Genie Bouchard advanced to the round-of-16 at the Australian Open on Friday, defeating Caroline Garcia 7-5, 6-0 in an hour and 24 minutes in Rod Laver Arena.
Afterward, as usual, she was her own harshest critic, declaring that she hadn’t played “great tennis” in the first set. In her on-court interview, Bouchard told interviewer Todd Woodbridge, “I don’t think it was the prettiest tennis out there today. I felt like I didn’t get very much rhythm, she was hitting some pretty good balls. I’m just happy I got through even if I wasn’t playing my best.”
The fact is that it was a very close set and Bouchard clearly won the psychological battle. The key may have been a nine-deuce sixth game lasting over 13 minutes. Down a service break, Bouchard capitalized on her seventh break point when Garcia misfired with a backhand into the net to knot the score at 3-all.
Getting back to 3-3, instead of being down 4-2, was a huge deal for Bouchard in a set that had six breaks of serve in the first eight games.
Even though she trailed 4-3 and 5-4, Bouchard was amping up the pressure. Her shots had a little more zip and angle on them than what she had to deal with coming back from the other side of the net.
She was also stepping in and making statement service returns that began to take their toll on Garcia.
Finally Bouchard took the set with a break in the 12th game – some attacking service returns earning her timely points.
Basically, in the areas of basic hitting, composure and tactical sense, Bouchard was superior to Garcia.
The second set was a whitewash as Bouchard upped the ante and Garcia was unable to keep pace. The 21-year-old Frenchwoman double-faulted twice in a row to lose her serve in the second game of the second set as Bouchard’s service return pressure paid dividends. With the score 2-0 for Bouchard, the match was effectively over.
“It was good for me to see a bit of a faster pace and play against a solid player I’ll definitely have some battles with in the future,” Bouchard said about the No. 36-ranked Garcia’s standard compared to her first two opponents, Anna-Lena Friedsam and Kiki Bertens. “She’s definitely going to be good. It was one of those scrappy, tough wins, in the first set at least. I was able to find my groove in the second.”
Bouchard had 14 winners and 17 unforced errors in a match that sets up a round-of-16 meeting with No. 42-ranked Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania. The 24-year-old from Bucharest has won three matches this year at the Australian Open, surpassing her former single best total of one which she had achieved six times in appearances at 14 Grand Slams.
Begu upset No. 9 seed Angelique Kerber in the first round and has gone through a section of the draw that was also vacated by No. 17 seed Carla Suarez Navarro.
The Romanian’s highest ranking was No. 38 in 2011 and her best win was over Caroline Wozniacki, then No. 9, at the 2012 US Open.
She has never played Bouchard and, in view of Bouchard’s fine form so far, she is a huge underdog going into Sunday’s encounter.
“I don’t know her (Bouchard) personally,” said Begu, still reveling in her best Grand Slam result, “but I’ve seen her play on TV. For sure my serve will be a big thing for me. And I like it when players hit flat and I’ll try to stay more on the baseline and not to lose the court (i.e. go far behind the baseline).”
Bouchard, seeded 7th, and No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova are now just one match win each from a blockbuster quarter-final next Tuesday.
In terms of family at this Australian Open, Bouchard is flying solo. Her mother, Julie Leclair, is notably absent. “She’s with me about half the time in the year,” Bouchard explained. “So I’m used to it when she’s here or not here. Obviously, it’s great when she’s here – it’s another person who’s with me and gives me a lot of support. I know she’s at home and she wakes up at 3 a.m. to watch on TV. But I feel fine. I’ve got my team here with me and everything is going fine.”
BIG DOUBLES WIN FOR DABROWSKI
Gabriela Dabrowski and her partner Alicja Rosolska of Poland were in a playful mood on Friday after they upset set the second-seeded team of Su-Wei Hsieh of Taipei and Sania Mirza of India by a 7-6(5), 6-4 score in the second round of women’s doubles.
“I’m happy that we had really good communication throughout the whole match,” Dabrowski said, “and the fact, even though we lacked in energy at the beginning of the second set (trailing 3-0), we got it back very quickly.”
Was there an intimidation factor playing two top-ranking doubles players like Hsieh and Mirza? “Not with Hsieh because I played with her once before and I played some singles points with her,” Dabrowski said. “Sania, in general, has more of an intimidating presence because of her power.”
There was a little contretemps at one point in the match when Mirza believed one of her shots had touched Dabrowski. “Sania thought the ball had touched me and she freaked out about it,” Dabrowski said. “I didn’t feel the ball touch me so I didn’t understand why she was so crazy about it. She said something about it after the match too. I think maybe it was very emotional, so maybe that’s why she made a big deal of it.”
Dabrowski, who played on Court 8, took some pleasure from one thing that happened during the match. “I won two challenges,” she said proudly, “it’s not often that I get to play with Hawk-Eye.”
Daniel Nestor and partner Rohan Bopanna, seeded seventh, were bounced out of the men’s doubles 7-5, 6-3 by the veteran pairing of Feliciano Lopez and Nestor’s former partner Max Mirnyi. “They’re tough and they serve well,” Nestor said about the Belarusian-Spanish pairing. “They didn’t really give us too many chances – especially on Lopez’s serve. We had a couple on Mirnyi early and we didn’t take them. Yesterday (36 degree heat Thursday) took a little bit out of me. At this level if you’re not 100 per cent, there are little mistakes here and there that can be the difference.”
Right after the match ended, Nestor and Bopanna had a conversation in their courtside chairs. Nestor later explained what it was about. “The sun didn’t favour me on one side but the wind did,” he said. “It was like do I serve with the wind and have the sun in my face, or be against the wind and have the sun on the other side? I felt I was struggling to hold serve – when I did hold serve – the whole time. Maybe we should have at least tried it a different way in the second set to see if it would have made a difference.”
Commenting on Vasek Pospisil retiring from his doubles match on Friday afternoon after just nine minutes, Nestor said, “I’m sure he’s resting – every minute he’s spending out there is taking away from (singles third round) tomorrow.”
POSPISIL AND RAONIC IN ACTION
Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic are scheduled to play their third-round matches on Saturday.
There is some concern after Pospisil, bothered by back and hip issues during his second-round win over Paolo Lorenzi on Thursday, withdrew from his doubles match with partner Julian Knowle on Friday after just three games and nine minutes.
He is to play Guillermo Garcia-Lopez on Showcourt 2 in the second match after 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.
A source in the Pospisil camp said, “the last match took a big toll on him and he has a great chance for the fourth round to better last year’s result and he wanted to give himself the best chance to be as close to 100 per cent as possible.”
A quick word with Raonic’s manager Austin Nunn on Friday revealed that his man is fully fit and raring to go for his match in Hisense Arena on Saturday against Benjamin Becker. That one is slated second after a women’s match between Garbine Muguruza and Timea Bacsinszky at 11 a.m.
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