It was never going easy for Canada against France away in Guadeloupe on a red clay court and without its top singles player (Milos Raonic) and its top doubles player (Daniel Nestor) in the opening round of 2016 Davis Cup. But in a match-up against a French team featuring four top-20 players, everything had to break the Canadians’ way – and ultimately they simply did not.
In Friday’s singles, Vasek Pospisil took a 5-0 first-set lead on Gilles Simon but somehow the Frenchman rallied from the brink to win the set and eventually the match 7-5, 6-3, 6-3.
On Saturday in the doubles, Pospisil and Philip Bester had Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (with Richard Gasquet) down love-40 on his serve trailing 5-4 in the opening set, but couldn’t convert three set points in a row. There was yet another set point before the game was finished but that was quashed by a Tsonga service winner.
The French eventually took the set in a tiebreak on their way to a 7-6(4), 6-1, 7-6(4) victory to clinch the World Group opening round 3-0 and put themselves into a quarter-final from July 15-17 against either the Czech Republic or Germany.
As if to accentuate the Canadian team’s frustration, with Bester and Pospisil leading 3-2 in the third set, they once again got Tsonga down love-40 and once again had a fourth break point and once again the current world No. 9 singles player got himself out of trouble.
One of commentators on the French TV coverage of the match did not mention that Nestor was not available for the match, or Raonic’s absence in singles, but conceded, “it wasn’t Australia or a team with Djokovic on it, but they (team France) didn’t lose a set.”
Indeed they didn’t and new captain Yannick Noah made a successful debut with a stacked line-up that made things a lot easier.
As for his Canadian counterpart, Martin Laurendeau, it was frustrating to come so close to getting in positive positions in Pospisil’s singles on Friday and again in the doubles on Saturday, but he cannot be disappointed in his team’s effort. Pospisil, bothered by the heat and humidity on both days and treated for a shoulder issue on Saturday, gave all he had…and maybe a little more.
And Bester, returning to Davis Cup for the first time since 2011 was solid in the doubles – nothing like the weak link as might have been expected. It should never be forgotten that it was the gutsy Bester’s fifth match win in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in July, 2011, that enabled Canada to remain alive and go to Israel two months later and qualify for a spot in the World Group – a spot it has maintained for the past five years.
“This place was fantastic to play in,” Laurendeau said after the doubles about Guadeloupe. “Yannick brings a special feel to the sport. We’ll see more of him with the Davis Cup being played through the year. He brought tennis to this place which has never seen tennis like this – so good on them. They have the team to go all the way.
“They have a great team but we really thought we could do some damage in the doubles. Our best chance to win a couple of sets came in the first and third. We pushed them hard today but they deserved to move on.”
Looking to the future, Laurendeau said, “we need Milos to be competitive at this level in the World Group and we need Milos healthy and Vasek healthy. It’s going to be tough for Nestor to carry on but some of the guys will need to step up. Hopefully we can win another one in September, buy another year and see what we can do next year.”
Now Canada (after experiencing a little of the above local flavor) will wait until zonal ties are completed in July to find out which country (and where) it will play in the World Group Playoffs from September 16-18 to attempt to stay in the 16-nation World Group.
There will be two inconsequential best-of-three singles matches on Sunday and they will likely feature Frank Dancevic and Bester as Team Canada winds up its Guadeloupian sojourn.
Hopes now are that a full complement of Raonic, Pospisil and Nestor can be present for the next tie in September. Canada will need better luck that it has had in its last two away ties – Raonic and Pospisil absent in Ostend, Belgium, last July and Raonic and Nestor the obvious absentees this year in Guadeloupe.
As for the French and their flamboyant captain Noah (with mascot above), it’s not too hard to imagine the celebrating he will be doing after Saturday’s win.
Following Friday’s matches, he said, “I’d love to wrap it up tomorrow. Then we can celebrate. They’ve got some great rum here.”
Bouchard reaches final in Malaysia
Genie Bouchard is into her second WTA final of 2016 after defeating Naomi Broady of Britain 6-4, 6-3 in the semi-finals of the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.
Broady, 26, is a stork-like 6-foot-2 and has an eccentric and sometimes effective game. She bombs a very good serve, possesses a rarity on the women’s tour – a one-handed backhand – and had a solid 7-6(4), 1-6, 7-5 victory over No. 31-ranked Sabine Lisicki in the quarter-finals. But overall the No. 96-ranked Broady is decidedly hit-and-miss.
As an example of that, Bouchard actually won a higher percentage of second serve points (66%) than Broady did first serve points (64%) during the semi-final. Broady hit 10 aces and fought off 10 of 13 break points. Bouchard was 3 for 3 in break points saved.
“My game is always pretty aggressive, but I couldn’t exactly attack her first serve,” Bouchard said about Broady. “She’s an amazing server and was serving pretty fast. She’s also very accurate. I was just trying to get the first serve back in the court.”
Bouchard who, on an off-day, was runner-up to Alizé Cornet at the WTA International Series event in Hobart, Tasmania, before the Australian Open, will play old rival Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in Sunday’s final.
Bouchard has won all four of her Malaysian Open matches in straights sets – and only twice been pushed to 6-4. Svitolina has lost two sets but has won the final sets of her matches by scores of 6-1, 6-0, 6-1 and 6-3, the latter in a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Zhu Lin of China in Saturday’s semi-finals.
The 21-year-old Ukrainian did have a bit of a scare in her second-round match against qualifier Risa Osaki of Japan when he had to receive on-court treatment for a back issue, which she said dates back to the Australian Open.
Bouchard also had a concern of her own during her quarter-final against Cagla Buyukakcay of Turkey when she had to be checked, including having her blood pressure taken, during a change-over. “I got a little dizzy at the beginning of the second set but I managed to fight through,” she explained.
Accompanied by her new coach Thomas Hogstedt in Kuala Lumpur, Bouchard is pleased with her form. “I got here early for the tournament and I was working really hard in practice just trying to improve different areas of my game,” she said earlier in the week. “I feel like I’ve improved already since last week and for me that’s just my goal right now – to improve every single week.”
The finalists have an interesting back story. Bouchard, as the fifth seed, defeated No. 3 Svitolina 6-2, 6-2 in the final of the 2012 Wimbledon junior event.
But in three meetings as pros Svitolina has won each time.
Bouchard – Svitolina: Head-to-Head
2015 Cincinnati R32: Svitolina 7-6(6), 7-5
2014 Miami R64: Svitolina 1-6, 6-1, 6-2
2013 Indian Wells qualifying: Svitolina 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-2.
The matches have all been close and certainly Bouchard is playing a lot better now than she was in Cincinnati last August when she was about to come out of her five-month slump.
In terms of 2016, Bouchard has been more impressive: her match record so far is 13-4 while Svitolina’s is 8-4.
With a victory in Sunday’s final and the 280 points that go with it, Bouchard’s current No. 52 ranking would move up into the top 40 at about No. 37. A loss in the final (180 points) and she would likely improve by 10 spots to about No. 42.
The championship match will be shown in Canada at 5 a.m. (EST) Sunday on Sportsnet One.
At the ballgame
Roger Federer and promising 18-year-old Taylor Fritz attended the Los Angeles Lakers home game on Friday night. The age gap between those two top-100 players – 16 years!