TEBBUTT: READY, SEMI, GO
Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic will attempt to reach the rarefied air of a Grand Slam semifinal on Tuesday at the French Open.
Bouchard (above with Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau on Monday) has been there before, as a matter of fact it was less than five months ago when she lost to Li Na at the Australian Open.
Raonic, in his first appearance in a quarter-final, also made his mark Down Under at age 20, reaching the round-of-16 at Melbourne Park as an unknown in 2011.
Bouchard, ranked No. 16, will face Carla Suarez Navarro, ranked No. 15, in a match where the consensus seems to be that she is the slight favourite.
Their only previous meeting was last year at Wimbledon when Suarez Navarro beat Bouchard 7-5, 6-2. For Bouchard, it was two days after her big upset of Ana Ivanovic on Centre Court and there could have been a letdown factor. The match was played on Court 18, the small but cozy spot where John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played their monumental marathon in 2010.
Tuesday’s quarter-final – first match at 2 p.m. (8 a.m EDT in Canada) on Court Suzanne Lenglen – will be a contrast between the 5-foot-10 supremely-confident Bouchard, and the 5-foot-4 somewhat diffident Suarez Navarro. A Spanish reporter explained to me that Suarez Navarro, from the Canary Islands, is naturally quite restrained and shy. “She’s from an island, they stay to themselves,” he said.
Before she won her round-of-16 match 6-3, 6-3 over Ajla Tomljanovic on Tuesday, Suarez Navarro caught a bit of Bouchard’s 6-1, 6-2 demolition of Kerber on TV. “I had a quick look at the match (Sunday) that she won in two sets,” Suarez Navarro said. “I watched two or three games. She (Bouchard) really has played well, and she showed that, in the important moments, she can play really, really well. She’s a dangerous player.
“She has already reached a Grand Slam semifinal, whereas I have never done it.”
Suarez Navarro’s big breakthrough win was a 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory over Venus Williams in the second round of the 2009 Australian Open. She dazzled the tennis world with her single-handed backhand but has never really followed up on the promise she showed that day as a 20-year-old.
Her coaches are trying to get her to be more fired up on court – something that no one has to do with Bouchard.
She is the epitome of being self-motivated and focused when it comes to women’s tennis players.
The brass tacks of the match will be Bouchard’s aggressive tactics – especially attacking the Suarez Navarro second serve – counterpointed by the Spaniard’s less explosive, more varied shot-making and tenacity in the rallies.
It will be interesting to see if Bouchard can be as successful at imposing her full-barreled assault, and her will, on the more introverted Suarez Navarro as brilliantly as she did on Sunday against No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber.
Raonic returns to the scene, Court Philippe Chatrier, of his inspired 4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 third-round win over Gilles Simon last Friday for his quarter-final against Novak Djokovic.
It has been amazing to see the progress Raonic has made since he returned from his left lower-leg tendon tear at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, in March.
He has found himself solidly ensconced in the Top 10 at No. 9 and has impressed everyone with the quantum leap in his game – particularly his ability to “tenir l’échange” (maintain a rally) as the French say.
Djokovic, who beat Raonic in a 6-7(5), 7-6(4), 6-3 semifinal thriller in Rome, could hardly have spoken in more glowing terms about Raonic after his 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Sunday.
“Milos is playing the tennis of his life,” he said. “He’s Top 10 now, an established Top 10player. He has one of the best serves in the world – very powerful, very precise.
“When he serves that well, there is not much you can do, really. He puts a lot of pressure on his opponent, and I think he improved a lot from the baseline now. With his backhand he’s hitting down the line, he’s very aggressive, which he should be, of course, for somebody of his height and his build. You know, he’s powerful and he uses that serve. Forehand is also very good from back of the court.
“So there is an evident improvement in his game and he feels more confident on the court. You can feel that. The recent match we had in Rome was very close.
“I don’t expect anything different now. You know, I know that I’m going to have to face somebody that is going to serve over 200 kilometres per hour on average throughout the whole match.
“But I’m ready for that. I played great today, and I know what’s expected from me next one.”
Djokovic is a man on a mission as he seeks his first Roland Garros title – but Raonic may be no less determined and pumped with the vast improvement in his level of play.
The obvious difference with Rome will be the best-of-five set match as opposed to two-out-of-three. “I think it’s more just a mental aspect of keeping up a certain level that long, not allowing yourself to drift away,” Raonic said Sunday about facing Djokovic in a best-of-five. “It’s just about doing it a little bit longer and bringing your best tennis.”
Raonic’s mantra is always that he wants to impose his own power game. Djokovic is probably the best player in tennis at mastering both the offensive and defensive dimensions of the game.
Beating Djokovic on Tuesday in Court Philippe Chatrier probably will require another notch up in the improvement Raonic has shown up to this point in Paris. But like the way he takes the ball – on the rise – he just might be capable of actually doing that.
NESTOR OUSTED IN DOUBLES
It was a doubles match between a decorated older pair who played serve-and-volley tennis and younger challengers who basically just bombed the ball from the back court.
In the end, the unheralded, unseeded pairing of Florin Mergea of Romania and Marin Draganja of Croatia upset third-seeded Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic in a lengthy two-hour and 18-minute match by a 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-6(5) score.
Fans on Court 2 really were treated to some terrific shot-making, as well as some intriguing plot twists.
Even at a set apiece, Mergea, the older (29) and more solid of the Romanian/Croat pair, and Draganja (23) broke Zimonjic to start the third set.
There was much excitement in a group of Croats and Romanians in the players guests/media seats courtside near the south baseline. They kept encouraging Mergea and Draganja once they got the lead in the final set. But Draganja played a horribly nervous game – three unforced errors and a double fault – to let Nestor-Zimonjic back to 4-all on serve.
You wondered if they really believed, especially Draganja, that they could beat an awesome established team like Nestor and Zimonjic, who were on an 11-match winning streak after winning the Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome.
Nestor and Zimonjic had a calmer air about them while their opponents were edgy and excitable but they still managed a break point on the Nestor serve in the 11th game – saved with a clutch service winner.
Matters eventually went to a tiebreak and when Zimonjic put away a ball to make it 2-0 things looked promising for his side. But at that point, with he and Nestor finally with their noses ahead, Zimonjic smiled during the break between points, appearing a little too confident, especially in an extremely competitive match. It would be rare for Nestor to break from his normal stone-faced countenance at such a crucial juncture.
Nestor and Zimonjic rode the mini-break to a 4-1 lead but then Draganja held his two serve points to get back to 4-3. When Zimonjic slammed down an ace to 5-3, it seemed as though the ‘coup de grace’ was not far away. But he double-faulted long on the next point – with Nestor later explaining that Mergea had been the better returner on the ad side and that put a lot of pressure on both him and Zimonjic.
As it turned out, Nestor and Zimonjic had won their last point. Mergea held his two service points to 6-5– both times having to hit a second serve. At match point for the Romanian/Croat combo, fittingly, for them at least, the more unreliable and erratic of the pair, Draganja belted a hard, low service that a net-approaching Nestor could not handle on the volley.
It was a joyous moment for Mergea, ranked No. 51 in doubles, and Draganja, ranked No. 49, and their support group. They had reached the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament.
When a reporter asked Nestor later if Mergea and Draganja were “nobodies,” he was quick to insist, “nobody is a nobody anymore. From the first round here, we’ve had hard matches.”
As for the loss and the end of their winning streak, he was philosophical: “we’ve played a lot of matches (19) on clay. We probably won a couple we shouldn’t have, and maybe today was one we lost that we should have won.”
Next for the current No. 2-ranked team in the ATP Race standings, will be the Queen’s Club event on grass in London next week.
ABANDA WINS HER OPENER
Francoise Abanda of Montreal won her first match in the French Open junior event on Monday, defeating Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia 7-6(5), 6-4.
The 17-year-old Abanda is seeded No. 10. On Tuesday she will play her second-round match against Victoria Muntean of France, who entered the event on a wild card.
AU REVOIR ROGER ET LLEYTON
For Roger Federer fans, feeling a little down-hearted after his loss on Sunday to Ernests Gulbis, here’s a picture from two weeks ago before Roland Garros. It’s Federer, 32, shaking hands with Lleyton Hewitt, 33, after a practice session on Court Suzanne Lenglen. How many more times will this pair play in the singles draw at Roland Garros?
PARIS POST CARD
Flowers are a part of the beauty of Paris and flower shops in the city can be beautiful in and of themselves. This one is in the 7th arrondissement.