There were three Canadians seeded when the draws for the 2019 US Open were made last Thursday.
Now, only women’s No. 15 Bianca Andreescu remains after No. 19 Félix Auger-Aliassime was beaten by compatriot Denis Shapovalov on Tuesday and No. 22 Milos Raonic withdrew with a ‘glute’ injury on Sunday.
Andreescu has had a sensational year, especially considering that from March until Rogers Cup in August, she played just a single match – a first-round victory at the French Open in May before pulling out with an ongoing troublesome tear in her right subscapularis shoulder muscle.
Despite a limited schedule, she’s only two – 27-25 – behind Karolina Pliskova in this season’s hard-court match victories and also trails Belinda Bencic by one – 8-7 – in wins over top-10 ranked players.
On Thursday, after beating 17-year-old American wild card Katie Volynets 6-2, 6-4 in the first round, she will face No. 110-ranked veteran Kirsten Flipkens, a lucky loser.
The 33-year-old Belgian has had her greatest success at Wimbledon where she defeated Petra Kvitova in the 2013 quarter-finals on her way to the final four. Flipkens is definitely aware of the challenge Andreescu presents. “She’s the No. 15 seed here but for me she’s one of the year’s best players so far,” Flipkens said Tuesday. “She has been hurt with her shoulder for the last few months but she won Indian Wells and she won Toronto. She’s a really complete player and it’s going to be a tough match. I think she’s an outsider to win the title here.”
With her victory over Volynets, and other players dropping because their points from the 2019 US Open have been removed, Andreescu is currently up to No. 9 in the ‘live’, up-to-date WTA Tour rankings.
“I just step on the court and I give my best with what I have that day,” she said about her approach to this year’s US Open, her first in the main draw at Flushing Meadows. “For me, that’s all that matters. Obviously I want to win, and it’s nice to see that people think I can win this tournament. So I think that also gives me confidence.”
The Grand Slam event format of having a day off between matches – Andreescu is also in the doubles event with fellow-Canadian Sharon Fichman – is something that suits her. “It’s wonderful,” she said, adding about her BNP Paribas Open tournament triumph, “I had that experience at Indian Wells. I had a lot of tough matches, so I think that the day in between really helps with recovery.”
Andreescu’s bid to reach the third round of a Grand Slam event for the first time will take place on Thursday – likely before, weather permitting, she plays an opening-round doubles match with Fichman against Americans Whitney Osuigwe and Taylor Townsend.
Denis Shapovalov has the best US Open record of the three remaining Canadians – having reached the round-of-16 in his debut as a qualifier at Flushing Meadows in 2017. That was fresh off his semi-final finish at the Rogers Cup in Montreal where he played free-swinging, aggressive tennis.
His 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Félix Auger-Aliassime on Tuesday was another example of the kind of electrifying performances he’s capable of at his best.
On Thursday, Shapovalov will play No. 119-ranked Henri Laaksonen. Before the 27-year-old Swiss’ 7-6(3), 7-6(6), 2-6, 3-6, 7-6(2) victory over Italian Marco Cecchinato on Tuesday, he had only played one main-draw match at the US Open – a 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(5) loss to Juan Martin del Potro in 2017.
It will be interesting to see whether Shapovalov (above smiling as he entered the Grandstand on Tuesday) can summon the same energy and motivation versus Laaksonen that he had against Auger-Aliassime. “It’s always tough,” he said about playing the 19-year-old Montrealer. “He’s very close to me so it’s not easy but definitely I was not thinking at all that he was a friend of mine. I was just thinking that he’s any other player and I have to do my job and try to win.”
Shapovalov did a nearly perfect job.
There were signs of an uptick in his form last week when he defeated Tennys Sandgren, Miomir Kecmanovic and Andrey Rublev before losing in the Winston Salem semi-finals to Hubert Hurkacz. That had been preceded by a period of acute frustration – a 4-11 record at tournaments from March until August.
It appears new coach Mikhail Youzhny has re-invigorated his game and the win over Auger-Aliassime opens the path to a possible ‘popcorn’ third-round match against No. 13 seed Gael Monfils.
One match does not make a tournament but Tuesday’s display in the Grandstand against Auger-Aliassime should be a sign of good things to come for ‘Shapo.’
Vasek Pospisil has been meticulous about his return to tennis following back surgery for a herniated disc in New York City on January 18.
He needed at least three months to recover and rehabilitate and eventually felt ready to return at Wimbledon where he lost a competitive 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 match to Auger-Aliassime.
Since then he has lost in the second round of the National Bank Challenger in Granby, Que., the opening round at Rogers Cup in Montreal to Auger-Aliassime again and the second round of the Odlum Brown Challenger in Vancouver two weeks ago.
“I would say in general the last month or so,” he remarked Tuesday about when he felt he re-kindled his top level. “I played a Vancouver Challenger a couple weeks ago, played a really good match with (Hyeon) Chung there. Second round was a tough draw. I had match points. We played a really, really high level.
“Even though I didn’t really have too many wins under my belt, I felt pretty confident with just how I’ve been training and playing the last few matches.”
After beating No. 9-ranked Karen Khachanov 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in three hours and 51 minutes on Tuesday, Pospisil, who ranked as high as No. 25 (in January, 2014), is now 5-25 over his career against top-10 ranked players.
Despite all he has been through to reach a high level again, and the fact that the Khachanov win took place over five sets at a Grand Slam event, he still views his 6-4, 7-6(5) victory over Andy Murray in the second round of Indian Wells in 2017 as the best of his career.
“That was a very special win,” he said about beating Murray at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. “This is my first top-10 win at a Grand Slam, so that’s something, right? It was a five-setter, so super special. But beating the No. 1 player in the world, kind of puts it in its own little section there. Different matches, both great, great moments in my career for sure. But Andy was a special one.”
On Thursday, Pospisil will face No. 72-ranked Sandgren of the U.S. for a spot in the third round, potentially against No. 20 seed Diego Schwartzman.
“Tennys is tough,” Pospisil said looking ahead. “He’s playing great. He’s very fit. He has good results at Grand Slams. Obviously he’s doing something right physically. He came back from two sets today against a really good opponent (Jo-Wilfried Tsonga). So he’ll be confident. He’s playing at home. I heard the atmosphere was pretty intense and loud and on his side, as I would expect.”
The Canada – USA match-up between Pospisil and Sandgren will a first meeting between the two players.
NEW YORK POSTCARD
There’s a boardwalk leading from the Mets Willets Point station on both the New York City Subway and Long Island Rail Road lines that is shared by Citi Field stadium and the adjacent USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre. Above a vendor sells his wares before a recent Mets game.
(Feature Photo: Mauricio Paiz)