TEBBUTT: MILOS, EUGENIE – FEATS ON CLAY
Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard are into the third round of the French Open after wins on Wednesday in Paris.
Both had less than ideal first sets but both prevailed with relative ease – Raonic defeating promising 20-year-old Czech Jiri Vesely 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-1 while Bouchard, after a subpar opening set, ousted German veteran Julia Goerges 2-6, 6-2, 6-1.
While Raonic is only 23, his match savvy showed in overcoming the impressive but still raw Vesely, especially in the first set when the Czech got a real sniff of winning it.
He broke Raonic on his third break point in the seventh game when Raonic missed a backhand volley into the net. Vesely then held fairly comfortably to 5-3 and had two break points/set points with Raonic serving down 5-3.
It’s fairly rare to have break points in successive Raonic service games and Vesely may have gotten a little cocky because he made a critically poor decision. Raonic was struggling to make first serves and when Vesely got a break point/set point at 5-4, 30-40 on the Raonic serve, he deviated from his solid hitting and tried a backhand drop shot that found its fate in the net. The next break point/set point Raonic snuffed out with an ace.
Vesely probably assumed he could then serve out the set at 5-4 but he got a little nervy and Raonic capitalized to break back. That flubbed drop shot suddenly looked very costly in hindsight.
Raonic eventually carried that momentum into the tiebreak, getting the key mini-break to 4-3 and riding it to a 7-4 final margin.
“You’re just dealing with and sort of knowing the opportunities,” Raonic responded when asked if his experience had made the difference against Vesely. “Both times (also at 0-2 in the second set), I was able to break back soon after I got broken. It was just sort of using the right approach and the right attitude.”
Except for the two service breaks against him, Raonic played at a high level – really crushing his forehands and backhands from the back of the court. The confidence of his fine showing against Novak Djokovic in the semifinals in Rome two weeks ago appears to still be with him.
“I feel I have significantly improved,” said the world No. 9, “and I feel like we have been doing a lot of work not only on the court but even bigger amounts off the court. It’s allowing me to move better (see footwork above) and be in a better position – sort of control my body better in those tough situations.”
His hitting tempo is noticeably up from recent months, and so is the courtside support from his main coach, Ivan Ljubicic. The former world No. 3 used to be more restrained in his support but even he has stepped up his game – frequently yelling out “bravo” to acknowledge fine play by his charge.
While the backhand and forehand are now hit harder and with more consistency, the serve remains as awesome as ever. Vesely is a big guy – at 6-foot-6 he is an inch taller than Raonic and weights the same, 198 pounds. He hits pretty big and his average first serve speed was not totally dwarfed by Raonic’s – as is often the case with the opposition. Raonic’s average first-serve speed was 222 km/hr. Vesely was just six km/hr behind at 216.
But Raonic, who loves to go for his second serve, left the Czech in the dust in terms of fastest serve speed on the second delivery. When he was really feeling it late in the third set, Raonic blasted one at 225 km/hr. That made Vesely’s fastest second serve of 170 km/hr seem almost like slow motion.
All and all an encouraging performance by Raonic – 49 winners vs. 25 unforced errors – and it earns him a spot in Friday’s third round against Gilles Simon of France. They played in the quarter-finals in Estoril, Portugal, in 2011 with Raonic winning 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3 in a two-day truncated match disrupted by rain.
“I think I’m a much better player than I was back then,” Raonic said, “but at the same time I believe he plays much better here than he does throughout the rest of the clay events. It’s going to be a difficult match. I think I will have my opportunities to take control and dictate – and that’s going to be the most important thing.”
Simon is in good form and put on a spectacular, uber-aggressive display against Rafael Nadal in Rome before losing 7-6(1), 6-7(4), 6-2. If he maintains that form, it should be a fascinating match-up between Raonic’s power-ball and Simon’s crafty counter-punching.
There’s a chance the match could be on Court Philippe Chatrier because Roland Garros officials traditionally like to showcase French players in the “big house.”
After being on Court Suzanne Lenglen on Wednesday, it appears Roger Federer (vs. Dmitry Tursunov) will return to Chatrier on Friday. That means it’s probably between Simon – Raonic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – Jerzy Janowicz for the other men’s spot in Chatrier. Novak Djokovic, after having the stage in Chatrier on Wednesday, is likely to be over on Lenglen (vs. Marin Cilic).
“That would be a great opportunity, but I haven’t really given it too much thought,” Raonic said about the possibility of playing in 14,911-seat Chatrier. “It would be something gratifying in a way – just because this one here (Chatrier), and at Wimbledon (Centre Court), I haven’t played on either of those centre courts.”
He played and lost to Lleyton Hewitt in Rod Laver Arena in 2011 and in Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2012 to Andy Murray.
Looking ahead to facing Simon in Paris, he recalled that third-round 4-6, 6-3, 7-5(5), 6-3 loss to Hewitt in front of the Aussie’s home crowd and said, “I think the only thing it brought out was the best in Lleyton. I don’t really think it got down on me.”
He was blunt in stating his approach, fortified by Davis Cup in foreign lands such as Mexico, Israel and Serbia, to playing in front of what could be a hostile crowd. “The lines are the same,” he said. “The court’s the same – go out there and play tennis.”
On Wednesday, it was Kids Day at Roland Garros and there were a bunch of them on Court 3 supporting Raonic and frequently holding up a Canadian flag.
Raonic said about the group (in picture above), “it pumps a little more energy on a bit of a gloomy day.”
Bouchard’s morning at Roland Garros started off slowly – in fact she had to wait about 10 minutes after the warm-up and before the first game was played because Goerges decided to return to the locker room to take off her leggings.
She seemed a bit annoyed about how long it took Goerges, but managed a quizzical smile (above) to her courtside support group as she waited.
Once the match began, Bouchard was nowhere near her best. She lost the opening game on the Goerges serve and then seemed to be alright when she led 40-love on her own serve in the next game…before losing it.
Unforced errors just flooded into her game and basically her forehand was a no-show in the 33-minute first set.
It may have been payback for Goerges’ long absence from the court at the outset, but Bouchard took a bathroom break after the first set. When asked about whether she actually had to go to the bathroom, she answered somewhat cryptically with a smile, “I did. I have a small bladder.”
Goerges would later say that she thought her tactic of hitting high balls to Bouchard was responsible for her success in the first set. But a better explanation was 15 unforced errors by Bouchard compared to eight for herself.
The match made a subtle shift in the fourth game of the second set with Goerges on serve ahead 2-1. Bouchard began to steady and find the court with her aggressive hitting.
If that was subtle, what happened next was a full-fledged barrage of Bouchard brilliance – winners and forcing shots, combined with a drop in accuracy from ‘wristy’ ground strokes of Goerges. That resulted in a 10-game run that took Bouchard from 1-2 in the second set to 5-1 in the third.
“It was important for me to just focus on my game and what I needed to do on the court,” Bouchard said about her mental re-adjustment after the poor opening set, “and not worry about my opponent or the score…things like that.”
It was a cool, somewhat windy day and maybe Bouchard just needed a little more time to get in touch with her tennis. “It was really me who wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do in the first set,” she said. “It just wasn’t good enough. I pulled myself together and started playing the way I need to play and was able to take control.”
As a result of Wednesday’s shock upset of top seed and defending champion Serena Williams – a 6-2, 6-2 loser to 20-year-old Garbine Muguruza of Spain – the top half of the women’s draw has suddenly become a little less fearsome.
Even closer to Bouchard, things have opened up. Instead of No. 13-ranked Flavia Pennetta as expected, Bouchard will now face No. 99 Johanna Larsson of Sweden in Friday’s third round.
Also, happening in the top half yesterday, 19-year-old Anna Schmiedlova of Slovakia knocked out Venus Williams and 18-year-old American Taylor Townsend upset No. 21 Alizé Cornet.
Schmieldova is ranked No. 56 while Townsend, in on a wild card exchange between the French Tennis Federation and the United States Tennis Association, is farther back at No. 205.
Bouchard won the 2012 Wimbledon junior doubles title with Townsend, and she and her group may be poised to make waves even if No. 8-ranked Maria Sharapova – slated to have played Serena in the quarter-finals – would appear to be the biggest beneficiary of the ouster of the world No. 1.
Muguruza, the winner over Serena, ranks No. 35 and there is also 21-year-old Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia, ranked No. 72, in the 16 players remaining in the top half of the draw.
“I think the younger generation is really starting to put pressure on the top players,” Bouchard said about herself and her contemporaries. “I mean 30-year-olds are having some success but I also feel like some 20-year-olds are having success as well.
“It makes the game really interesting. I think we’re knocking on the door and close to being really good.”
While all those young players are lurking, for the moment Bouchard will next face a 25-year-old in Larsson and then either a 26-year-old in Angelique Kerber or a 31-year-old in Daniela Huntuchova in the round-of-16 if she is successful on Friday.
NESTOR & ZIMONJIC OFF TO SUCCESSFUL START
Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic stretched their match win streak to nine with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Dmitry Tursunov of Russia and Matthew Ebden of Australia in French Open first-round doubles action on Wednesday.
Champions at Roland Garros in 2010, the third-seeded Nestor and Zimonjic are riding the wave of their recent titles at Masters 1000 events in Rome and Madrid leading into Roland Garros.
On Wednesday, they debuted their new matching Asics gear (see above).
Also winning on Wednesday was Sharon Fichman. Partnering Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, she advanced to the second round with an upset of the No. 9 seeds, Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Safarova of Czech Republic. Fichman and Pavlyuchenkova – junior champions together at Roland Garros in 2006 – won by a 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-1 score.
PARIS POST CARD
This is not a regular Paris city bus – but still you sometimes get the feeling that the French can’t do anything without somehow employing something from the English language.