TEBBUTT: BREAKING BACK AT WIMBLEDON
Milos Raonic returned to the site – No. 3 Court at Wimbledon – of the most traumatic day of his tennis career on Thursday, and slew the demons with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Jack Sock.
He looked apprehensive (above) as he entered the court, and with ample reason.
In the same second round in 2011, and on the same court, Raonic slipped and fell on a greasy patch near the back of the court early in the fourth game of his match with Gilles Muller. He was treated and tried to carry on but had to stop a game later leading 3-2.
There followed right hip surgery on July 5, 2011, and then he didn’t return to action for almost three months, and to really playing like himself for four months.
“Previous years (in 2012 and 2013), I have requested not to play on that court – especially late in the day,” Raonic revealed. “Shade from the players restaurant area covers the closer side. If it’s humid like it has been – not today but the other days – it can be a little bit slippery.”
A good look at the court on Thursday (above Raonic at far end where the fall occurred) indicated that even the area where he slipped that year appears more worn and less likely to be dangerous now. Raonic confirmed that, “I feel like the courts are a little more dried out than I have seen in past years.”
On that fateful day – June 23, 2011 – Raonic was seated in the courtside chair nearest where he fell. On Thursday, he was installed at the other end. When asked if he had done that deliberately, he replied, “no, he (Sock) walked on first and took that seat.”
Once the match started, it became quite clear that Raonic was the superior player. After just a couple of games, I wrote in my notebook that he hit harder and lower trajectory shots than Sock, and that he was winning way more points directly off the serve than Sock.
When he broke serve in a seven-deuce game at 2-1, Raonic had the separation he needed and was easily the more accomplished player the rest of the way. He broke once in each set – was 3/10 overall on break points while Sock failed earn a single break point.
“I found a rhythm,” Raonic said about his good start. “For me, the most important thing on grass is finding the rhythm on the second serve return. I found that quite early on. Both of the first two sets I was able to get breaks early, which helps. I was clean off my service games.”
Raonic dominated on the stats sheet – 40 winners to 21 for Sock, and fewer unforced errors – 14 to 18 for the 21-year-old American.
Sock was really only above Raonic in one category – and that was using the F-word in self-recriminations at the back of the court.
“I felt like the last two times against him, specifically the last time I played him in Miami (March, 2014), he’s doesn’t necessarily feel a comfort playing me,” Raonic said about Sock’s visible frustration. “I can’t say I necessarily do against him as well (but) what you show your opponents can go a long way.”
There was one quirky stat – Raonic’s fastest first serve was 136 mph while his fastest second serve was 138 mph.
When asked how he felt about reaching the third round for the first time in three tries at Wimbledon, Raonic showed zero emotion and said bluntly, “it might sound a little bit harsh, but not too much feeling for it. I want to do much better than I have to this point.”
In Saturday’s third round, he will play 32-year-old Lukasz Kubot of Poland. It will be their first meeting. A year ago Kubot went all the way to the quarter-finals before losing to compatriot Jerzy Janowicz.
Everything is more muted at Wimbledon – including national identification in the crowd. About the only sign or logo of anything that suggested Canada was the Raonic shirt worn in the picture above by his longtime friend and former junior doubles partner Justin Jendruch.
It was much the same during Eugenie Bouchard’s 7-5, 6-3 victory over Silvia Soler-Espinosa of Spain on No. 2 Court above.
But midway in the second set there was a whiff – but only a slight one – of the vocal crowd support Bouchard inspired during her run to the Australian Open semifinal in January.
“Hey Genie you’re so fine, I’m thinking about you all the time. Hey Genie,” was heard from a male spectator.
Afterward, Bouchard remarked on the rather stark differences between the two events. “For the Australians, they still have their crazy Aussies (a cheer squad called ‘The Fanatics’),” she said. “I thought they would turn into my Genie Army. But that didn’t happen. It’s good to appreciate the difference. At Wimbledon, they’re very polite. They respect the sport so much. It’s very classy. It’s a nice change.”
Bouchard did have one fan, and a famous one at that – Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. That’s who it appeared Bouchard was waving at (above) as she walked off the court.
Parsons can be seen in the third row behind the Bouchard support group wearing a cap in the picture below.
On No. 2 Court on Thursday, Bouchard did not look good early against the No. 75-ranked Soler-Espinosa.
It’s actually easy to look good against Bouchard when she is missing most of her shots as she was on the way to trailing 2-0.
But she gradually got herself calibrated and it was not pretty for Soler-Espinosa, as it often isn’t for Bouchard opponents. When she is on, bullying the rallies and totally controlling the destiny of the match, a player like Soler-Espinosa is basically reduced to the role of spectator.
After that shaky start, Bouchard let fly from both wings and with her serve – she was a virtual whirlwind of aggression and there really wasn’t much Soler-Espinosa could do. The second set was one-way traffic, as Bouchard out-pointed and outclassed Soler-Espinosa 25-7. It took a mere 22 minutes.
“Even though it was a little close in the first set,” Bouchard said, “I still felt I was close to playing well. So I wasn’t too worried. I knew it would click after a few points or games. I was really trying to go for my shots. It took a bit of time but I adapted and really kind of moved forward without looking back in the second set.”
The victory sets up a meeting with No. 20-ranked Andrea Petkovic in Saturday’s third round. The memorably played a semifinal on clay in Charleston, S.C., in April, won 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 by Petkovic, who then went on to win the tournament.
Frank Dancevic, on Court 10, lined up well with Centre Court in the background but he did not line up well against his opponent Mikhail Kukushkin on Thursday. The Kazahk was clearly the better player in a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 victory. But Dancevic was somewhat under-manned against the world No. 63.
“I would have had to play extremely, extremely well today – the guy played unbelievable – very few unforced errors, from the back he was playing really well – too good,” Dancevic summed up.
But there was more to the story. Dancevic was suffering from stiffness in his lower pelvis and back. The good news was that he said it was unrelated to the surgery he had in 2009 for a herniated disc – the bad news was he couldn’t serve full bore and that didn’t really make for a fair fight against Kukushkin.
On Wednesday, Dancevic didn’t practice and had an MRI to make sure there was nothing seriously wrong. It cost 500 pounds ($910 CAN) with a player discount down from 750 pounds ($1365 CAN).
“I made the decision to play because it was nothing major,” Dancevic explained.
Typical of Funky Frankie, he decided to celebrate the good results of the MRI by getting a Mohawk haircut (which is partly visible in the picture above) – which didn’t cost him anything through the tournament player services.
He was scheduled to play a 35,000 euro Challenger in Todi, Italy, next week, but it appears he has thought the better of it. Next for him will be a turn in July with the Philadelphia Freedoms of World Team Tennis.
He will learn fast, but he did not know the team song – Philadelphia Freedom – or that it was written by Elton John for Billie Jean King and World Team Tennis way back in the 1970s.
POSPISIL SOCKS SUCCESS
Vasek Pospisil rebounded from a singles loss on Monday to Robin Haase by getting some revenge on Thursday when he and partner Jack Sock (after his loss to Milos Raonic) won their opening round doubles 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 over Haase and Dutch compatriot Jesse Huta Galung .
The win sets up a second round meeting with No. 8 seeds Rohan Bopanna of India and Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan.
There’s surely an explanation for this musical coupling pictured on Henman Hill last Saturday – but we don’t have it at the moment.