TEBBUTT: EUGENIE, MILOS PASS TESTS
Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic were severely pushed in their second-round matches at the US Open on Thursday, but both survived, showing great 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 a terrifically theatrical finish.
Raonic had a bit 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 Sorana Cirstea in the opening set but once the Romanian got her game calibrated it turned into a riveting battle 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 to go up a level to stay competitive.
There were a few times when it looked like Bouchard would be able to wrap things up in two sets – especially when she led 6-5 in the second – but Cirstea remained resolute.
She held serve – something that was not an automatic for either player – 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 semi-finals and a final at her three previous Grand Slams in 2014.
The rallies, especially in the third set, were often breath-taking in their depth of shot, and in the willingness of each player to try to up the ante stroke by stroke.
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 was an indication she might not be up to the high standards she had set on the greatest stages so far this year.
She was just true grit serving at 5-4 but down love-30 in the final game of the match. She began by hitting a glorious clean ace wide that stopped any momentum Cirstea had from winning the ninth game to get to 5-4 behind. 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 duel – something that didn’t seem to be on the cards after the one-sided first set.
Total points on the match were 112 Bouchard, 93 for Cirstea.
“I didn’t feel maybe I was as sharp as I wanted to be,” Bouchard said after the match. “I was happy I could still play pretty solid. But, you know, 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, you know, I definitely hope I can improve from this match. I’m definitely not, you know, totally satisfied with that.”
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.”
In Saturday’s third round, Bouchard will face Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. She holds a career 2-0 edge of 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.”
Raonic had a much trickier time against Gojowczyk in Louis Armstrong Stadium. He won the second-rounder 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(3).
The Raonic – Gojowczyk match was a bit like a game of chicken with both players hitting full blast and going for their shots. There was a sense that whoever missed less, would emerge the winner.
Statistically, that’s what the numbers showed 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 actual match was extremely close, with the 25-year-old German qualifier redlining his game in a way few others players do.
He hits big on his serve 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 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, if he just even 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, 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 standard. 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.”
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 and 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 self-critically later. “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 the Dominican Republic at the 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 playing Davis Cup.
He had a loud following of Dominicans on Court 6 on Tuesday, and said “I already consider myself a winner.” He has reaching the third round in only the third Grand Slam main draw – Roland Garros ’13 and Wimbledon ’13 – and has won his first ever 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.”
Estrella Burgos, at 5-foot-8, is punching 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 semi-finalist – he should be seriously over-matched when they face each other across the net on Saturday.
POSPISIL/SOCK OFF AND WINNING
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.