In the words of that great Spanish thinker Rafael Nadal, on a day when he was eliminated 6-2, 6-0, 7-6(5) by Tomas Berdych at the Australian Open, “‘if’ doesn’t exist in sport. If, if, if…never comes. The thing is you have to do it.”
Nadal was answering a question asking him to speculate about what might have happened ‘if’ he had won the third set and forced a fourth against Berdych.
The matter of “if” could also apply to Genie Bouchard after she was outplayed 6-3, 6-2 by Maria Sharapova in her quarter-final matchon Tuesday. Basically she was second-best right from the get-go but there was one obvious occasion when she might have been able to rattle her No. 2-seeded opponent. After losing serve with some sketchy play – three unforced errors in the first four points – in the opening game and eventually falling behind 3-1, Bouchard got back to 3-2 and then had two break points. They were the only two she would have the entire day as it turned out – and she made backhand unforced errors hitting big, both shots landing long.
“I knew I kind of wanted to go for it,” she explained about the number of her shots that landed well over the baseline. “I didn’t feel like I was dominating the ball like I usually do.”
If – that word again – Bouchard had leveled the score at 3-all, maybe Sharapova would not have swung so freely and dominated rallies as much as she did.
“I felt under pressure the whole time,” Bouchard said, “a bit on my back foot.”
The slant of play Sharapova’s way is evident in the total points won – 66 for the Russian and just 46 for her opponent in a match that lasted one hour and 18 minutes.
Sharapova was 19/18 winners to unforced errors while Bouchard was 18/30.
It was a big disappointment for the 20-year-old Montrealer, who turns 21 on February 25. She had basically looked solid in her four wins at Melbourne Park and appeared fitter than any time since her 6-3, 6-0 loss to Petra Kvitova in the Wimbledon final last July.
Bouchard and Sharapova play similar first-strike tennis and it was no contest who was superior in Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday. Like Sharapova, Bouchard was trying to go after her opponent’s second serve, but she just made way too many errors. A sharper day returning and the score would certainly have been closer.
After a scary match in the second round when she had to save two match points against unheralded qualifier Alexandra Panova, Sharapova has tightened up her game and lost only two, three and five games in her next three matches.
There may have been an extra incentive for her, with word getting around that she was upset when she heard that Bouchard had suggested neither of them played well in a memorable 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 Roland Garros semifinal last June. “I didn’t feel like I was playing great tennis the whole time,” Bouchard said about that semifinal after her win over Irina-Camelia Begu on Sunday. “I felt like I was close to her. I probably wasn’t…we were both maybe a bit off.”
Most people recall the level as very high – with Bouchard’s service returning particularly standing out.
Sharapova certainly had her game face on (above) before the match and later took a clear swipe at Bouchard when she was asked if she would like to have an army like the ‘Genie Army’ to follow her and sing songs to her on court. “I actually prefer writing my own songs and singing them,” she said. “I think I did a pretty good job today.”
When a follow-up asked her if she had ever written song, she replied, “no I haven’t written songs.”
The 2015 Australian Open experience was hardly a complete loss for Bouchard. She beat the players she was supposed to beat as the No. 7 seed, but found herself outclassed by an in-form and motivated Sharapova.
In all the amazing advances she has made over the past year since breaking through by making the Aussie Open semifinal a year ago, there remains the fact that she has not yet beaten any of the elite heavy-hitters in the women’s game – Serena Williams, Sharapova and Petra Kvitova. (The win over Serena Williams three weeks ago in Hopman Cup doesn’t really count – it’s an exhibition with no ranking points on the line. And Williams had arrived late in Perth and was really not seaworthy yet.)
For the moment, Bouchard will ponder her coaching arrangement going forward after splitting with long-time coach and mentor Nick Saviano late last year. Diego Ayala, whom she had been associated with since her younger years at Saviano’s academy in Plantation, Florida, acted as her coach for the Australian summer season.
“I’m happy with the team we had here (including trainer Scott Byrnes, Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau and physio Samantha Cox),” Bouchard said. “I think we did okay, but it’s something I need to adjust. Now that the tournament is over for me, I’m going to look at these decisions and see whether I need to make one or not.”
Canada plays two-time defending champion Czech Republic – likely without Kvitova and Lucie Safarova (but with Karolina Pliskova and Barbara Zahlavova Strycova) – in Quebec City February 7-8. It’s Canada’s first ever presence in the elite eight-team World Group and Bouchard is the key member of the team.
When asked at the end of her Tuesday media conference whether she was going to play, she adopted a rather flip attitude looking over at her agent Jill Smoller, smiling and saying, “well I don’t know if I’m playing or not. Am I playing Jill? Well, I’m going to go visit the family, that’s for sure. Take some time off, rest the body a bit.”
Pressed as to why she would not play, Bouchard said, “that’s something I was going to decide after the tournament. You know, like my tournament ended half an hour ago, so I’m still going to talk to my team and make the decision for me if I can play or not.”
So, Bouchard’s Australian 2015 sojourn is over, not what she had hoped for but also not exactly a step back. There’s definitely something to build on there, and a better awareness of how far she has to go with three more Grand Slams and lots of important tournaments remaining this season.
Raonic vs. Djokovic
Milos Raonic looks for his first career win over Novak Djokovic, and over a No. 1-ranked player, when he faces the Serb in a quarter-final match at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday (3:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday in Canada).
Here are their previous meetings:
2014 Paris-Bercy: Final – Djokovic 6-2, 6-3
2014 Roland Garros: Quarters – Djokovic 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-4
2014 Rome: Semi – Djokovic 6-7(5), 7-6(4), 6-3
2013 Davis Cup: Belgrade – Djokovic 7-6(1), 6-2, 6-2
The weather forecast is for another cold evening in Melbourne, with the temperature around 13 degrees C. It was mentioned in this space yesterday that Djokovic didn’t seem that comfortable in the chill on Monday night against Gilles Muller – and it possibly affected his normally impeccable movement. As well, he commented about how, with the cold, “there wasn’t much bounce in the ball.”
If the ball stays low and Raonic is still able to power through the court, it could definitely increase his chances.
Above all, if he can raise his game to the level he did in the Brisbane final against Roger Federer three weeks ago, there’s no doubt he’s in with a decent chance against his good friend Djokovic.
Nestor into Mixed Quarters
Defending champions Kristina Mladenovic of France and Daniel Nestor moved into the quarter-finals of the Aussie Open mixed doubles with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands and Florin Mergea of Romania on Tuesday.
During the post-match on-court interview, Nestor joked, “yeah, I have a new thing now – it’s mixed doubles.”
About Krajicek and Mergea, he said, “they’re very talented and both of them are still in the other doubles events.”
As usual, he was complimentary about the 21-year-old (half his age) Mladenovic. “Playing with her is not hard,” he said, “she hits like a man and it makes it a lot easier for me.”
Mladenovic seemed pumped to be progressing in the mixed doubles. “It’s fantastic to be in the second week,” she said. “We’re the defending champions and we have good memories coming back here.”
Melbourne post card
There’s free transportation in the core of Melbourne and dedicated trams that travel the four quick stops from the main crossroads of Flinders and Swanston Streets to Melbourne Park. The people here are headed, in one of the modern trams, to Rod Laver Arena in the evening earlier this week.