Sometimes the reward for playing better than your opponent for most of the match is not a win. On Friday in Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open, Genie Bouchard was clearly the more dominant player for all of the middle part of the match but she still came out on the short end of a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 score against Coco Vandeweghe of the U.S.
The match, played with the roof closed because of morning showers in Melbourne, began with both players looking a little edgy but able to hold serve until Bouchard was broken on a double fault at 3-all. By then the explosive Vandeweghe was into a good rhythm and serving well. She didn’t lose a point in her following two service games to close out the set.
In this space on Thursday, it was noted that the No. 35-ranked Vandeweghe was a hit and miss (‘Sydney or the bush”) type of player and there was no better example of the negative aspect of that than her start to the second set. Bouchard won the opening game and then Vandeweghe – her ‘Coco’ name comes from ‘Colleen’ – hit consecutive double faults from 30-all to lose serve and fall behind 2-0.
Soon Bouchard was ahead 3-0 and in little time had won the set 6-3 to level the match.
At the end of the second set Vandeweghe took a break to change her outfit, and Bouchard followed for a bathroom break. The 25-year-old American returned to promptly lose her serve to love on three errors and a forehand passing shot by Bouchard.
She then lost the first two points on Bouchard’s serve in the second game and looked very much out of sorts. Bouchard soon led 4-2, although she had to go to three deuces to hold at 4-2. As hard as Bouchard hits, Vandeweghe’s balls are more concussive and she was beginning to find the range. She held serve to love to 4-3 and then broke serve to 4-all when Bouchard flew a forehand long.
Game nine in the final set was the key. Having just been broken, Bouchard looked poised to break back in the next game but Vandeweghe somehow Houdini-ed her way out of four break points and finally closed out the game with a 183 km/hr service winner.
Both players held serve to make it 6-5 Vandeweghe. Bouchard then had a game point to level at 6-6 but erred with a forehand wide and two points later watched as a screaming Vandeweghe backhand inside/out streaked down the sideline into an open court to end the two hour and 22-minute entertaining encounter.
“It really sucks,” Bouchard said not so eloquently but certainly accurately about going out the way she did to Vandeweghe. “It’s hard to lose because I think I was one or two points from winning.”
Vandeweghe, a strong 6-foot-1, is one of the biggest hitters in the women’s game. She has a serve that consistently clocked 15 km/hr faster than Bouchard’s and her ground strokes are deadly, especially a flat backhand that seems to explode off her racquet and just skim the net.
Bouchard did almost everything right after the first set – playing consistently and outdueling Vandeweghe who was frequently wild and undisciplined. But that little waver at 4-3 in the final set gave the American an opening and she was able to somehow pull off the right shots at the right time to finally get the win.
“I think she (Bouchard) played better and I was a little passive,” Vandeweghe said in her on-court interview about how the match unfolded. “I was able to turn it around by saying, ‘what’s the worst case? I’m going to lose.’ Then I was able to play my own game.”
As for Bouchard facing the Vandeweghe ground stroke barrage, she said, “I felt like a lot of times in the point I was on my heels a little bit and not really moving up to the ball enough.”
That may have been true but certainly most players are going to feel that way when Vandeweghe starts pounding shots with consistency. She had 40 ground stroke winners (41 unforced errors) to just 21 ground stroke winners (29 unforced errors) for Bouchard.
She had twice as many combined aces and service winners – 14 to seven – as Bouchard and won 85 per cent of first serve points to 74 per cent for Bouchard. “I definitely felt a lot of pressure every service game because of her serve,” Bouchard admitted. “I just always felt that pressure to keep my lead. And yeah, it was tough to sustain that later on in the third.”
Where Bouchard was considered and candid in many of her observations in her media conference, Vandeweghe was testy and sometimes confrontational. She seems to carry a chip on her shoulder and isn’t exactly easy to warm to.
She was also like that on the court, sarcastically complaining to umpire Juan Zhang during the second set – see picture above – that a linesperson’s call had been “half an hour late.”
There’s no doubt Vandeweghe raised her level late in the match but still Bouchard deserved a better reward for her fight back and the shot by shot disciplined regularity of her game. With Vandeweghe it was way more hit and miss and ultimately there was just enough “hit” at the very end to enable her get the victory.
The bottom line for Bouchard is that she has just not played enough of those types of matches to be as steady and composed as she would like at crunch-time.
“All tournament I felt a little nervous, I didn’t feel like I was really letting my shots go,” she said.
The past five months, she has only played 15 matches – going 7-8 since Cincinnati last August and just 2-5 in the last three months of 2016.
She also took an extra long break at the end of last year and really had only a month of prep heading into the 2017 Australian swing. After losing to No. 59 Shelby Rogers in Brisbane, she beat players ranked No. 23 (Zhang Shuai), No. 6 (Dominika Cibulkova) and No. 27 (Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova) in Sydney last week and No. 65 (Louisa Chirico) and No. 83 (Peng Shuai) at this year’s Aussie Open.
“I haven’t played so many matches in three weeks in a really long time, especially against top, relatively speaking, ranked players,” Bouchard said. “It’s kind of been two years of struggle, especially a lot the last half of last year. I just have to get used to playing matches back-to-back against good players. That’s something I haven’t done in a while. The last time I went far in a tournament was like in 2014.”
The renewed partnership with coach Thomas Hogstedt (pictured here) augers well for her immediate future. Bouchard has a respect for the 53-year-old Swede that seems different than with her recent coaches – as if she’s matured and is more open to his counsel and advice.
Similarly, the fact that she played at a high level in Sydney – even the 6-2, 6-2 semifinal loss to an impeccable Johanna Konta was not a reflection on her poor form – and also at Melbourne Park is something to build on.
Bouchard, who formerly was never satisfied with her play and always wanting more, sounded more moderate when she summed up her Australian summer saying, “I think it’s a very solid first step, this trip. It’s kind of like a restart process. I can’t expect too much at the beginning.”
Turning 23 on the 25th of next month, she has now been through the trauma of a year of living up to the expectations (2015) after her breakthrough 2014 and a year of stagnation (2016) and is into a year with positive signs suggesting there will be significant progress back to where she wants to be.
MILOS v GILLES
Fingers-crossed that Milos Raonic, after exhibiting flu symptoms Thursday when he beat Gilles Muller, is feeling better for his third-round match on Saturday versus Gilles Simon. It will be in Hisense Arena and begin not before 6 p.m. – 2 a.m. ET in Canada.
Is it possible that the bout of illness could actually help Raonic?
He does sometimes have a tendency to over-think his tennis. But often when a player is injured or not feeling well that tends to focus the mind on just two things – playing point by point and managing the physical issue. The resulting obsession with those things can clear the mind of other distractions and concerns and help a player connect with his or her essential game.
Only time will tell how things go but Raonic does have an interesting history with the 32-year-old Simon.
He leads the head-to-head 3-1 but some of those results are misleading. For example, in their last match Simon beat Raonic on grass at Queen’s Club in 2015 – but that was just weeks after Raonic had surgery for an inflamed nerve (Morton’s Neuroma) in his foot and he was still in the recovery and rehab phase and not at the top of his game.
On the other hand, Raonic beat Simon in Estoril, Portugal on clay in 2013 – a match that was interrupted by rain several times, something that worked in Raonic’s favour because the grinding Simon didn’t have a chance to really get into a rhythm.
The result that probably is most representative was Raonic’s 4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 win in the third round of the 2014 French Open. It was on his least favourite surface, clay, and yet he showed a lot of grit against the tenacious Simon to pull out the five-set win on Court Philippe Chatrier in front of a partisan French crowd.
Simon, 32, may be a little past his prime but he’s a wily, determined competitor who will know how to capitalize on any mental or physical weakness that Raonic may carry into the match. A bit of Simon trivia – after almost 15 years on tour, he is working with a sports psychologist this year, a compatriot named Ronan Lafaix.
Finally, several checks with the Aussie Open practice court desk on Friday turned up the information that Raonic did not show up for his intended 11 a.m. practice session. That could be cause for concern in view of how he felt on Thursday, but it may also just be idle speculation.
NESTOR, DABROWSKI OUT
A disappointing day that started with Genie Bouchard losing to Coco Vandeweghe ended with Canada’s two remaining doubles players being eliminated.
Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, the 8th seeds, were upset 0-6, 6-3, 6-4 by Aussie wild cards Marc Polmans and Andrew Wittingham while Gabriela Dabrowski and Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands were beaten 7-6(9), 6-4 by Andreja Klepac of Slovenia and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain.
Dabrowski remains in the mixed doubles event playing with Rohan Bopanna of India.
“Once they started serving well we couldn’t put many balls back in play,” Nestor said about Polmans and Wittington. “It happened pretty fast and then they just really didn’t give us anything. Considering, I assume, their usual level, they played very solid.”
Summing up the Australian experience, two wins and a loss in Brisbane and 1-1 at the Aussie Open, Nestor said about the partnership with Roger-Vasselin, “It’s disappointing, I thought we had a good chance because we were playing pretty well. We won convincingly yesterday and came out quickly today and it kind of turned around on us. It’s always disappointing especially having been in the finals last year.”
With the 1,200 points (except for 90 second-round points this year) he failed to defend from being runner-up in 2016 with Radek Stepanek, Nestor’s current No. 15 ranking should drop below No. 25.
His next event will be the Davis Cup vs. Britain from Feb. 3 to 5 in Ottawa, with Nestor saying he believes that Andy Murray will be there.
AUSTRALIA POST CARD
This sign has been up at the Richmond train station near Melbourne Park for a couple of weeks – so it has gotten some exposure. But surely the ANZ bank people expected their man, a six-time Aussie Open champ, to last beyond the fourth day of the tournament.