TEBBUTT: OH WHAT A NIGHT!
One of the more memorable nights in the history of the Canadian Open (a.k.a. Rogers Cup) began with an entertaining 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory by Milos Raonic over Julien Benneteau of France.
The second set featured two breaks of the Raonic serve – a rare occurrence – but the No. 6 seed got a break of serve in the opening game of the final set and carefully rode it all the way it to a spot in Friday’s quarter-finals.
The match, lasting one hour and 47 minutes, finished at 8:30 p.m. – plenty of time for Roger Federer to finish off his opponent Marin Cilic before midnight and the beginning of August 8th – his 33rd birthday. Or so everyone thought, especially when he had a match point at the 90-minute mark – leading 6-5 in the second set with Cilic serving.
Federer wound up failing to convert six match points before he missed wide with a forehand to lose a mammoth 19-minute game.
Cilic had a second life and the rowdy crowd, after the zaniness of the six match points come and gone, stood and gave the players a standing ovation.
All the drama could easily have been avoided when Federer had his fifth match point at 5-6. A textbook forehand approach down-the-line got a backhand pass cross-court just waiting to be dispatched on the volley. But what looked like a sure backhand volley winner into the open court somehow ended up in the top of the net. He then whacked his racquet on the top of the net. Later, he would say that he got a little mixed up in his footwork and that he actually regretted a couple of the other match point chances more than that particular miss.
On an increasingly frigid night, the full lower bowl in the Stadium Court had dwindled to about two thirds full when Federer finally broke serve in the 11th game of the final set and then held serve on a backhand long by Cilic to wrap up a 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 6-4 win.
On the Rolex clock in Stadium Court it was 11:30 and the match had ended on Federer’s seventh match point at the 2:38 mark – a full hour and 10 minutes after he had his first match point.
“It was a thrilling match,” he said on-court after the match, “I hope I can keep it up tomorrow.”
There was no magical formula for rebounding from the disappointment of not finishing off the match in two sets. Federer insisted that he just had to “keep on playing.”
The win gives him a perfect 5-0 head-to-head with Cilic and on Friday evening he will face another opponent he has never lost to – he’s 14-0 against David Ferrer.
“Nerve wracking,” was the way Federer described the two-hour and 39-minute cliffhanger with Cilic. “It’s nice winning those kind of matches, because I also lost a bunch in my career. Especially this season I have lost some closer ones, especially in the stretch from Indian Wells (Djokovic), Miami (Nishikori), Monaco (Wawrinka), Rome (Chardy) and Paris (Gulbis). (He might have added Djokovic in that five-set final at Wimbledon.)
“There were a lot of them sort of like that, so from that standpoint I’m very happy I came through tonight. I thought Marin played really well, especially for longer periods as well. I’m happy I was able to find a way tonight.”
It was 00:15 a.m. on Friday when Federer made it to the interview room, and one reporter asked him a birthday question. It was maybe not one he would have wanted to ponder that late at night, but in his typically thoughtful, patient manner, he did.
Q. I was going to ask the birthday question. Of all your records and achievements over…
ROGER FEDERER: Becoming 33 has been my biggest one (laughter).
Q. What's the one you're most proud of?
ROGER FEDERER: I don’t know. I mean, for me maybe becoming world No. 1, you know, or winning Wimbledon probably, something like that. Just making it on the tour overall. It was not like a goal for me. It was more like a dream. So, anyway, so much more than I ever thought it would be. I always say that. I know it’s a boring answer but it really is the case.
Just want you people to understand that, that one tournament more or less at this point doesn’t change much, but it’s in the emotions and in the grind or in the enjoyment or in the way that I play that I really can actually enjoy it out there.
So for me probably becoming world No. 1 in 2004 or winning Wimbledon 2003 was one of my biggest moments. <<
Raonic’s victory over Benneteau was definite progress for the local favourite after his sketchy down-to-the-wire 4-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(4) victory over Jack Sock on Wednesday night in his opening match.
“I was much more in a comfort zone,” Raonic said. “I had to adjust a little bit after playing poorly in that second set to lose my serve twice. But other than that, in the other two sets that I won, I didn’t face a single break point.”
There was more variety and finesse in the Raonic repertoire versus Benneteau than is often the case. He showed fine touch around the net and, midway through the third set, won a rally with an improvised forehand sliced approach followed by a crisp forehand volley winner that got a rousing round of applause from the revved up crowd.
Raonic likes the nocturnal vibe. “It’s okay for my game,” he said about playing at night. “I requested it from the start, and I sort of groove in it. I enjoy playing at night. More people come out because of work, and the atmosphere…when it gets dark, you can only see from the lights, you can’t really see around (in the crowd.) The atmosphere gets a little more hard core.”
On Friday, as he acknowledged in his post-match on-court interview, he will be hoping for more crowd support. Across the net will be one of his closest friends on the tour – 32-year-old Feliciano Lopez. The left-handed Spaniard has one of the more artful games in tennis. He’s accomplished at the net, has a good serve, can whale the forehand and defends adequately with his sliced backhand.
The No. 25-ranked Lopez beat Raonic in their first meeting in his hometown of Madrid in 2011 – but Raonic won their two subsequent encounters in 2013 – 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 at the US Open and 6-4, 6-3 in Bangkok.
“I’ve played well the last few times against him,” Raonic said, “I’ve sort of had a better understanding of what I need to do. Hopefully I can produce that same type of level and have similar results.”
The match with Benneteau on Thursday turned when the Frenchman made four unforced errors in the opening game of the final set.
One of the more analytical players, the No. 47-ranked Benneteau said about that game and the dilemma of playing Raonic, “there are return games when he puts his returns all over the place. Then, all of a sudden – and I knew it because I watched his match last night (vs. Jack Sock) with Gael (Monfils). All of a sudden, you don’t know why, he puts all his returns in play for three or four points – and that’s what happened. I was surprised. I wasn’t a vigilant as I should have been. That was the key to the match. It’s really maddening.”
Post Script: Inside the white maple leaf on Raonic’s red shirt are the words “ad mari usque ad mare,” which is from the Canadian coat of arms. It means “from sea to sea.”
The designer at New Balance, who was doing Raonic’s clothing, saw the inscription, liked it and decided to add it to the shirt.
NO LONGER STANDING
There was a certain irony to Maria Sharapova and Novak Djokovic welcoming visitors to the ‘Rogers Connected’ lounge on Thursday, the same day the two exited this year’s events in Montreal and Toronto.
Sharapova was playing just her second match since losing a squeaker round-of-16 match at to Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon.
She struggled a bit in her opening round 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over Garbine Muguruza and had trouble getting going against an in-form Carla Suarez-Navarro on Thursday.
Things looked dire when she trailed 3-1, love-40 on the Suarez-Navarro serve in the final set. But she rallied from that dicey situation and got back to 2-3 on serve.
After the next point, rain fell and the match was delayed. Upon resumption, Suarez-Navarro ran off three games and wrapped up a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 victory.
Clearly Sharapova is a slow starter, and when it seemed like she might finally be getting her teeth into the match back on serve in the final set, the rain arrived – not at an opportune time.
Still, to her credit, Sharapova made no excuses afterward, and said when asked about the fateful rain delay at 2-3 in the third set, “I’ve never been a player to think about ‘what if’ because that did not happen. I have to face what’s in front of me.”
That would be Cincinnati next week, while the Couple Rogers is without its two glamour girls – Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard.
Djokovic did not make nearly the match of it that Sharapova did, losing timidly 6-2, 6-2 to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
He had won 11 matches in a row against Tsonga but was really not in it on Thursday afternoon in the Stadium Court at the Rexall Centre.
His answer may have sounded like a joke but, asked when he realized that he really didn’t have it today, the top seed said, “already when I lost a break in the first set at one-all. From the beginning til the end, the only game I felt great in was the first game of the match.”
Djokovic offered no explanation – denying that a long struggle against Gael Monfils on Wednesday, followed by a doubles match, had made him tired.
So, all that’s left is speculation. It was Djokovic’s first match since winning the Wimbledon title on July 6, and since getting married to longtime sweetheart Jelena Ristic on July 10.
So, in the afterglow of his Wimbledon conquest and the emotions of tying the knot with Ristic in a ceremony in Montenegro, who knows how much he trained before the Rogers Cup, or how much his mind was truly engaged with tennis?
Whatever the answer, if that’s even the right question, it’s unfortunate that he and Sharapova are no longer in the running for the 2014 Rogers Cup titles.
On Friday, Roger Federer turned 33 – sometimes known as the age of Jesus Christ.
Federer missed the Rogers Cup the past two years – in 2012 because of the after-effects of the London Olympics and in 2013 while nursing a back ailment.
Before that there was an interrupted a stretch of six Rogers Cups in a row, including a title in Toronto in 2006. So, he has regularly spent his birthday in Canada. That included 10 years ago, during the inauguration of the Rexall Centre, when he won the first of two titles.
One of the more amusing tweeters is the infamous PseudoFed – here is what he (she?) had to say on Thursday.
Just a reminder about My Birthday tomorrow. Please park all gifts in the appropriate spaces by the hotel by 9am #excited
— Not Roger Federer (@PseudoFed) August 7, 2014
We can’t have a Rogers Cup blog without finishing with a picture of Andy Murray. The man from Dunblane, Scotland, practiced on Thursday afternoon with Filip Peliwo – the world No. 1 junior in 2012 – under the watchful eye of his tennis-attired coach Amélie Mauresmo.
NOTE: This will be the last Rogers Cup blog until Tebbutt Tuesday next week. Yours truly will be working with CBC this weekend’s on a panel co-ordinating coverage between the Rogers Cup in Toronto and the Coupe Rogers in Montreal.