Genie Bouchard and Leylah Annie Fernandez confronted two different types of opponents in their qualifying matches at the Australian Open on Friday.
Bouchard played an amped-up Italian who wasn’t afraid to be bold while Fernandez faced a measured Japanese who was all about consistency and forcing the player on the other side of the net to make that one extra shot.
As it turned out, Bouchard didn’t have her best day and was beaten 6-4, 6-3 by No. 154-ranked Martina Trevisan of Italy while Fernandez came through early trouble to overcome No. 168-ranked Mayo Hibi of Japan 6-4, 6-4.
When this reporter arrived at the Bouchard – Trevisan match early in the opening set, he noted about the 26-year-old Italian that she was “feisty and game” and that she really “comes at you.” A day when Bouchard later claimed she felt slow was not a day to be playing the revved-up Trevisan. “I didn’t feel that great on the court,” Bouchard said. “It’s kind of like one of those days when I felt that things weren’t working. I didn’t feel like my usual self.”
Following her victory over Maddison Inglis of Australia on Thursday, Bouchard had said about the women’s tour, “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.”
On Friday in 1573 Arena (more full than the top picture suggests because the majority of spectators prefer to sit at the opposite, more shady end) it was Trevisan who seized the moment. She broke Bouchard’s serve in the final game of the first set with a pair of forcing shots that led to Bouchard errors.
The set took 47 minutes and the left-handed Trevisan matched Bouchard from the baseline – playing aggressively when she needed to and generally just being more solid. Bouchard wound up with 29 unforced errors for the match to just 13 by Trevisan.
What Bouchard will surely regret was the three break points she failed to convert in the opening game of the second set. That set her off on a five-game losing skid as she soon trailed 5-0. The last point was an unlikely ace by the Italian to punctuate a streak of one-sided tennis and ineffectual play by Bouchard. But the Canadian did manage to win three games but to close the gap to 5-3 before Trevisan held serve for the match. And on a day with most things going her way, she had two of her four aces in the final game. That included one on her first match point – a call that was confirmed by Hawk-Eye.
Trevisan, who qualified for a Grand Slam main draw for the first time, could hardly have been more thrilled as is obvious in the picture here taken seconds after the handshake at the net.
It was a windy day and that combined with Trevisan being a left-hander was not ideal for Bouchard. “It was kind of tricky conditions for me,” she said. “I was feeling heavy on the court and with the wind, and different spins and things like that, you have to be extra good with footwork. I just felt like I wasn’t.”
The 25-year-old from Montreal – 26 on the 25th of February – took the loss hard. “It’s tough – it’s the last round of qualies,” she said. “I felt like I was close and I really wanted to win.”
But she was also realistic adding, “life is not a straight line upwards. I just take the good with the bad. Sometimes you’ve just got to put your head down and grind – so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
About the possibility of playing Fed Cup for Canada in Biel, Switzerland, February 7th and 8th, Bouchard said, “there’s a chance yes. I’m not sure of my schedule. It depends on what tournaments I want to play. But there’s definitely a chance.”
Possibly her friendship with Canadian captain Heidi El Tabakh will weigh positively in her decision-making. For now, she’s entered in the WTA 125K event in Newport Beach, California, starting January 27th.
With Bouchard out, Fernandez becomes the last chance for a Canadian woman in the Australian Open main draw, especially after the unfortunate withdrawal of the last Grand Slam tournament winner – US Open champion Bianca Andreescu.
“I don’t know much about her,” Bouchard said about the 17-year-old Fernandez. “We actually warmed up together yesterday. She’s a nice girl but gosh I feel old – she’s like so much younger than me. I don’t know her at all.”
The left-handed dynamo from Montreal has a lot of the blinkered determination and drive that was the hallmark of Bouchard when she broke on the seen as a teenager.
On Friday in Court 5, Fernandez faced a cagey player in Hibi who has a one-handed backhand and predilection for hitting slices. The 23-year-old Japanese took a 3-0 lead in the opening set before Fernandez began to adjust to the lack of pace. She cut down on her errors – still making 39 unforced for the match – and took over the aggression quotient of the match – hitting 34 winners to just 13 for Hibi. “She was playing well and not missing at all and I was missing so much at some key moments,” Fernandez said about the start of the first set. “I was just happy I was able to fight and get into the set and to win it. She’s a very difficult player to play against, she doesn’t give you any rhythm.”
Runner-up in the Australian Open junior girls event a year ago and then winner of the 2019 French Open juniors, Fernandez said about now playing the pros, “I have to work harder and fight for almost every point. The ball comes faster and stronger. Today was a bit different, she sliced a lot and didn’t give me any pace but I was happy that I was able to find solutions.”
Players in the qualifying are allowed to talk to and consult with their coaches. Here Fernandez interacts with her coach Romain Deridder late in the second set.
In Saturday’s third and final round of qualifying, Fernandez will play No. 198-ranked Danielle Lao of the U.S. Lao, 28, went to the University of Southern California and is one of the shortest players on tour – listed at 5-foot-3.
“I know it’s going to be a very tough match,” said Fernandez, who’s just average height. “We both want to qualify so it’s going to be a fight – and I can’t wait.”
The two Canadian men in action on Friday – Brayden Schnur and Steven Diez – lost their second-round matches. Schnur was beaten 7-6(3), 6-3 by No. 158-ranked Kimmer Coppejans of Belgium and Diez lost 6-4, 7-5 to No. 212 Hiroki Moriya of Japan.
The Schnur – Coppejans match was tight in the first set until the 25-year-old Belgian pulled away in the tiebreak, helped by a forehand unforced error by Schnur on the first point to give him a lead that he soon stretched to 6-1. That’s when Schnur won two points.
The second set swung the Belgian’s way with a break in the sixth game. Timely converting of break points was key to the result – Coppejans was 2/2 while Schnur was 1/3.
Schnur, 24 and ranked No. 103, had several consultations with coach Frédéric Niemeyer. After the match Niemeyer spoke about his player and the match.
“It was just an average match by Brayden, he missed a lot of chances,” Niemeyer said. “There were points where he set up everything and then missed the finishing shot. Coppejans got more confident and Brayden started to hesitate a bit more.
“But it’s only his second tournament of the year so it’s really not a bad match. He’s getting back in shape. He was hurt – high in the back above the ribs – so we’ll build on it and see what happens in the next weeks. He hardly played during the preseason. He’s only been training for two or three weeks.”
The Diez – Moriya match, played in Arena 1573, had some major momentum shifts. Moriya fell behind 3-1 in the opening set only to win nine of the next 10 games to lead 6-4, 4-0.
Moriya was making all kinds of shots – including a screaming, backhand cross-court angled service return winner to go ahead 4-0 in the second set.
Diez was talking to himself and his courtside team and looking like he thought the match was a done deal. But suddenly Diez rallied as the 29-year-old Moriya got visibly nervous on the brink of winning. He had trouble keeping his forehand in the court. Diez ran off five games in a row but couldn’t quite get over the hump to force a third set. Moriya, hoping to qualify for the Aussie Open for the second time in seven years, tightened up his game got over the finish line to win in an hour and 37 minutes.
The winners/unforced errors ratio probably tells the story of the match – Moriya was 23/22 while Diez was 16/30. The 28-year-old was hoping to qualify for the main draw at a Grand Slam for the first time but fails in his 15th attempt.
MAIN DRAW CANADIANS
Monday, January 20:
(13) Denis Shapovalov vs. Marton Fucsovics (HUN)
(32) Milos Raonic vs. Radu Albot (MDA)
Tuesday, January 21:
(20) Félix Auger-Aliassime vs. qualifier
Vasek Pospisil vs. Ivo Karlovic (CRO)
AUSSIE POST CARD
Sydney is the most glamorous city in Australia, with cruise ships constantly docking in the harbour right across from the world-famous Opera House. Here a ship emerges from in front of the Opera House, while in the foreground a young girl photo-bombs the picture.