TEBBUTT: MILOS IS THE ONE
Unfortunately Milos Raonic was the only Canadian to survive a brutal US Open opening day for visitors from north of the border.
He took care of business with an efficient 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(1) victory over qualifier Taro Daniel of Japan. But all the other Canadians in action – Francoise Abanda, Sharon Fichman, Vasek Pospisil and Aleksandra Wozniak – were eliminated, even if there were extenuating circumstances in three of the losses.
More about that later.
Raonic, seeded fifth, beat Daniel on Louis Armstrong Stadium with a the help of 21 aces – including a 140 mph second serve ace in the sixth game of the second set.
He had 58 winners to go with 29 unforced errors and had solid serve numbers – 67 % first serves made, 89% first serve points won and 59 % second serve points won.
“I feel like just the way I’ve prepared for this event,” he said comparing Monday’s match with the 11 others (9-2) he has played this summer on hard courts, “I’m feeling more comfortable than any of the other ones, so that’s a good thing.”
Raonic is a kind of control freak when it comes to tennis, and he said after beating Daniel that one reason he likes to take the week off before a Grand Slam is to be able to practice on the actual courts he will play on during the tournament. He explained that last week he practiced twice on Arthur Ashe Stadium and twice on Armstrong.
About that 140 mph (see picture below) second serve smoker, which got gasps from the crowd, he casually explained, “I just have freedom to go for it and I hit it like a first serve. That’s pretty much about it.
“I wouldn’t do it on maybe, let’s say a break point down, that flat and hard. But when I’m up 40-Love, I feel like I’m going to make it about 50 per cent of the time, so why not?”
It’s interesting to note that the 140 mph second serve was two mph faster than his fastest first serve. That serve was also a full 40 mph faster than Daniel’s fastest second serve – a discrepancy that almost always works in Raonic’s favour – but not usually to the degree it did against the 22-year-old Japanese, who was born in New York, lived in Japan and then moved to Spain when he was about 12.
In the second round, Raonic will renew acquaintances with Peter Gojowczyk – the multi-consonanted German who beat him 6-4, 6-4 in his first match on the grass in Halle right after the French Open in June.
Gojowczyk (Goy-auk-chick), is a 25-year-old qualifier who ranks No. 124. He has been as high as No. 99. He has overcome a serious foot blisters problem and in April scored a huge upset when he defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6(8) in the fourth set in Davis Cup on an indoor court.
Gojowczyk is only playing in his sixth Grand Slam event while Raonic is in his 16th. But he is dangerous because he has a big serve and a willingness to really go for his shots.
On Monday, Raonic debuted his US Open New Balance apparel, which was highlighted by a hot yellow patterned shirt.
“I like it,” Raonic said, adding with a smile, “it’s a nice colour. It’s a nice outfit for New York.”
There was another sartorial change – a slight shortening of his heretofore baggy shorts. Scuttlebutt has it that a certain old tennis writer, and Milos’ mom Vesna, wouldn’t mind if they got even shorter!
FOUR UP AND FOUR DOWN
The toughest losses on Monday for the Canadians had to be Abanda and Pospisil. There were injuries issues with Fichman and Wozniak, and probably with Pospisil to a lesser extent.
He was beaten in two hours and 53 minutes on the new Court 5 by Italian veteran (28) Simone Bolelli 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
Pospisil started well, taking advantage of some iffy form by Bolelli but was unable to maintain his edge. “I still don’t have too much experience with five-set matches,” he said, “and how to manage the energy.”
It was a very even match, although the No. 85-ranked Italian did have a little more juice on his forehand in the rallies – until Pospisil lost his serve at 3-4 in the final set. At 30-all in that game, he got a little unlucky when Bolelli shanked a service return that looked to be flying long but somehow landed just inside the baseline.
On the ensuing point, Pospisil’s attacking forehand hit the net cord, popped up, and gave Bolelli an easy put-way backhand down-the-line.
“The second and third sets I didn’t play well at all but in the fourth set I found a good groove,” he said. “That game in the fifth was quite unlucky because I played a good return game before that and he slapped some winners.
“Then the 30-all point he tries to hit the return as hard as he can and he frames it. I was thinking it was going long the whole time until it bounced and I wasn’t ready to play it. So that was two unlucky points but that’s how it goes.”
Pospisil revealed that he had been bothered by a shoulder problem leading in to the US Open. “Four days ago I could hardly serve. Now it’s just some inflammation and it’s not a big deal.
“It still affects you on the court. I can still serve okay but it’s not the way I’m used to serving.
With a good-humoured laugh he added, “the shoulder is probably the most important joint in my body – it’s unfortunate.”
He did say that the rest of his body is in fine shape, and that includes the back which was a big obstacle for him the first six months of the year.
After playing five weeks in a row before a week of rest heading into Flushing Meadows, he is feeling a little weary but will now play the doubles with Jack Sock. He conceded that doubles is not the priority and that, if he and Sock lose, it would give him some much-needed rest – heading into the Davis Cup World Group Play-off tie with Colombia from September 12-14 in Halifax.
Abanda, who amazingly sailed through three rounds of qualifying at the loss of just six games, was quite upset with herself after losing 6-3, 7-5 to No. 26-seeded Sabine Lisicki.
She was particularly upset with not finishing off the second set which she led 5-4. At 30-all, there was a massive 28-stroke rally with both players not giving an inch. Abanda stayed with the 2013 Wimbledon finalist blow for blow until Lisicki hit a blistering, low angled cross-court forehand out of nowhere to win the point. One point later it was 5-all and Abanda had effectively lost her chance to extend matters into a third set.
It was interesting to listen to Anbanda after the match, expecially when she talked about her opponent who had 36 unforced errors to her 23, and who had nine aces but also 10 double faults.
“I’m disappointed,” Abanda, 17, said. “I know how good I am and I know I could have done better. She didn’t play her best tennis, missed a lot and gave me lots of opportunities. It’s a match I could have won. I didn’t take advantage of that chance in the second set.”
She didn’t show any intimidation playing Lisicki. “This year I’ve played with the pros, so I’m familiar with that level,” she said, noting that she played (6-1, 3-6, 6-0) with world No. 12 Dominika Cibulkova at Rogers Cup earlier this month.
Abanda now faces an interesting dilemma – and happily she is feeling healthy at the moment – over a long chronic problem with her shoulder.
Should she stay in New York and play the US Open juniors next week, or should she take a brief rest and then prepare for the Coupe Banque Nationale in Quebec City starting on September 8th.
She is already very much in the ‘pro tour’ frame of mind and the Quebec City WTA event is a great chance to build on her current No. 205 ranking.
With the 50 points she earned for qualifying and playing the first round, she is assured of being in the Top 200 at the end of the US Open.
Not a bad situation for another promising Canadian, and another one who has had to go through injury challenges on her way to possible greater glories in tennis.
FICHMAN AND WOZNIAK
Things did not work out well for two Canadian women in the first round of matches on day one.
Wozniak, suffering with a shoulder issue, was no match for No. 31 seed Kurumi Nara, losing 6-2, 6-1 to the 22-year-old Japanese in 59 minutes.
Sharon Fichman wasn’t even on Louis Armstrong Stadium (at top) that long, losing 6-1, 6-0 in 47 minutes to No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska.
Unfortunately, neither she nor Wozniak was anywhere near their best and it was tough to watch at times. Particularly Fichman who obviously could not move as well as she would have liked.
She had meniscus surgery on her left knee at the end of July and was also bothered by a grade two ankle sprain on the same leg.
“Only I know what I’ve been going through,” she said afterward. “Considering everything I’ve had to handle on my plate at the moment, I did the best I could and I’m proud of that.”
Fichman, 23 and currently ranked No. 112, is not sure how long it will take her to get back into peak condition after injuring the left knee playing World Team Tennis for the Boston Lobsters.
“All I know is I’m doing a great job after the surgery and the ankle and everything I’m dealing with.”
Talking with someone in the know, I suggested that Fichman may have been lucky to be playing someone who she was probably not going to beat. If, in her condition, she had played someone she had a chance to win against, she might have pushed herself more and risked aggravating her injuries.
Fichman said that there is no chance she will be able to play the Coupe Banque Nationale in Quebec City beginning in two weeks.
Wozniak is somewhat doubtful about her chances for the Couple Banque Nationale. “We’ll see in the next few days if I can play Quebec City,” she said after a dispiriting loss to energetic Nara.
There was a large chunk of kinesio tape on her right shoulder, which has given her serious problems in the past – keeping her out of action for large parts of both 2012 and 2013.
“Nothing worked today, a tough day at the office,” Wozniak summed up about the loss to Nara. At first, she appeared disinclined to say much about the shoulder, conceding only that, “my shoulder is not perfect.”
Then she admitted that it had been bothering her for three weeks and that it’s getting near the end of the season and it’s a little bit tired.
“Of course, you worry,” she said about the issue. “When my shoulder is hurting, my arm gets a little heavy. They say it’s fatigue…but we’ll see.”
Wozniak, ranked No. 97, defeated Vesna Dolonc of Serbia in the first round at Flushing Meadows a year ago, so will lose 100 ranking points.
Both she and Fichman, cold comfort, will at least be able to leave the event richer by $35,754 (US), the first-round losers paycheque.
AROUND THE COURTS
- It appears that The Times is still doing a thorough investigation of the plagiarism charges against suspended tennis correspondent Neil Harman. Following revelations that he used unattributed material from other writers in writing several Wimbledon annuals over the past few years, there is doubt about him returning to the tennis beat or other sports beats for The Times.
- Speaking with a Spanish reporter, there still appears to be doubts about whether the No. 2 Spanish woman Garbine Muguraza will compete for Spain internationally. The 20-year-old Muguruza, who famously upset Serena in the second round at Roland Garros this year, current ranks No. 26, ten spots behind Carla Suarez Navarro at No. 16. Her mother is Venezuelan and her father is from Spain, so she could opt to represent either country because she has yet to play Fed Cup for either nation. It is believed she will make the choice next year in order to have eligibility for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
- The Belgian reporters crew has been drastically reduced this year – down from seven or eight to just two in one year. Gone are the halcyon days of Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. At least this year the Belgians can get excited by the stylish David Goffin. The 23-year-old world No. 56 has been on a tear this summer – taking a 25-0 winning streak into last week’s ATP event in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he qualified before losing to Jerzy Janowicz. Goffin had won three Challengers as well as the ATP 250 event in Kitzbuhel, Austria, entering Winston-Salem. He should win his first match on Wednesday when he plays fellow Belgian Niels Desein, a qualifier.
LA BELLE MARIA
Living up to her image in the Big Apple – Maria Sharapova in front of the Metropolitan Museum.