In what she refers to as chapter one of her tennis career, but what might as well be considered another life, Rebecca Marino, then 20, ranked No. 38 in the world in July, 2011.
Now a decade later at 30, it’s hard to believe she isn’t again playing just as well after reaching the third round of the National Bank Open presented by Rogers with a gutsy 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over No. 31-ranked Paula Badosa on Wednesday in Montreal.
It was the high point of a day that ended in disappointment in Toronto as Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime were beaten. Both were considerably subpar – the No. 5 seeded Shapovalov losing 6-1, 6-4 to No. 52-ranked Frances Tiafoe while 9th-seeded Auger-Aliassime was outplayed 7-5, 6-4 by No. 44 Dusan Lajovic of Serbia.
After upsetting 16th-seeded Madison Keys on Monday evening, Marino started poorly against Badosa but found her range in the second set. She began connecting huge off the ground on both forehand and backhand sides, slowly creating doubts in her 23-year-old Spanish opponent who is No. 15 (29/12) based on WTA 2021 results.
The players exchanged service breaks at 2-all and then again at 4-all before Marino broke to 6-5 and served out to 30, finishing with a backhand volley winner. That was her 22nd winner of the set, a far cry from just six in the opener.
Badosa was clearly rattled and Marino poured it on in the third, breaking to 2-1 and then failing to convert three break points for a 4-1 double break lead. She finally got the double break to 5-2 but Badosa firmed up and Marino got a little tentative. Suddenly she was serving for the match at 5-4 and facing two break points at 15-40. Was the dream about to fall apart? – especially because she wasn’t making any first serves. But she hit a forehand winner, capitalized on two Badosa unforced errors and won four points in a row. The coup de grace being her 9th ace, which sent the Stade IGA crowd into roars of sustained applause.
It was a feel-good moment all around and Marino could hardly contain her joy in her post-match interview. “This is like the best time,” she said beaming. “I feel so happy playing in Canada – avant les fans ici à Montréal, c’est un plaisir.”
Comparing the win to her 6-3, 6-3 victory over Keys, Marino said, “I feel like this one was more challenging because everyone had seen me play – I’m not a surprise anymore. She came out firing right away and I was a little bit nervous to start. But, hey, to come off with the win and to be in the third round of the Canadian Open – this is amazing.”
Things did not look promising after the 24-minute, one-way traffic first set. “I had to sort of trick myself after the first set, I really didn’t have the start that I wanted,” Marino said. “It was pretty lacklustre, if I’m being dead honest. But I just told myself, ‘okay set’s over, fresh start, come out and you never know what happens.’ And that’s pretty much how I was able to turn it around.”
To use a term popularized by American tennis commentator Mary Carillo, the 6-foot tall Marino plays ‘Big Babe’ tennis, going for her shots and constantly pressuring her opponent. The numbers bore that out as she hit 35 winners over the final two sets to just 15 for Badosa.
The win moves her No. 220 ranking up to about No. 175, a significant advance in this pandemic period of a somewhat stagnant WTA ranking system.
To go higher, on Thursday she will have to knock off top-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who rallied from down 1-4 in the final set to overcome Sloane Stephens 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-4. Another ‘Big Babe’ with big power, the 5-foot-11 Belarusian’s winners-to-unforced-errors ratio was 45/50 against Stephens.
In doubles later on Wednesday, Marino and partner Leylah Fernandez advanced to the second with a 5-7, 6-3, [10-2] win over American Ingrid Neel and Elixiane Lechemia of France.
Neither Shapovalov or Auger-Aliassime alluded to it, but part of their poor showing must be related to the weight of wanting so badly to play well at their home tournament – a focal point of their year that rates just below the four Grand Slam events.
Shapovalov never looked comfortable against his friend Tiafoe – losing his second service game of the match and soon dropping the first set 6-1 in 26 minutes in the evening’s opening Centre Court match.
Incredibly, he did not have a single winner in the first set but did manage to gain traction in set two. It went on serve to 4-all when the players engaged in a monumental duel on the Shapovalov serve. He saved six break points, most of them with aggressive, assertive tennis that was then wasted with elementary errors – including two double faults.
After he finally broke on the seventh break point, Tiafoe looked shaky serving out the match and needed a second match point – a service winner to the backhand to close out.
“If he held there, I was going to lose my mind,” Tiafoe later joked about the penultimate game. “It was a crazy game. I was changing my return stance a lot and it was a little breezy so he was a little out of sorts. But man he’s a hell of player and he came up with some goods – some big forehands. I was definitely over here (his side of the net) losing it.”
Shapovalov never found his rhythm consistently – and didn’t manage a single break point while the 24-year-old American converted 3/13.
“It was double hard, me struggling with the (windy) conditions and Frances being so comfortable with them,” Shapovalov said to Sportsnet’s Arash Madani. “It was tough today.”
About the roller-coaster ninth game in the second set with six deuces and seven break points, he said, “I felt it was bound to happen sooner or later. I was struggling on my serve. I just didn’t feel good today in anything. I was trying to change things up – play a little bit quicker, play a little bit slower, change up the rhythms. But it’s even tougher when you see your opponent playing good and comfortable with the conditions.”
Heading into Cincinnati next week and then the U.S. Open starting on August 30th, Shapovalov remains upbeat. “It’s just back to the drawing board, working a little bit and taking some things from this match,” he said. “I’m going to speak with my team, with my psychologist – things I could have done differently as well and just learn from it.”
The day began with what the French call a contre-performance by Auger-Aliassime on Centre Court at the Sobeys Stadium. He never got comfortable and ended the match with just 15 winners coupled with 38 unforced errors (25 on the forehand.)
At 5-all in the first set, the ever-astute Sportsnet commentator Jimmy Arias said, “this set so far is for whoever isn’t missing – just keep the ball in play.”
He proved prescient in the very next game when Lajovic broke Auger-Aliassime who misfired way long on the break point.
Lajovic then held and soon the second set was more of the same with the 31-year-old Serb needing only a service break in the third game to wrap up the victory.
“The conditions were so tough today, a lot of wind and it was tough to control the ball,” Lajovic said in his on-court interview. “You could see that Félix had a lot of problems with the forehand, couldn’t find the rhythm, the depth on the ball. I was trying to use that and it worked from the beginning til the end of the match. It was not great tennis today from both sides but I was able to adapt maybe a little bit better. And I saw that he was feeling the pressure playing in front of the home crowd, which is always tough.”
The latter is no doubt true as is the fact that Auger-Aliassime has just been through a hectic three weeks and the travel associated with them – Tokyo Olympics, Washington and now the National Bank Open in Toronto.
“I’m young,” said the man who turned 21 last Sunday. “It’s a good first experience to play a year like this. I think in the future I’ll be more ready.”
Monday Quiz: Which of this generation of players has accumulated the most official career prize money (career-high ranking in brackets)?
a) Grigor Dimitrov (3)
b) David Goffin (7)
c) Kei Nishikori (4)
d) Milos Raonic (3)
Monday Quiz Answer: Correct answer is ‘c’ Nishikori. His official career prize money is $24,829,677, Raonic is $20,218,982, Dimitrov is $19,724,837 and Goffin is $15,101,821.
Wednesday Quiz: Roger Federer has played the National Bank Open (a.k.a. Canadian Open) 12 times and has a 35-10 record. In his 12 appearances, how many times has he lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga?
c) Three times
d) Four times
Answer in Friday’s Blog.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
This is what the Court Banque Nationale in Montreal looked like in 2013 when Vasek Pospisil (foreground) played Radek Stepanek.
Feature Photo: Pascal Ratthé