The 2015 year started as many would have expected for Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard. Both reached the Australian Open quarter-finals and both lost to players who would be expected to beat them – Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova.
From there things began to become unstuck, but not really until Indian Wells in March. Raonic, beating Rafael Nadal to reach the semifinals where he lost to Roger Federer, attained what may have been the high point of his season. Bouchard, after easily putting away Lucie Hradecka and Coco Vandeweghe in her first two matches, ran into injury problems (an abdominal tear) in the fourth round and lost to qualifier Lesia Tsurenko. She has not been the same since. Her record following the Tsurenko match is 3-15 and her ranking has tumbled from No. 7 to start the year to No. 25. In the ‘Road to Singapore’ standings, based solely on 2014 results, she is No. 52.
As for Raonic, in his next tournament after Indian Wells, he lost 6-7(3), 7-6(6), 7-6(5) (no service breaks) to John Isner in the Miami Open fourth round. Next, on the clay in Monte Carlo, he retired with a foot injury in the quarter-finals against Tomas Berdych trailing 2-5 and is still yet to return to full fitness. There was foot surgery in Strasbourg, France, on May 13 for Morton’s Neuroma (a painful thickening of tissues around nerves leading to the toes) in his right foot. Everything since then has seemed like one step forward, two steps back.
In hindsight, it certainly appears that neither of them should have played Wimbledon. Bouchard had a grade two abdominal tear (at Indian Wells it had been a grade one-and-a-half) and Raonic admitted that he basically hurt all over (compensation for the foot?) after his third-round loss to Nick Kyrgios at the All England Club.
But it’s hard to criticize them for playing Wimbledon. First, it’s Wimbledon, and second, it just comes around once a year and if you skip it you lose a year of invaluable experience because it’s the only time in the season when players get a chance to play on grass – and at the cathedral of the sport.
On top of everything, Bouchard had been runner-up a year earlier and Raonic had reached the semifinals. So to sit on the sidelines – no matter that it probably made sense – was just not in their DNA.
Bouchard likely made another poor judgment – after losing to No. 85 Tsurenko in Indian Wells, No. 113 Tatjana Maria in Miami and No. 66 Lauren Davis in Charleston, she decided to play Fed Cup vs. Romania at home in Montreal and suffered humiliating defeats to No. 69 Alexandra Dulgheru and No. 104 Andreea Mitu.
Already on a downer, it might have been wiser to take a break to re-invigorate her game and get prepared for the outdoor clay-court season in Europe.
The summer has been miserable for both. Raonic only started hitting balls less than two weeks before Rogers Cup in Montreal and looked rusty in a 7-6(1), 7-6(1) loss to Ivo Karlovic and then needed treatment on his back during a 7-6(4), 6-4 loss to Feliciano Lopez in Cincinnati last week. So, he is 0-2 for the hard-court summer heading into the US Open.
It was easy to feel Raonic’s frustration after his loss in Montreal when he said, “I think the main thing is getting healthy. There’s very few things I wouldn’t give up for health right now. I’ve just got to really focus on that so it doesn’t hamper with my training or my matches.”
As for Bouchard, she will not be encouraged by a humbling 6-1, 6-0 loss to No. 47-ranked Roberta Vinci on Monday in New Haven. It was her worst loss, at least by the numbers, on her losing skid but the 32-year-old Italian already had three matches in the qualifying, played great and has such an unconventional net-rushing, backhand-slicing, drop-shotting gamestyle that there could be said to have been extenuating circumstances.
The lopsided score halts what had seemed like progress in losses to eventual Rogers Cup champion Belinda Bencic in the opening round in Toronto and to Elina Svitolina in Cincinnati, wrapped around a win over qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko. In Toronto, Bouchard, above practicing with a wrap on her right thigh, said, “it’s easy to let yourself get negative when you lose a couple of matches in a row or you know your body’s not feeling great. So it’s definitely been a tough road. And I feel like I’m, you know, at least not going downwards anymore. I’m trying to go on the right path.”
Opinions vary widely on the right path for Bouchard and the reasons for her current struggle brings to mind Winston Churchill’s famous phrase about Russia – “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
At the moment, it would seem that the obvious, and logical, option for Bouchard would be to re-unite with former (and longtime) coach Nick Saviano. He has known her since she went to his Florida academy at 12 years old and was with her through the success that took her to a career-high ranking of No. 5 last October. He knows her best and is probably the one person she would have the most faith in to restore her tennis to what it was at its peak.
But that probably couldn’t happen until 2016 – and would likely involve her approaching him with her tail firmly between her legs.
In the meantime, next up for Bouchard and Raonic is the US Open. The draw for the final Grand Slam of 2015 will be done on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. in New York and should provide a guideline for how well either of the top Canadians might fare.
It would be foolish to expect very much – maybe just that they can emerge healthy, psychologically unscathed and able to finish off a forgettable year in the fall in a manner that provides optimism for better things to come in 2016.
Nestor on a roll
Daniel Nestor won the 88th title of his career – his 28th at a Masters 1000 – on Sunday when he and partner Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France defeated Marcin Matkowski of Poland and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia 6-2, 6-2 in a 55-minute final in Cincinnati.
Nestor and Roger-Vasselin faced no break points and broke their opponents on four of nine chances with solid, effective service returns.
On the opposition side, Zimonjic was particularly weak, twice double-faulting to lose his serve and it was no surprise afterward that he apologized to the crowd for his woeful performance. Since they originally split up at the end of 2010 after winning two Wimbledons and one French Open, Nestor has a 10-6 record against his former partner.
With a runner-up finish (to Bob and Mike Bryan) in Montreal two weeks ago, and the win in Cincinnati, Nestor and Roger-Vasselin have moved into the No. 13 position in the year-long ATP Race. Nestor is also in the No. 18 spot with Rohan Bopanna and No. 29 with Leander Paes. If the points he has accumulated with those two other players are added to his points with Roger-Vasselin, he would be No. 7 in the 2015 team standings.
Nestor’s individual ATP ranking has moved up from No. 28 before Rogers Cup to No. 18 – while the 31-year-old Roger-Vasselin now ranks No. 17.
The two are slated to play through the US Open – Nestor turns 43 on day five, the 4th of September – with nothing certain after that. “Edouard’s regular partner Julien Benneteau (2014 Roland Garros champion with Roger-Vasselin) had been injured, so he asked me to play during the grass-court season,” Nestor explained. “At the time I was committed to Leander Paes, so I told him if things aren’t going well, we’ll talk after Wimbledon. That’s how it happened and it’s worked out well.”
At the presentation ceremony, Roger-Vasselin thanked Nestor and said that with him he had been able to win his first Masters 1000 title and earn a first-ever victory over the Bryan brothers – 6-4, 6-4 in the Cincy quarter-finals.
Also during the post-match speeches, Nestor joked that he had to thank Andy Murray for the extra rest for his opening match on the first day because the Scot allowed him to fly on a private jet with him directly from Montreal to Cincinnati after Rogers Cup ended on August 16.
Junior National Champs
There was great anticipation as two of the most promising Canadian junior boys in many years met in the final of the Under-18 Rogers Outdoor Junior National Championships on Wednesday, August 19.
The match was played at the Ontario Racquet Club in Mississauga, Ont., and featured top seed Félix Auger-Aliassime (above right) of Montreal and Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont.
Auger-Aliassime had sparked interest last month by reaching the quarter-finals of the National Bank Challenger event in Granby, Que., and getting an ATP ranking of No. 746 just weeks before he turned 15 on August 8.
Shapovalov, who won the Under-18 Rogers Indoor Junior Nationals in April, the same month he turned 16, won two rounds at Junior Wimbledon this year and was a practice partner with the Canadian Davis Cup team in Belgium in July.
The Under-18 final turned out to be surprisingly one-sided as Auger-Aliassime started out nervously and never really found his game against the in-form Shapovalov. The score was 6-2, 6-1 and the left-handed Shapovalov was full marks for the win, showing consistently aggressive play featuring a fine one-handed backhand that he drills with serious pace.
Both will play the Canadian Junior International in Repentigny, Que., next week and then Auger-Aliassime the US Open Juniors while Shapovalov will have to qualify at Flushing Meadows.
In contrast to the boys, the girls’ final which preceded it was a long, drawn-out affair lasting three hours. It was won by Bianca Andreescu (on right above) of Mississauga, Ont., as she overcame Vanessa Wong of Toronto, the 2015 Under-18 Rogers Indoor Junior Nationals champion, by a 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 score. The match was played in hot, humid conditions and Andreescu, just 15, had a little more firepower when it mattered most.
Along with Charlotte Robillard-Millette of Blainville, Que., and Katherine Sebov of Toronto, Andreescu will play in Repentigny and then all three will be main draw at the US Open Juniors.
There was a long wait before the boys singles final at the Junior Nationals, and Auger-Aliassime tried to break the monotony by watching a bit of the girls’ final – here with Andreescu running for a shot in the background.
US Open Changes
With the US Open now on ESPN and no longer on CBS, the tournament has reverted to a more conventional Grand Slam event scheduling.
· The first two rounds will be played on Monday and Tuesday – not over the first three days as in the past.
· Session times (11 a.m. and 7 p.m.) will remain the same through Wednesday Sept. 9.
· There is no day session on Thurs. Sept. 10 – with the women’s semifinals scheduled in the evening from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
· On Friday Sept. 11, the two men’s semifinals will run from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.
· The women’s final will be on Saturday, Sept. 12 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
· The men’s final will be on Sunday, Sept. 13 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
A Nerdy Ice Cream Guy
— Julie Boniface (@julie_boniface) August 18, 2015
Shortly after arriving in Cincinnati after winning Rogers Cup in Montreal, a disguised Andy Murray played along with a gag to surprise fans at the Western and Southern Open.