It took a while but, when Genie Bouchard switched into gear, she was able to turn around a dicey first-round encounter and defeat Japanese qualifier Rise Osaki 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 Thursday evening at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
The win means she now gets to play Sloane Stephens, a longtime rival from their junior days together at former coach (for both players) Nick Saviano’s academy in Plantation, Florida.
“I definitely felt out of sorts on the court,” Bouchard said about her match with the 21-year-old Osaki, currently ranked No. 125. “I recently travelled (from Malaysia), the conditions are different. I played an opponent who got a lot of balls back. At times I felt my tennis was awful out there. I just tried to put that aside, just keep trying to play, keep trying to play and slowly things kind of turned around.”
The “awful” stage of the match continued right up until a set, 4-all in the second with Osaki serving at 40-15. Things did not look at all rosy for Bouchard but the Japanese threw in a double fault and Bouchard proceeded to go on a tear to take control. Through most of the first two sets Osaki played impressively, covering the court well and mixing in occasional aggressive shotmaking. Bouchard, clearly the bigger hitter, was simply missing way too much – she ended up with 31 winners and 47 unforced errors (10/31 for Osaki) with those unflattering numbers skewed by her dismal form in sets one and two.
From that critical double fault – ironically Bouchard did not remember it after the match – Osaki dipped a bit and Bouchard began bossing the rallies and showing her superiority.
At the end of the first set, she had a visit from her coach Thomas Hogstedt and she later said that he basically told her to “keep moving forward and take it early.”
At the end of the second set, she took a bathroom break. There were no further visits from Hogstedt, who has past experience as coach of Maria Sharapova and Li Na among others.
Bouchard’s flight from Asia landed in Los Angeles at about 11 a.m. on Monday morning after she lost a hard-fought 7-5 in the third set final to Elina Svitolina in the Malaysian Open on Sunday. She then drove out to Indian Wells (about two hours) and did not even hit a ball on Monday. “I had events and shoots and bunch of things to do here in the few days,” she explained, “and not too much practice and not too much time to rest. It’s been a crazy rush – but that’s what happens. So I kind of just want to take an easy day tomorrow (Friday) and just rest.”
The match-up with Stephens, who turns 23 on Sunday the 20th, the day of the women’s final, is compelling for all kinds of reasons – including the Saviano connection. He coached Bouchard to much success in 2014, including to the Wimbledon final, before they split at the end of that year.
Saviano then coached Stephens last year as she improved from No. 37 to No. 30.
Currently Stephens is coached by Kamau Murray, former coach of Taylor Townsend, the ITF 2012 World Junior champion and Bouchard’s doubles partner that same year when they won Wimbledon junior title.
Stephens is seeded No. 21 in Indian Wells and ranked No. 22 after WTA International Series titles in Auckland and Acapulco in the first two months of this year.
Bouchard, who turned 22 two weeks ago, and Stephens have not played in more than two years. Here’s the 2-1 head-to-head for Stephens:
- 2013 Beijing R32: Stephens 6-1, 4-6, 6-4
- 2013 Tokyo: R32 Bouchard 5-7, 7-6(7), 6-3
- 2012 Washington: R8 Stephens 6-4, 6-4
“The conditions are very different, I can breathe here, it’s cold here,” Bouchard joked about the difference between Indian Wells (for a night match) and Kuala Lumpur. “It feels really cold for me. It’s just great to be at this tournament but I just gotta keep grinding.”
She sounded genuinely pumped about the opportunity to take on Stephens and the strong American’s easy-power tennis. “I’ve played her a couple of times,” the current world No. 42 said. “When we were young, we used to train together. So I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun. I haven’t played her in a while. I know she’s been playing well recently – she has two titles this year already.”
As for the keys to the match, Bouchard said, “I think it would be to stay emotionally stable and focused. I think she can play great and I need to stay with her. Even if she has moments of greatness, I need to stay with her because I know I can be consistent and she might not play great all the time – and obviously impose my game.”
The stadium interviewer had a little fun with Bouchard after her win when he mentioned the support she has in Indian Wells from the many Canadians resident in and/or visiting the California desert.
“I feel like I’m at home in Canada,” Bouchard laughed. “I think 95 percent of you come up and say, ‘I’m from Canada too.’ I love that. And I love all the flags.”
Following her interview, it was interesting to overhear a tournament official give cautionary instructions about where to hit some tennis balls out into the crowd. She explained to Bouchard, “people are leaning over and it’s getting dangerous.”
Raonic to face Cervantes
Milos Raonic, above doing a shoot for Vogue magazine on Wednesday on the tournament site, will make his 2016 BNP Paribas Open singles debut on Saturday when he faces Inigo Cervantes. The 26-year-old Spaniard upset his more highly-regarded compatriot Nicolas Almagro 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 on Thursday.
Raonic, now ranked No. 14, will be playing for the first time since his semifinal loss to Andy Murray at the Australian Open. He and Cervantes, at a career high No. 59 at the moment, have never faced each other. Cervantes, who lost in the first round of both Sydney and the Australian Open to start his year, enters Indian Wells off four South American clay-court events – Quito, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo – highlighted by a semifinal in the latter tournament before losing 6-1, 6-1 to fellow countryman Pablo Carreno Busta.
To tune up for his singles, Raonic will team with John Isner for an opening-round doubles match on Friday against Brits Colin Fleming and Andy Murray.
“I’ve always played well here,” Raonic said last year about Indian Wells where he lost in the semifinals to Roger Federer. “The conditions suit me. It’s always been a fun atmosphere playing here as a Canadian. It’s a tournament I look forward to. The facilities are amazing and it’s really catered in a big way to the players. That’s one reason why I enjoy it but it’s also the reason why many of us enjoy it.”
Vasek Pospisil, above, taking a break during practice on Wednesday, makes his debut Friday facing 19-year-old Jared Donaldson. Currently ranked No. 158, the 6-foot-2 Donaldson has not received as much hype as other promising young Americans such as Taylor Fritz (No. 80 and 18), Frances Tiafoe (No. 177 and 18) and Tommy Paul (No. 225 and 18).
Donaldson has just played one tour match in 2016, losing to compatriot Dennis Novikov 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3 in Delray Beach last month.
Pospisil, ranked No. 43, is a disappointing 2-7 so far in singles in 2016 but has won one doubles title – at the ATP 500 event in Rotterdam with Nicolas Mahut of France.
In the Indian Wells doubles, defending champions Pospisil and Jack Sock are seeded No. 6 and will take on Gilles Simon and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi in the first round.
Polansky into main draw
Peter Polansky, ranked No. 542, reached the main draw of BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday with a qualifying final-round 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Marcelo Aravelo of El Salvador. Using an injury-protected ranking of No. 171, he was able to get into the 48-player qualifying draw and win two matches to make the main draw and assure himself of a minimum first-round loser’s cheque of $11,970 (US).
It was a close encounter with Arevalo. Polansky controlled most rallies and was finally able to put away a tiring and leg-weary Aravelo when he cut down on his unforced errors.
He has drawn No 65-ranked Fernando Verdasco as a first-round opponent on Friday. The 32-year-old Spaniard, once known by admiring young female fans as ‘hot sauce,’ is only 2-3 in his 2016 matches despite his spectacular five-set victory over Rafael Nadal in the first round at the Australian Open in January.
Tributes to Bruno Agostinelli
The Canadian tennis community and tennis people from many other countries were shocked to hear of the accidental death on Wednesday of former Davis Cup player Bruno Agostinelli.
He was an All-American at the University of Kentucky and the hero of Canada’s 2009 Davis Cup victory over Peru – winning the fifth and deciding match to prevent Canada from dropping into Americas Zone Group II of the competition.
He was also a hitting partner with the Davis Cup team in Israel in 2011.
Here are testimonials by some players and ex-players who knew the 28-year-old, who was a national coach for under-14 players at Tennis Canada in Toronto.
Indian Wells post card
The graying of America is probably nowhere more obvious than in the California desert (gated) communities stretching east from Palm Springs.
The couple here were at the very top of 16,000-seat Stadium 1 for the first match of the tournament on Wednesday.
Nearby, just outside the stands from the older couple, were these two young girls at the opposite end of the age spectrum busy with other preoccupations.
NOTE: Next blog on Saturday (probably posted Sunday morning) as Bouchard plays in round two against Sloane Stephens and Raonic makes his Indian Wells debut against Inigo Cervantes.