It was always going to be a big ask for Genie Bouchard and Bianca Andreescu to win their matches on day four of the Australian Open – and it was really no surprise when both were beaten.
Serena Williams came out the gate on fire against Bouchard and had a 2-0 lead in four minutes after dropping the first point and then winning eight in a row. Soon it was 3-0 and Bouchard was shaken. “I just felt rushed,” she would say later, “a bit on the back foot. She just has so much power. It was tough.” The final score for the Rod Laver Arena evening match was 6-2, 6-2.
“I feel like I didn’t play well to give myself the best chance,” Bouchard added, “but I feel she played really, really well.”
Williams was impressive, putting so much racquet on the ball, hitting heavy and with terrific angles. Bouchard expressed the feelings of many people when she suggested that Williams should win the tournament. But it has seemed that way at the last two Grand Slam events and she came up short at both – Wimbledon to Angelique Kerber and at the US Open to Naomi Osaka.
As for Bouchard, who will be ranked about No. 75 at the end of the Aussie Open, she’s determined to continue her climb back. “I’m signed up (next week) for Newport Beach (California),” she said. “I haven’t spoken to my team so I don’t know if I’ll be doing that or not. Maybe… probably, I feel good. I want to play. I may be on a plane tomorrow (Friday in Melbourne) morning.
“I feel like I’m going to get my ranking better – and it would be nice to be seeded and not play seeds so early in Grand Slams. I’m playing better than what my ranking is right now – so I’ve just to keep working on my game. If that’s the case it’ll get there. It’s the beginning of the year so a long year ahead.”
As for Andreescu, she gave all that she had to give and wound up losing to world No. 12 Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 on Thursday on Court 3. Trailing 6-3, 3-2 and love-40 in the second set, it looked like the 28-year-old Latvian was going to make fast work of an erratic and somewhat listless Andreescu. But the 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., capitalized on a lapse by the Latvian to win four games in a row with dominating tennis to take the second set.
She was up early in the third set but finally the accumulated toll of 13 matches (Auckland qualifying and main draw and Aussie Open qualifying and main draw) in recent weeks began to tell. As she would later explain, “I couldn’t push any more than I did. I gave my best and that’s all that matters to me.”
About the third set, she said, “I started cramping in the (right) calf and hamstring. I drank a lot of pickle juice but obviously it didn’t help.”
Sevastova is not impressive in terms of power hitting, but she’s crafty and a savvy competitor. Andreescu has the bigger shots and when asked if she felt she could have used them to dominate Sevastova if she had been fit, she replied, “I think if I was physically better than I was today – I think I could have won.”
Andreescu had 34 winners and 49 unforced errors compared to 29 winners and 33 unforced errors for Sevastova.
Next for Andreescu will be the Oracle Challenger Series event beginning next week in Newport Beach, California – the same event as Bouchard.
The good news on the day was that both Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov advanced and will play in the third round on Saturday.
Raonic won a seesaw battle with Stan Wawrinka edging the Swiss in four tiebreak sets 6-7(4), 7-6(6), 7-6(11), 7-6(5). As a Swiss journalist suggested afterward, if you look at the match stats the result should have been a tie. But there are no ties in tennis and essentially Raonic was rewarded for keeping up the pressure on the 33-year-old Swiss with his serve and bold shot-making from the back of the court.
It was interesting to note that Raonic won 10 of the 17 rallies that extended to nine or more shots.
The match really was played out in the third-set tiebreak and Raonic probably set the tone when he faced the first set point trailing 6-5. He served-and-volleyed a crisp forehand winner.
Both players alternated fighting off set points on serve – three each – until Wawrinka missed a forehand down-the-line into an open court into the net at 11-11. With the first set point on his serve, Raonic made no mistake and hit an ace – one of his 39 on the day – to take the set.
He fell behind a break in the fourth set, but broke back down 5-3 and took the decisive tiebreak when Wawrinka missed wide with an inside/out forehand on Raonic’s first match point.
It was a strategic tussle with Wawrinka trying to counter Raonic’s serving pressure with his heavy precise ground strokes – usually directed to the Raonic backhand.
Afterward, Wawrinka had few regrets, saying that he thought the match was high calibre and that he was pleased with his level – much better than last year in Australia when he was coming back from knee surgery the previous summer.
As for Raonic, in the immediate flush of his exhilarating victory, he said on court to post-match interviewer Jim Courier, “in the heat of the battle the adrenaline takes over and you try to do everything you can each and every point. I was very fortunate to stay alive in that fourth set. I made the most of it there – four tiebreaks and three of them went my way. It could have gone any other way and I’m thankful I was able to play a good match.”
When asked what coach Goran Ivanisevic (in front leaning forward in picture above) told him when the players went off court during a rain delay in Rod Laver Arena at 4-all in the third set, Raonic said, “he just said to try to get my hands on a few of his serves. Stan was serving extremely well – especially when the roof was open.”
Summing up the highly-competitive contest, Raonic said, “(it was) a few points here and there. I think I had my chances in the first set. Was up a break in the second. He was the better player in the fourth there. Sort of just held on, got through. Was a little bit lucky there as well.”
Regarding the roof closing at 4-all in the third set, he added, “I think my record indoors has always been better than my record outdoors – less external factors. You sort of get a more consistent feel on the serve. Depending on if it’s overcast or not, the roof gives you a reference point for the ball toss.”
Raonic’s next reference point in the tournament will be a third round match-up and first meeting with No. 55-ranked Pierre-Hugues Herbert, 27, of France.
While Raonic gets the No. 55 ranked Frenchman, Shapovalov will be matched against none other than the No. 1 player in the world on Saturday – Novak Djokovic.
On Thursday, the 19-year-old world No. 27 simply had too much game for No. 88-ranked Taro Daniel of Japan, beating him 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-3 without losing serve. At his post match media conference Shapovalov mentioned several times that he is playing really well – and that’s hard to dispute. After outplaying Pablo Andujar on Tuesday, he was just as dominant in dispatching Daniel on Thursday in 1753 Arena. In terms of sheer volume of shots, the winners to unforced errors ratio for Shapovalov was 43/27 while it was 18/16 for Daniel.
Because Djokovic’s 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga finished late – about half past midnight on Friday morning – there’s a good chance he will also play at night on Saturday, and at least an equal chance that the match will be in Rod Laver Arena. Shapovalov has played three times in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open but never in the biggest stadium at Wimbledon or the Australian and French Opens.
“That would be a dream come true,” he said about the possibility of Djokovic in Rod Laver Arena. “That would be so sick for me. I think every little boy dreams of a reporter asking him, ‘how would you feel playing nights on Rod Laver Arena?’ That’s unbelievable. Honestly, yeah, it would be amazing just to play in Rod Laver, but also a night match. That would just be incredible.”
It will be a first meeting with Djokovic and a first with a member of the so-called Big Three except for Rafael Nadal. He beat the Spanish great for his breakthrough win in Montreal in 2017 and then lost to him in Rome last year.
While Djokovic enters the match as a decided favourite, Shapovalov in full flight – especially in a first meeting – won’t be an easy out for the No. 1-ranked Serb.
“I’m definitely going to try to go out there and win,” Shapovalov made a point of emphasizing near the end of his media conference Thursday. “I’m not just going to come out on court and enjoy my time. I’m going to put out a fight and try to do everything I can to try to come out with the W.”
In a first-round doubles match played on Court 10 on Thursday, third-seeded Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa and her Chinese partner Xu Yifan were upset 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 by the Czech pairing of Marketa Vondrousova and Barbora Strycova.
Dabrowski and partner Mate Pavic of Croatia are the top seeds – and defending champions – in the mixed doubles event.
As far as we know they are not known as such anywhere in the world – but in Australia traffic cones are called ‘witches’ hats.’ It’s easy to understand why but the expression seems unlikely to catch on soon anywhere else in the English-speaking world.