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Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic were severely pushed in their second-round matches at the US Open on Thursday night, but both survived, showing real grit when it most mattered.

Bouchard beat Sorana Cirstea of Romania 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-4 in match that started slowly but built to an exciting finish.

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Raonic had a slightly easier time, but he was in tough through four sets against the aggressive power of Peter Gojowczyk before winning 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(3).

Bouchard outplayed a shaky Cirstea in the opening set but once the Romanian got her game calibrated it turned into a riveting affair for the spectators in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

With Cirstea letting loose with her smooth-stroking easy power from the outset of the second set, Bouchard had no option but to go up a level to remain competitive.

There were times when it looked like she would wrap things up in two sets – especially when she led 6-5 in the second – but Cirstea, in poor form of late, remained remarkably resolute.

She held serve – something that was not an automatic for either player as 11 of 30 service games were breaks – in the opening game of the third set and seemed to have momentum going her way. But that was when Bouchard dug in and showed the fearless hitting and total commitment to going for her shots that has been the hallmark of the two semifinals and a final at her three previous 2014 Grand Slams.

The rallies, especially in the third set, were exhilarating and intense – both players consistently hitting deep and both willing to up the ante stroke by stroke.

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In the end, the difference was probably that Bouchard was just a bit more aggressive, and a bit more consistent. The more dire the situation, the bolder and braver she played, putting to rest any notion that her subpar play in this summer’s hard-court tournaments might carry over into the season’s final Grand Slam.

She was characteristically steely serving at 5-4 but down love-30 in the final game of the match – hitting a glorious clean ace wide that halted any momentum Cirstea had from winning the ninth game to get to 5-4 and force Bouchard to serve out the match. There followed an aggressive backhand that got an error by Cirstea and two good serves that were not returned in play to wrap up an enthralling two-hour and 17-minute duel – something that night Arthur Ashe Stadium spectators were eager for after Andy Murray won the evening’s first match convincingly and Bouchard was one-way traffic in her first set against Cirstea.

Total points on the match were 112 Bouchard, 93 for Cirstea. The winners to unforced ratios for Bouchard were 29/33 and for Cirstea 21/26 – not impressive numbers but the wild card factor was that they played in difficult windy conditions with both playing uncompromising up-tempo/high-risk tennis.

“I didn’t feel maybe I was as sharp as I wanted to be,” a typically self-critical Bouchard said after the match. “I was happy I could still play pretty solid. But, you know, I didn’t feel like I was maybe at my highest level. And, you know, she started playing very solid in the second set. She was getting a lot of balls back. At the end of the day it was really a fight and a battle. But I definitely hope I can improve from this match. I’m definitely not, you know, totally satisfied with that.”

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It was an Arthur Ashe Stadium debut for Bouchard, and in a night match situation. “It was cool,” she said, “yeah my first time on Ashe. Definitely special. I felt really cool that they played ‘Genie in a Bottle’ during the warm-up. This was like, ‘all right, it’s going well so far. This is pretty cool. They played it again at the end of the match. I just felt pretty cool.”

Ashe Stadium, with a capacity of 23,771, is larger by more than 8,000 than any of the other Grand Slam centre court arenas – and Bouchard is now all too aware of that. “I was lucky enough to practice on Ashe at around 6:00 before the match,” she said. “I got my bearings a little bit. But full of people, it’s a different story. Usually when you toss the ball up, you expect to see the sky sooner than you do. This is more people, more stands, finally you get up to the sky at the top. It’s really cool playing in such a huge stadium. It’s like nothing else, I guess.”

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In Saturday’s third round, Bouchard will face Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. She holds a career 2-0 edge over the No. 29-ranked Czech – including beating her 6-0, 6-3 in her opening match on her way to her first title in Nuremberg right before the French Open.

“I played her in Nuremburg,” Bouchard said about Zahlavova Strycova. “She definitely probably doesn’t hit it as hard (as Cirstea). She can get a lot of balls back – though my opponent tonight got a lot of balls back. She mixes it up a little bit more. I’ll try to be more aggressive than I was tonight. I think that will be my main goal in my next match.”

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The Raonic – Gojowczyk match in Louis Armstrong Stadium was a bit like a game of chicken with both players hitting big and going for their shots. There was a sense that whoever missed less, would emerge the winner.

Statistically, that’s what the numbers eventually revealed as Raonic had a winners to unforced errors ratio of 64/41, while Gojowczyk was unable to finish above the Mendoza line – he was 46/47.

But the on-court, blow-for-blow completion was extremely close, with the 25-year-old German qualifier red-lining his game in a way few others players do.

He serves hard and really clocks both his forehand and his backhand. What Raonic found trickiest was the low trajectory of his shots.

“He plays quite flat, quite low to the net, lower margin for error,” Raonic said about the qualifier Gojowczyk, who had beaten him 6-4, 6-4 on grass in Halle in June right after the French Open. “Also, at the same time when he defends that way. Even if he just puts it through the middle, it’s hard for me because the ball never really comes up to my strike zone like against most guys. I think this and grass would probably be his best surfaces.”

When asked if there were any other guys on the tour who played like Gojowczyk,  Raonic replied, “not as low percentage. I think maybe he can be sort of compared to Gilles Simon, but he goes for a lot more. That lack of height over the net, that keeping the ball very low when you’re defending, that kind of stuff…always making a guy hit up. So I think in that aspect, Gilles is probably the only guy that plays that low over the net but in a different way. One guy plays quite defensive and the other guy plays more aggressive with it. It’s tough really to play that way well week in and week out, but he (the No. 124-ranked Gojowczyk) has been doing it. He played great this week. He played great last time I played him in Halle.”

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The match turned on a few points, including in the first set tiebreak. At 4-all, Raonic hit a fantastic inside/in forehand outright winner to go ahead 5-4. Then Gojowczyk played an ill-advised drop shot that Raonic reached and was able to eventually win the point. A forehand error wide on the next point by the German and Raonic had taken the first set.

“I wasn’t focusing on the right things,” Raonic said about his play in the early going. “I got a little bit caught up, because I thought he was playing really well at the start. Rather than just focusing on my stuff and sort of getting through that way.”

The win sets up an unlikely third-round meeting with Victor Estrella Burgos, a late-blooming 34-year-old Cinderella story from the Dominican Republic.

In September 2010, almost four years ago, the two played on the opening day of a Davis Cup tie between Canada and Dominican Republic on the Grandstand Court at Rexall Centre in Toronto. A much-greener, less-experienced Raonic – just a month away from his first breakthroughs at ATP tournaments in Kuala Lumpur (qualified and quarter-finals) and Tokyo (qualified and round-of-16) won 5-7, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(3), 9-7 after saving two match points.

Raonic was 19 and ranked No. 234 at the time, Estrella Burgos was 30 and No. 257.

The Dominican was more or less a part-time player, telling reporters on Thursday evening, after he defeated promising 17-year-old (half his age) Borna Coric of Croatia 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, that he basically took off four years in the middle of his career – keeping in touch with tennis by continuing to play Davis Cup.

He had a loud following of Dominicans on Court 6 on Tuesday, and later said “I already consider myself a winner.” He has reached the third round in a Grand Slam in only his third main draw appearance  – Roland Garros ’14 and Wimbledon ’14 – and has now won his firstever matches at a major.

“I served for the match against him in Davis Cup,” Estrella Burgos recalled about that 2010 encounter in Toronto in front of no more than 40 spectators. “This Raonic is not the Raonic of four years ago,” he added. “But I’m not the same player as four years ago. I’m more mature and better prepared.”

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Estrella Burgos, at 5-foot-8,  punches well above his weight, and has raised his ranking from No. 144 at the beginning of the year to No. 80 (and it will probably now go inside the Top 70). But all tennis logic says that against the Milos Raonic of 2014 – ranked No. 6 and a recent Wimbledon semifinalist – he should be seriously over-matched when they face each other across the net on Saturday.   


Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock got off to a solid start in the men’s doubles on Thursday, winning their opening round 6-4, 6-4 over Henri Kontinen and Jarkko Nieminen of Finland.

Pospisil and Sock were their usual big-hitting selves and were dominant through-out – getting the initial serve break at 3-all in the first set.

Sock pulled off the more acrobatic shots for the Canadian/American duo while Kontinen was a bit of a weak link for the losers.

Pospisil said there was never any real concern about Sock not playing because his American partner told him, about an hour after he retired from his singles match on Tuesday, that it was a (calf) cramp and that he would likely be okay.

“My shoulder’s fine, no pain today” Pospisil said about his own issue, something that affected him during his five-set loss in singles to Simone Bolelli on Tuesday. “I don’t feel like I’m serving great but I served well today.”

About the popularity of the “PospiSock” phenomenon, Pospisil said, “straight after Wimbledon when we played in Atlanta, we had really great crowds there. Then going to Cincinnati, any court we played on it was pretty much packed.  People seemed to enjoy watching us play.”

Pospisil downplayed any possible pressure of expectation after his and Sock’s win at the Big W. “Now, that we have a chance to make the year-end (ATP World Tour) finals,” he said, “it changes things a little bit so we’re playing more doubles. But we’re still singles players, and we’re keeping it pretty relaxed on the court and not stressing too much.”

Since hooking up before Wimbledon, Pospisil and Sock, who beat Bob and Mike Bryan in a thriller five-set final there, have been 14-1, only losing the Cincinnati final 6-3, 6-2 to the Bryans.

Commenting on that result, Pospisil said, “they played well, but we didn’t serve well. At Wimbledon, we were serving great and we generally serve really well. To lose 3 and 2, it’s not like they’re known for being incredible returners. We didn’t serve great, a lot of second serves. That was the difference. ”

Pospisil is not playing the mixed doubles event. When kidded that there might be some demand out there among the women players, he laughed, “no one’s asked me…just a couple.”

Next for Pospisil and Sock will be Florin Mergea of Romania and Marin Draganja of Croatia. They’re a very active pair and managed to upset Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic at Roland Garros this year.  


The US Open Daily (programme) has a fold-out poster every day. On Thursday, it was Milos Raonic – see above.

NOTE: US OPEN Blog returns Saturday for Bouchard and Raonic third round matches.