-2, 3-6, [10-4] to make the quarter-finals.
Thoughts on Felix
It was a treat to watch young (15) Félix Auger-Aliassime play his second-round match in the US Open juniors on Tuesday against No. 5 seed Tommy Paul (18) of the U.S.
Though already 6-foot-1, Auger-Aliassime still has a wisp of a physique and you wonder what he will look like when he fills out.
He also has a cat-quick way of moving on the court and exceptional power coming from taking the ball early and giving it a good, hard thumping.
There were a couple of things that were missing in Tuesday’s blog about the match, which as noted ended 103 to 102 in total points for the American.
- The umpire, for the second match in a row started out calling Félix’s last name as ‘AW-GER’ instead of ‘OH-ZHAY’ –Aliassime. It was a bit irritating. But credit to the ump, by midway through the opening set he had changed and pretty well mastered the proper pronunciation.
- After Auger-Aliassime broke serve to lead 3-2 in the final set, he had a game point for 4-2 and moved Paul wide to the backhand side. Paul hit a backhand down-the-line and he (by his reaction) and anyone else sitting on that line could see that the ball was going to land wide. But whether it was the wind and/or the natural curve of the shot, the ball suddenly drifted to the right and landed in. So the rally continued and Auger-Aliassime lost it when he missed wide with a backhand.
Paul seemed the more uptight player at the time – possibly because he was expected to beat a guy three years younger than him – and it was hard to see him recovering from 4-2 down in that final set. But by such small margins are matches decided and Paul came back to win.
It’s hard not to be excited by Auger-Aliassime because he has it all in terms of his explosive game and an essentially mature demeanour and temperament on the court. As well, he is perfectly bilingual and by all appearances a bright, modest, likeable guy. But there are recent cautionary tales in Canadian tennis.
Francoise Abanda, who reached the semifinals of the Wimbledon junior singles at 15, the same year (2012) Genie Bouchard won it at 18, looked to be a better prospect than the eventual champion. But everyone knows what Bouchard has accomplished and Abanda, now 18, is struggling at the moment. Having reached a career-high WTA ranking of No. 175 in October, 2014, she is currently No. 317.
And then there’s Filip Peliwo, who won the Wimbledon and the US Open juniors the same year as Bouchard. He has had injury problems and disappointing results, and currently his ATP ranking is No. 546 after he was up to No. 223 in April 2014.
Except maybe for Carling Bassett of Toronto and Helen Kelesi from Richmond, B.C, back in the 1980s, no Canadian junior has been as precocious as Auger-Aliassime.
While it’s hard to resist getting excited, hopes should be tempered by previous experiences and by the fact that he still has such a long way to go.
Inside the US Open
Over the years, Roger Federer partisans have rarely hidden their affection and admiration for the great Swiss. Here’s yet another one as she was about to head up into Arthur Ashe Stadium earlier this week.
(NOTE: This the final US Open blog – back with a wrap of 2015’s final Grand Slam event in Tebbutt Tuesday next week.)