TEBBUTT: ELITE 8 FOR 2 CANADIANS
It has never happened before – a Canadian male and female together in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament.
The last time there was even one Canadian in the final eight was a quarter of a century ago when Helen Kelesi reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros in 1989, of course except for Eugenie Bouchard in Australia in January.”
There’s no question the profile of Canadian players is on the rise internationally and Eugenie Bouchard (game face on above) and Milos Raonic made a huge statement Sunday at the French Open with round-of-16 wins without losing a set. In fact, none of the sets in Bouchard’s 6-1, 6-2 dusting of Angelique Kerber or Raonic’s 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 out-classing of Marcel Granollers were even truly competitive.
Bouchard hit a forehand winner on the first point of her match, and a backhand winner on the second, pouring it on from there on a day when she had a excellent winners/unforced errors ratio of 30/11.
Kerber would later say, “I did not play my best tennis today,” which was an understatement. But Bouchard was so hyper-aggressive that there was no chance for the German to stay close unless she brought her A-game.
As for Raonic, he just stayed on the same track he has been on since an impressive 6-7(5), 7-6(4), 6-3 loss to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals in Rome two weeks ago.
He basically manhandled Granollers from the baseline and afterward Canadian Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau said he was not surprised.
“The match was really won two days ago,” Laurendeau said. “I knew he’d win this match but the (4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 third-round) win over Gilles Simon was really the big one. Maybe a key one – one day down the road we may look back at that match being a key in his development.”
Raonic only faced two break points in the one hour and 53-minute encounter – and they occurred in the second set back-to-back with the score 15-40 and Granollers already trailing 3-2. On the first, Raonic cracked a 221 km/hr ace, on the second he went to the net and feathered a nifty drop-volley winner.
With it overcast and sombre and the late-arriving Court Philippe Chatrier largely ‘not arrived’ yet for 11 a.m. start, Bouchard was more épeditif (French for expeditious) out of the blocks than Raonic – leading 5-0 after just 16 minutes.
In her two previous matches – with Julia Goerges and Johanna Larsson – Bouchard was anything but sharp at the outset, even losing the first set to Goerges.
On Sunday, she never let up, mercilessly attacking Kerber’s second serve and choreographing rallies so beautifully that several times the German could not even move for the ball as it flashed past her. Bouchard wound up winning 58 points to just 38 for Kerber – a lopsided margin for a match between a No. 8 seed (Kerber) and a No. 18 (Bouchard).
“Today, with my goal of taking the ball early,” Bouchard said about her attack mindset, “that worked really well, really going for my shots.”
She would not concede anything about starting so effectively because she might have had more respect for the No. 9-ranked Kerber after floundering early against opponents ranked No. 107 (Goerges) and No. 99 (Larsson) in the previous two rounds.
“We are in a Grand Slam, we’re playing the best players in the world,” she insisted. “For me, every opponent is worthy of respect. I had a clear game-plan in my head today. I was fully focused. I know I can play at this level. I’ve been improving my game since the beginning of the year. Since Australia (semi-final at Melbourne Park), I’m at a different level from there. I’ve been feeling that way in practice and in matches recently.”
After the first set, a German reporter said told yours truly that Kerber often loses the first set before coming back. If there was going to be a rally, all hope vanished for her in the sixth game of the second set when she already trailed 3-1 and was down a service break. Leading 40-15, she double-faulted and eventually lost the game and any hope to halt the Bouchard stampede.
“She played very well today,” a sullen Kerber would say later about Bouchard, “but I actually didn’t find my rhythm. I was completely not on the court.”
With such a one-sided win – watched above by coach Nick Saviano (left) and Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau (lower right) – the questions in the post-match media conference often turned to subjects other than on-court tennis.
Asked by an Italian reporter who her best friend on the tour was, Bouchard replied, “I don’t have one. I don’t think the tennis tour is a place to have friends. For me, it’s all competition. I think it’s important to remember that we’re going to play against each other in matches. It’s not like we’re teammates.”
That mentality does not endear her to other players in the locker room, but it does give her an aura and an edge that can help on the court in much the same way that it has with inner-focused like superstars Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and an earlier incarnation of Serena Williams.
The highlight of Bouchard’s media conference was four questions at the end of it that she answered in French. Her command of that language has improved by leaps and bounds in the past year. Maybe she seemed so fluent because she is, after all, in Paris, the epicenter of the culture.
Asked in French whether she had the maturity of someone who’s more experienced than the young girl that she actually is, Bouchard promptly responded, “I’m not such a young girl…I feel old. I’m starting to have wrinkles on my face. I just turned 20 three months ago and I feel a little old. That’s why I want to be the best player as soon as possible because I’ll wake up some day and I’ll be 30 years old.”
She will be, at least chronologically, be five years younger than her opponent – No. 14 seed Carla Suarez Navarro – in Tuesday’s quarter-finals. And she will also be six inches taller than the plucky 5-foot-4 Spaniard with the splendid one-handed backhand.
The two share things in common – Suarez Navarro is one spot ahead of Bouchard at No. 15 in the WTA rankings and both recently, on European red clay, won their first main tour title – Suarez Navarro in Oeiras (formerly Estoril), Portugal, and Bouchard in Nuremberg, Germany.
There’s only one head-to-head on record between the two – Suarez Navarro winning 7-5, 6-2 in the third round of Wimbledon last year.
“We played against each other at Wimbledon,” Suarez Navarro said, “but you can’t really compare a match on grass with a match on clay. She’s a really good player and is having a really good year.”
Suarez Navarro, in 22 Grand Slams, has reached three other quarter-finals besides this year’s Roland Garros – Roland Garros ’08, Australian Open ’09 and US Open ’13.
On Tuesday, it will be a classic match-up of Bouchard’s attack-mode tennis against the spunky Suarez Navarro’s more nuanced aggression and retrieving ability.
There was little that was nuanced about Raonic on Court Suzanne Lenglan (above) against the No. 39-ranked Granollers – the 28-year-old Spaniard was simply over-matched. Raonic belted a 224 km/hr ace on the first point and Granollers, a gutsy fighter, simply wasn’t able to keep up with the bombardment coming from the other side of the net.
It’s quite remarkable how it has all come together for Raonic the past few weeks. Everyone knew he had the parts – a monster serve, a huge forehand and decent execution on the volleys and overheads – but there was always doubt about whether he could put it all together.
Poor Granollers looked pretty shell-shocked by the end of the match – and that was with Raonic serving a measly six aces and six service winners.
A telling graphic came across the TV screen in the second to last game.
WINNERS BY SET
The brute power of the Raonic forehand – usually inside/out but more and more often inside/in – is demoralizing for his opponents. Asked if there is a time in matches when he senses he is getting to them, Raonic said, “I can sort of feel in moments of the match where I can get ahead – maybe surpass or get on top of my opponent. I understand what I need to do to get there…maybe he might start feeling a little bit of desperation in a few situations. That’s the sort of situations I want to put my opponents in.”
Whereas Bouchard reached a Grand Slam semi-final in just her fourth attempt, the 2014 Australian Open, Raonic has finally made it to a first Grand Slam quarter-final in his 14thattempt.
But, it should be noted, his previous tries to go a step beyond the round-of-16 all ended against quality opponents:
Australian Open ’11: David Ferrer
US Open ’12: Andy Murray
Australian Open ’13: Roger Federer
US Open ’13: Richard Gasquet.
“If you’d asked me would I ever have thought that the first one (quarter-final) would come at the French Open, I probably would not have answered that way,” Raonic said. “But I’m happy about it. There’s a lot of good things that come from it. Unfortunate things (among them a tendon tear above his left ankle early at the Australian Open that kept him out of action for more than six weeks and bothered him longer than that) I have faced this year, and I have been able to overcome at lot of things. I’m very happy with the level I’m playing at. I think that’s a consequence of all the work I have been putting in.”
Based on recent form, playing Djokovic, who obliterated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 on Sunday, in Tuesday’s quarter-final is probably the ultimate test in tennis at the moment.
As daunting as the match-up may be, Raonic, 0-2 against the Serb, has never been more prepared and primed for the challenge.
NESTOR/ZIMONJIC ROLL ON
Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic won their 11th consecutive match on European red clay on Saturday, advancing to the quarterfinals of the men’s doubles with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Horia Tecau of Romania.
The No. 3 seeds will next play unseeded Marin Draganja of Croatia and Florin Mergea of Romania.
Nestor, 41, had a little bull session with some reporters on Saturday after his win. When yours truly asked him what kind of a ranking he would have settled for this year after finishing 2013 at No. 25 in the ATP individual doubles rankings, his response was, “was I really No. 25?” Then laughing out loud he joked, “fifteen.” He is now No. 7.
Talking about the last few weeks – titles at the Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome and three wins already at Roland Garros – he said, “I’ve said all along that I don’t think it (his renewed partnership with Zimonjic) was going to be like it was. We still have chances to win big tournaments because we’re both good players but I don’t think we’ve ever been as dominant as the Bryans even if we were quite consistent. But the last few weeks it feels like old times.”
Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic, seeded 5th, moved into the quarter-finals of the mixed event on Sunday with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Raquel Kops-Jones of the U.S. and Raven Klaasen of South Africa.
In four Grand Slams together, they have only missed the final once (US Open ’13) and have won Wimbledon in 2013 and the Australian Open earlier this year.
PARIS POST CARD
The Pont de l’Alma is a landmark in Paris because it is near where Princess Diana was killed in a car accident in 1997. In this picture, a couple look at a photo taken by the male of the female. In the background is the ‘Flame of Liberty’ sculpture that is dedicated to Diana.