Genie Bouchard and Leylah Annie Fernandez scored decisive wins Thursday to move closer to spots in the main draw of the 2020 Australian Open.
Bouchard defeated Maddison Inglis of Australia 6-3, 6-1 with the only moment of concern being some sloppy play to fall behind 2-0 right at the beginning.
As for Fernandez, she was just five points away from winning – her match with Patricia Maria Tig of Romania had been held over from Wednesday with her in front by a set, 4-1 and having a game point for 5-1. But it would take three more games for the 17-year-old Montrealer to wrap up her first win at the women’s pro level in a Grand Slam event.
“I think I just made a few bad decisions in terms of shot selection in the first couple of games,” Bouchard said about her flat start against the No. 130-ranked Inglis, “but I got my focus right away and didn’t let a whole set go by this time. (I) turned it around much quicker.”
She was referring to her opening-round 4-6, 7-6(1), 6-1 victory over Xiaodi You of China that lasted two hours and 48 minutes.
This time the match time was just 62 minutes and was never really in doubt against the 22-year-old Australian who was unable to match her weight of shot and consistency.
“I don’t go in expecting the match to go a certain way,” the current world No. 211 said, “anything can happen. Everyone is good, everyone can hit forehands and backhands. It’s about who can perform in the match in the pressure situations. I stayed calm at the beginning just because I knew as soon as I got my groove things should go better and they did.”
Part of her strong performance might be attributed to her bounce back from that exhausting first match in hot, smoky conditions that caused her to leave the court at one point to be checked by a tournament physio.
“I slept 11 hours and then I felt great the next day,” Bouchard said about her recipe for recovery following the tough outing against You. “After the match I still felt pretty bad for a couple of hours. I had a headache and still felt really nauseous for well into the evening. Yeah I struggled a little.”
Turning 26 next month, Bouchard is more philosophical these days when it comes to the approach to her career. “I don’t really think about the past or the future, I’m just focused on every single match,” she said. “What I need now is matches so badly because I didn’t have a lot last year. By winning today I get another one and that’s what I’m just looking forward to.”
There is no doubt she looks more muscular on the court, able to better summon the power tennis that has always been the trademark of her game. Asked if she is physically stronger, she replied, “definitely. I made a point in the off-season to get really physically strong and I feel the difference on the court.”
A lot of that is related to a lot of hard hours she put in working in Las Vegas with Gil Reyes, Andre Agassi’s long-time strength coach and fitness trainer.
Her amped-up power game will next be tested against Italian Martina Trevisan, with a spot in the main draw on the line. She’ll play the No. 154-ranked Trevisan in the third match in Arena 1573 not before 1:30 p.m. (9:30 p.m. ET Thursday in Canada).
Asked about her potential next opponents before Trevisan finished a 6-0, 6-2 trouncing of Ysaline Bonaventure of Belgium on Thursday, Bouchard said, “I don’t know too much about both. I remember their names from juniors. I haven’t encountered them much on the pro tour. I just know that they’re both lefties.”
The scouting report on the 26-year-old Trevisan is that she has struggled with injuries and had absences from the sport. And that she’s more of a clay-court player who hits with a lot of topspin.
After Bouchard’s match Thursday, a large group of fans and curiosity seekers waited for her to emerge from Court 3. She was soon accommodating many of them with autographs and selfies – it’s probably no exaggeration to say she posed for at least 25 selfies.
About being mobbed, she said, “I did not expect that at all. It’s fun to see people out there for qualies. It’s fun to feel their energy, how they want to take pictures and get autographs. It’s one of the reasons I do what I do. It inspires me. It’s just so fun.”
It was a tricky situation for Fernandez coming back into a match against Tig about 20 hours later and knowing it could be over in four or five minutes or go on for an hour or two.
On the first point played at 6-2, 4-1, advantage Fernandez, she and Tig had a long rally and Fernandez ended up missing a backhand into the net. Two points later Tig won the game and was back to 2-4 with renewed hope. But Fernandez quickly held serve to 5-2. Tig replied with a quick game to 3-5 before Fernandez wrapped up the win in the final game even though Tig got back to 30-all after trailing 30-love.
There had been a power outage earlier and the resumption of the match was played without the electronic scoreboards working and with no Hawk-Eye. But it wasn’t a factor.
“Like every other match, from the very beginning I always try to stay positive,” Fernandez said about the potentially problematic continuation on Thursday. “That’s what I did well even though I lost that (first) game. I stayed positive and made some good serves and that helped a lot for me.
“She’s a very good player. She fights for every point. I just tried just to be there every point and never give up. That’s what I did well today.”
Tig came out in a different brownish-coloured outfit on Thursday and had success right off the bat. But Fernandez quickly regrouped and used her well-placed, hard-hitting baseline game to unsettle the 25-year-old from Bucharest.
A year ago Fernandez was runner-up in the Australian Open junior girls event (and then won the Roland Garros junior title), but Thursday’s win was a significant step for her. Questioned as to what she was the most proud of, she answered, “that I’m just here in the Australian Open qualifying in the women’s tour. That’s what I’m most proud of now.”
Fernandez has a familiarity with Melbourne and Melbourne Park after being a junior girls finalist last year. “It helps a lot that from the first day that I was here I felt really comfortable and everybody was so nice,” she said. “I still remember a few faces and they’ve helped me a lot to transition from junior to pro.”
She’s a bit like a kid in a candy store at this Aussie Open – and the highly-publicized poor air quality due to smoke from the bush fires doesn’t faze her. “In the beginning of the match it was really hot and the air was a lot better than this morning,” she said. “I was just so happy to be on court that it didn’t bother me at all.”
She will next take her left-handed power baseline game against No. 168-ranked Mayo Hibi, 23, of Japan in the second round. That match will be at 10 a.m. (6 p.m. ET Thursday in Canada) on Court 5.
Currently ranked No. 206 – the highest-ranked Canadian behind the absent No. 6 Bianca Andreescu – the ever-ambitious Fernandez is targeting a top-100 ranking some time this year. She might even be able to attain that goal before she reaches her 18th birthday on September 6.
In an earlier match on Thursday, Peter Polansky was beaten 6-1, 6-2 in 54 minutes by No. 226-ranked Alexandre Muller. Looking lethargic, Polansky dropped the first set in 22 minutes to the 22-year-old Frenchman, and things didn’t change substantially in the second set.
It was the 31-year-old Polansky’s 11th appearance in the Australian Open qualifying and equaled his worst loss – a 6-1, 6-2 defeat to Marsel Ilhan of Turkey in the first round in 2010.
MAIN DRAW POSITIONING
Novak Djokovic, as defending champion, was present for the pre-draw festivities on Thursday evening in Margaret Court Arena.
He had left, as had defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka, by the time their respective draws were revealed.
Of interest to Canadian fans are the four men who are direct entrants – three of whom Denis Shapovalov (13), Félix Auger-Aliassime (22) and Milos Raonic (35) are seeded.
Here’s a quick look at the Canadian men:
Shapovalov: – he begins with No. 66-ranked Marton Fucsovics of Hungary and then could face 18-year-old Italian prodigy Jannik Sinner in the second round, No. 18 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the third round and No. 3 Roger Federer or No. 31 Herbert Hurkacz in the round-of-16. Assessment: a favourable start but things will only get more challenging round by round.
Auger-Aliassime: playing Friday in the semi-finals in Adelaide against red-hot Andrey Rublev, the 19-year-old Montrealer gets a qualifier in the first round, Aljaz Bedene or James Duckworthin the second, possibly Vasek Pospisil or Ivo Karlovic in the third and No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem in the round-of 16. Assessment: not bad for Auger-Aliassime’s first main draw at the Aussie Open. He gets a chance to ease his way in.
Raonic: he debuts against energizer bunny, the diminutive Rado Albot of Moldova and then has a winnable second round against either Christian Garin or Stefano Travaglia. Fitness will be key for the 29-year-old Raonic, with a possible day of reckoning with 6th-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round. Assessment: he couldn’t ask for much better out of the gate but Tsitsipas, a semi-finalist in 2019, would be real gut check in round three.
Pospisil: he has a 4-1 record against first-round opponent, 40-year-old Croatian beanpole Ivo Karlovic, and has not lost a set in their last four matches. But he could be severely tested in rounds two and three – in two by No. 10 seed Gael Monfils who leads their head-to-head 5-0 and in three by No. 20 Auger-Aliassime who is 3-0 against him. Assessment: All three players would be solid tests for him but he’s playing good tennis at the moment and shouldn’t be intimidated by anyone.
AUSSIE POST CARD
Trams are a vital part of the transportation system in Melbourne. As in many cities with trams, or street cars, their worst enemies are automobiles as is clear in this Public Transport Victoria billboard.