Genie Bouchard moved into the third round of the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Sloane Stephens after almost magically saving five set points in the second set. On the fifth of those, Stephens got a short reply on a service return and had a regulation forehand cross-court put-away but somehow contrived to over-hit it long.
“That happens to all of us,” Bouchard said about the breath-taking miscue. “I’ve done my fair share of those. So I was just going to take whatever I could get. I just kept trying to fight and I always had this inner belief that I could come through.”
Still that inner belief wasn’t rock solid when Stephens (above) held the first three of those set points.
“When I was down 5-4 and she was serving 40-love,” Bouchard said only half-joking, “I was thinking about going to the bathroom after the second set…I was ready for a third.”
There was a definite see-saw aspect to the match – including four service breaks in a row in the middle of the first set and then Stephens bouncing back from 2-0 down in the second set, after dropping the first, to level at 2-all and make it very competitive right up until the end.
Overall there was something more solid and less erratic about Bouchard’s play compared to Stephens throughout. Asked about that, she agreed, “I think so. I definitely felt that I was playing at a better level than my previous match. I felt a little bit more like myself out there. We had some great points. We were really both going at it and I was, I think, a bit more aggressive and I think that made the difference.”
After having incidents, both times involving having her blood pressure and pulse checked during an injury time-out, during her quarter-final and final matches at the Malaysian Open a week ago, Bouchard spoke about the residual effects of the concussion she suffered in a fall at last year’s US Open.
“Once in a while I feel that I have little lapses,” she said. “I think that’s still maybe to be expected. You never know exactly how you’re going to heal from these things or how long it will take. In Malaysia, I definitely felt like I suffered some symptoms. As I’ve been here in this great desert, dry weather it’s been great. (But) it’s something I constantly monitor and just try to stay on top off.
“I felt like I felt a little bit like last year when it had just happened. I’m still a bit sensitive to some conditions like extreme humidity and I had some symptoms like dizziness, fogginess, double-vision things. But I got through it and I’m feeling okay now. It’s just about trying to stay healthy.”
So far Bouchard has played matches that have been either at night or late afternoon going into the evening, so it still could be an issue if the weather turns hot in the second week and she plays during the day.
As remarkable as it is to contemplate, her win on Saturday over the No. 22-ranked Stephens is her best by ranking since she beat No. 7 Caroline Wozniacki way back at the Wuhan, China, tournament in September of 2014.
“It’s important to me because it’s kind of on my comeback, as I’ve kind of called this year,” she said about beating Stephens, an old rival dating back to when they were 12 and at former coach Nick Saviano’s academy in Florida. “It gives me confidence looking forward. I don’t want to look back. I don’t want to think about 2014 or 2015 really. This one is important, it’s kind of a step forward and I just want to keep going.”
Watching from her courtside friends box on Saturday was Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and members of his family. “As soon as I saw him in the box, I got a bit nervous,” Bouchard admitted. “I lost a game and I played pretty bad and I was wondering if he’d leave or something and I was like ‘I have to get my game up a little bit.’ His daughter (Emma, aged 12) is an aspiring tennis champion so it’s cool that they’re really into it and supportive.”
As has happened with many players, Bouchard was asked about Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test and the possible ramifications. “As I’ve said many times before, she was an idol of mine,” she answered. “To think of your childhood idol and wonder if it was a lie. It really affected me a lot.
“We all don’t know enough yet I think. But to question those things is very disappointing.”
In Monday’s third round, Bouchard will face a player ranked one spot higher than Stephens – world No. 21 Timea Bacsinszky. It will be her first meeting with the 26-year-old Swiss.
“I don’t think I’ve played her but I’ve practiced with her a few times,” Bouchard said. “She’s a good player and plays at a high level so I’ll be ready for anything.”
Bouchard had a visit from her coach Thomas Hogstedt when she had just lost her serve to go down 5-4 in the second set. He told her to hit out and move forward and that seemed to work – although it was edge-of-the-ledge stuff when she had to survive those five set points.
During last year’s US Open, Bouchard didn’t have a coach and appeared to use some advice from the legendary Jimmy Connors to help her get back on track.
Asked on Saturday if she has had any contact with the eight-time Grand Slam champion since the US Open, she replied, “he’s a good friend. Once in a while we talk on the phone.”
Red-sleeved Raonic romps
“I’ve made great progress. I’ve added things to my game.”
That’s how Milos Raonic summarized his 2016 year so far – a year that has seen him win the ATP 250 event in Brisbane, defeating Roger Federer in the final, and also reach the Australian Open semifinals where he led Andy Murray two-sets-to-one before suffering an adductor injury.
Raonic, by general consensus, was playing at an entirely new level and there was considerable interest in how he would look after the lay-off when he returned at this week’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
His 6-1, 6-3 victory over Inigo Cervantes of Spain on Saturday was not a very large sample size but the 55-minute match on Stadium 2 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden indicated that he is definitely on the right track.
He began the match with a 140 mph ace and pretty well cruised from there – allowing Cervantes only three holds in his eight service games. Except for a poor love game serving at 5-2 in the final set, Raonic was as efficient and consistent as he needed to be against an opponent who is mainly a clay-courter.
“I felt good, felt like I did a lot of things well,” he summed up. “Especially I started off well. I was aggressive. I maybe became a little bit too passive in that second set and had a bit of a letdown at the end of the match.
“With where and how things could be, I have to be very happy with how I’m playing and really just look to rest and be better in the next one.”
There was an encouraging sign in the fourth game of the match with Raonic already ahead 3-0. He ran full tilt for a shot that was angled short and wide and, though he didn’t reach it, he didn’t hold back and wound up having to jump over a courtside container in order to stop.
“I’m getting there – maybe one drop shot I let go, maybe I hesitated a little bit on,” he said commenting on the particular instance of that jump and his general fitness after the injury. “Right now where I am physically is probably in better shape than I am mentally about it. Probably sometimes I over-think it sometimes more than I should.”
Raonic had a star-crossed year in 2015 – with foot surgery on May 11, back spasms that diminished him in the summer and fall and various other problems.
He went into some detail on what exactly happened following the Australian Open right adductor injury in the semifinal. “About 20 hours after the match I got an ultrasound and it showed that it was strained and maybe some edema in the muscle. I didn’t really think too much about it. I rehabbed it and that kind of stuff right after but only when I played basketball for the first time to get ready (for the Celebrity game on NBA All-Star weekend in Toronto Feb. 12-14), it was really painful and that’s when I got an MRI and I found that I had more than a three centimeter tear in my adductor and a little bit of a tear further up on the insertion (in the bone) and some kind of chronic damage that was more aggravated in my glut.”
On the subject of trying to avoid the various injuries that have affected him, he said, “I’m the kind of person that you have to tell to not do too much because I’m always thinking that the more time I spend at something, the better I’ll get. So, I think it’s about finding that balance – how much is intense hard work and how much of it is really understanding the resting aspect of it, and the recovery aspect, and how to manage better those times. What my body can and cannot handle. I won’t fit into the mold of the same training routines as a Novak (Djokovic) or whoever. I’m still trying to sort find my method.
“I don’t know how many of my injuries have been bad luck – what my body can and cannot handle. I just haven’t given it too much thought. I’m always thinking about what’s the next thing I want to achieve. I try not to get caught up in the things that are outside my control.”
Raonic is without consulting coach Carlos Moya in Indian Wells but he said the 1998 French Open champion will join him in Miami in two weeks.
Next will be a match against Bernard Tomic. They have played twice with Raonic winning both – most recently 7-6(5), 7-6(5) in the semifinals in Brisbane before this year’s Australian Open.
“I had a lot of opportunities,” the current world No. 14 said about that encounter. “I was ahead (first) to 30 – I think he served 12 games so in eight or nine of them. I think I can be a bit more efficient and play that way. Take care of my serve that’s number one and then make a lot of returns and give myself some chances. I’m moving pretty well considering I haven’t moved for a long time.” (He said the first time he played points on the way back from the injury was last Monday in Indian Wells.)
After his 6-4, 7-5 victory over Rajeev Ram on Saturday, Tomic did not seem that positive about the condition of his right wrist – saying that he has been advised to give it a rest and will likely not play the Miami Open in two weeks.
“I’ve still had problems since the Australian Open,” he said. “I’ve been on the road a lot, I played IPTL (International Premier Tennis League last December) and this could be my last tournament here. I need to take some time off for this wrist. Hopefully I can go back and get some scans and everything’s alright. It’s been a tough schedule the last two or three months. I have to take medication before I play and take a few (other) steps before I play. It’s quite painful.”
Even though he played his doubles match with partner John Isner – a 7-5, 6-7(5), [10-8] win over Brits Colin Fleming and Andy Murray – on Friday without his trademark sleeve, it was back in place for the Cervantes match Saturday.
The new red sleeve joins white, black, lime and orange among the colours that have adorned the right arm of arguably the tour’s best and most powerful server.
They appear to be in ample supply because Raonic has taken to throwing them into the crowd – as he did Saturday – at the end of his matches. It wasn’t that way in the days before these current new New Balance sleeves – back in the days when his team had to do some scrounging to come up with them from retail.
Pospisil set for Simon – again
Vasek Pospisil (serving above) will play Gilles Simon for the third time this year after he defeated 19-year-old American Jared Donaldson in a hard-fought 7-6(5), 6-7(2), 6-3 first round on Friday.
Simon beat Pospisil 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the first round of the Australian Open in January and then again 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 in the opening singles of Canada’s tie against France in Guadeloupe last weekend. That was the match where Pospisil famously had a 5-0 first set lead before falling victim to the humid weather and a revived Simon.
“It’s different conditions here,” Pospisil said referring to Indian Wells after beating Donaldson. “I think at 5-0 (in Guadeloupe) I’d already sweat through like three shirts. It was just very difficult out there. It’s drier here and it’s not draining me out at all. I’m a guy who sweats a lot and I just played two hours and 50 minutes and I felt way better than I did in 10 minutes playing in humidity. I sweat less here in three hours than I sweat in five minutes in Guadeloupe. It sounds crazy but it’s true.
“It doesn’t take as much of a toll on my body as it does in humidity. I just maybe didn’t have enough time to adjust going there (to Guadeloupe). I always feel I need at least a week to get used to the humid conditions.”
Looking ahead to the match-up with Simon, Pospisil said, “If I go out there swinging free and take it to him and pressure him – then for sure I have a good shot.”
As if he and Simon haven’t seen enough of each other, on Saturday Pospisil and partner Jack Sock defeated the Frenchman and Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi 6-0, 7-5 in a first-round doubles match.
Indian Wells post card
One of the distinctive landmarks of the Coachella Valley/Palm Springs area of California are extended areas of windmills used to generate power. They rise out of the sagebrush and dusty landscape and are seen on both sides of Highway 10 as it flows through on the way to Las Vegas.
NOTE: Next blog on Monday after Bouchard’s and Raonic’s next matches.