Following six months away from the tour last year, if there was ever another similar step aside in Roger Federer’s playing career it would surely turn into a permanent absence.
That’s obviously in the mind of many who are treasuring his return to action in Australia this year. The outsized image at the top here is located at Melbourne’s central Federation Square and was obviously put together with high hopes before the 35-year-old Swiss made a successful return last week at the Hopman Cup in Perth. There he beat Dan Evans, thrashed Richard Gasquet and lost an absolute corker full of great shot-making to precocious German 19-year-old Alexander Zverev in two and a half hours by a 7-6(1), 6-7(4), 7-6(4) score.
Even the most ardent Federer devotees could not have expected more.
On Monday, the four-time Australian Open champion practiced in Rod Laver Arena with Mikhail Kukushkin. Above he can be seen conferring with coaches Ivan Ljubicic and Severin Luthi. For what it’s worth, his exchanges with Luthi were far more frequent and extensive than any he had with Ljubicic, at least during the 15 minutes the media were permitted into RLA to watch.
Federer’s old rival Rafael Nadal had a hit on Court 2 on Tuesday afternoon with his pal Marc Lopez and new consulting coach Carlos Moya. In the picture above Rafa can be seen with long-time coach Uncle Toni on the left and Moya in the middle. Uncle Toni was almost relentless in dispatching advice to his nephew, frequently making a swinging motion to indicate how Rafa should be striking the ball. Moya, a fellow-Majorcan, was not nearly as involved.
On Monday afternoon, Milos Raonic practiced on Court 5 against a pair of Australian juniors under the watchful eye of coach Riccardo Piatti and fitness trainer Dalibor Sirola. Richard Krajicek, who has joined the Raonic team, is absent for the moment because he took his daughter to college in California and also had to attend previously-planned tournament director (Rotterdam) meetings.
Later Monday during a brief conversation, Raonic mentioned that one of the tricky things about his 7-6(7), 6-2 loss to Grigor Dimitrov in the Brisbane semifinals last Saturday was the turnaround to play in the afternoon after finishing his tough 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Rafael Nadal the previous night.
Despite failing to defend his Brisbane title, Raonic remains at No. 3 in the ATP rankings and will be seeded third at the Australian Open, behind No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic and ahead of No. 4 Stan Wawrinka. The draw will take place Friday morning at Melbourne Park at approximately 11 a.m – 7 p.m. (ET) on Thursday in Canada.
Raonic has a 19-6 career record at the Australian Open and it has always taken a player of some stature to beat him at Melbourne Park – David Ferrer (2011), Lleyton Hewitt (2012), Roger Federer (2013), Grigor Dimitrov (2014), Novak Djokovic (2015) and Andy Murray (2016).
BOUCHARD SHINES IN SYDNEY
After a disappointing loss to No. 59-ranked Shelby Rogers of the U.S. in her first event of 2017 in Brisbane last week, Genie Bouchard seems to have regained her form at the WTA Premier tournament in Sydney by beating No. 23 Zhang Shuai 7-6(1), 6-2 on Sunday and then following that up with Tuesday’s impressive 6-4, 6-3 victory over world No. 6 Dominka Cibulkova.
Bouchard lost her serve to fall behind 4-3 in the opening set against Cibulkova but quickly turned things around with the depth and consistency of her ground strokes as the diminutive Slovak grew progressively more frustrated. Their head-to-head now stands at 4-1 in Bouchard’s favour but they have split two Grand Slam meetings – Bouchard won a memorable third-round encounter at the 2015 US Open (right before her fateful fall and concussion) and Cibulkova triumphed at Wimbledon in the third round last year.
“Every time I’ve played a match with Domi,” Bouchard said in the WTA’s match report, “we have had the toughest battles. I had to mentally prepare myself for that.”
The win was just the first time in nine events dating back to Rogers Cup in Montreal last August that Bouchard has won consecutive main-draw matches.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” she said Tuesday. “I’m happy that I get another match to keep trying to get better. I have taken a couple solid steps this week but I’m far from where I want to be.”
The top of the draw has opened up considerably for Bouchard with the upsets of No. 1 seed Angelique Kerber, No. 3 Cibulkova and No. 5, defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. Bouchard, currently ranked No. 49, now plays No. 27 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who ousted fellow Russian Kuznetsova, in the quarter-finals and could then face either No. 10 Johanna Konta or No. 26 Daria Kasatkina, conqueror of Kerber on Tuesday, in the semifinals.
The quality players on the bottom half of the draw are world No. 3-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 20 Caroline Wozniacki.
Bouchard is making a bit of a fashion – or non-fashion – statement in Sydney. She’s wearing a simple black tank top and plain white shorts – an unglamorous but decidedly athletic look.
AUSSIE OPEN QUALIFYING
Vasek Pospisil is seen here with his new coach Mark Woodforde during a practice session on Monday. The 51-year-old Woodforde ranked as high as No. 19 in singles, No. 1 in doubles and won six Wimbledon titles with long-time “Woodies” doubles partner, fellow Aussie Todd Woodbridge.
Also on board as his fitness trainer is Aussie legend Mark “Muddy” Waters who worked with Woodforde and as well as with two-time US Open champion Patrick Rafter.
Pospisil said Tuesday that he’s in fine fettle and ready to play, after 14 uninterrupted Grand Slam main singles draws, in his first Slam qualifying since the 2013 French Open. Ranked No. 131 and seeded No. 19 in the qualifying, he has drawn No. 191-ranked Uladzimir Ignatik of Belarus as a first-round opponent Wednesday. Like Pospisil, Ignatik is 26 and he has a career-high ranking of No. 137 in 2013. They will be playing each other for the first time.
The No. 22 qualifying seed is Peter Polansky, ranked just three spots behind Pospisil at No. 134.
Polansky, 28, is in the Aussie Open qualifying for the eighth time, with his only success coming on his first attempt in 2009.
He starts out on Wednesday, two matches after Pospisil on the same Court 15, against Tristan Lamasine, a 23-year-old Frenchman who ranked as high as No. 181 in 2015. It’s their first meeting.
The third Canadian in the qualifying is No. 168-ranked Steven Diez and he will face No. 209-ranked Yannik Reuter. It’s only the 25-year-old Belgian’s second try at qualifying for a Grand Slam – he lost in the second round of the US Open last year.
For the 25-year Diez, it’s his 10th Slam qualifying. He came closest to reaching the main draw at last year’s US Open when he got to the final round.
The Diez – Reuter match is at the 10 a.m. start (6 p.m. ET in Canada on Tuesday) and it will be a first meeting.
Women’s qualifying begins Thursday with Canadians Aleksandra Wozniak and Francoise Abanda taking part.
AUSSIE POST CARD
This guy, seen on Swan Street in Melbourne this week, is definitely in the running for the longest Rasta hair around.
NOTE: Back with a first day’s qualifying blog on Wednesday.