TEBBUTT: ROGER TO THE MAX
Roger Federer arrived in Toronto on Thursday, July, 31, to get his North American hard-court season underway. Seventeen days later he had played the maximum number of matches possible – five in reaching the final of Rogers Cup and five on his way to the title at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
More than a decade ago – in 2002 to be precise – he got to Toronto more or less at the last minute and was beaten in the first round 7-6(10), 7-5 by eventual Rogers Cup champion Guillermo Canas on a very hot, humid day.
It was losses like that one that made Federer become more meticulous in his scheduling and training – first in getting to the tournament city early to prepare properly and, secondly, in becoming more accustomed to extreme heat conditions by spending time practicing in the sultry clime of Dubai during breaks in the season.
His success these past two weeks has been both a testament to his physical and mental discipline.
At age 33, he has obviously gotten himself into terrific shape to be able to withstand the rigours of all those matches – including the short turnarounds from night to day for both finals – and to keep his chronic back woes under control. The picture below was taken when he arrived in Indian Wells late one night in March and went through a series of exercises on court before having a casual hit with coach Stefan Edberg.
Mentally, Federer was able to win all five matches in Toronto and Cincinnati that went to three sets. In each of them he lost the second set but kept his cool and stayed the course to beat Marin Cilic 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 6-4 and David Ferrer 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 in Toronto and Vasek Pospisil 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-2, Gael Monfils 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 and Ferrer 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 in Cincinnati.
With Novak Djokovic wavering in Toronto and Cincinnati – second match exits to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Toronto and to Tommy Robredo in Cincinnati – and with old nemesis Rafael Nadal withdrawing on Monday, Federer may well enter next Monday’s US Open as the favourite.
Before Sunday’s final against Ferrer, he said, “in the beginning, I had a lot of muscle pain in Toronto last week from playing tough matches on the hard courts again. My body felt that. Now I feel better than I have in 10 days. That’s pretty encouraging, even though I’ve played a lot of tennis now. Really hope I’ve got one more good match here tomorrow and then I can rest next week.”
He did – and he explained that he now won’t have to work as hard this last week before the US Open because he feels his level is already where he wants it to be.
Federer could hardly look better heading into Flushing Meadows.
Tennis Canada / Arturo Velazquez
The same could be said for Serena Williams. Many, including yours truly, didn’t believe she would play all three of her planned summer events – Stanford, Coupe Rogers in Montreal and Cincinnati back-to-back-to-back.
But she did and pulled up just one match – a semifinal loss to sister Venus in Montreal – short of her maximum total of 14 matches.
She defeated Angelique Kerber 7-6(1), 6-3 in the Stanford final, lost 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-3 to Venus in the Montreal semis and then beat Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 6-1 in the Cincinnati final on Sunday – completing a five-match run that also included victories over experienced competitors Sam Stosur, Flavia Pennetta, Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki.
Williams, who turns 33 next month, appears to have held up well physically. Her results have been disappointing at the Grand Slams in 2014 – defeated, with a back issue, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 by Ivanovic in the fourth round at the Australian Open, astonishingly 6-2, 6-2 by Garbine Muguruza in the second round of the French Open and 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 by Alizé Cornet in the third round at Wimbledon.
In all those matches, an element of panic and overwrought nerves seemed to get the best of her.
After beating Ivanovic on Sunday, Williams thanked her coach Patrick Mouratoglou for helping keep her calm. Later she revealed about her approach to the upcoming US Open, “I have to relax. I’m too uptight, too stressed out. I need to relax. If it happens…if not, it’s next year.”
Here are thoughts on some other US Open contenders, beginning with the men:
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: The world No. 1 was remarkably unforced error-prone in losses to Tsonga [meekly 6-2, 6-2] in Toronto and to Robredo [7-6(6), 7-5] in Cincinnati.
During the Robredo match, Djokovic had the same inexplicable teetering (balance) issue when hitting forehands that he experienced in Shanghai last fall.
After the Cincinnati loss, he said, “many, many, many things are not clicking these two weeks on hard courts. It’s unfortunate, but it’s more than obvious I’m not playing even close to what I’m supposed to play.
“I have to keep on working and trying to get better for US Open.”
Djokovic claimed he was “not feeling the ball well” but insisted that the hangover from winning Wimbledon on July 6 and/or his marriage to Jelena Ristic on July 10 had not affected his practice. “More than usual,” he said about how he had been working. “I’ve had more than enough practice.”
In an odd kind of way, his woes in Toronto and Cincinnati might be traced back to the draw ceremony staged in Lieutenant Governor David Onley’s quarters at the Province of Ontario Legislature (above) on the Friday preceding Rogers Cup. First off, when the names of Gael Monfils and Radek Stepanek were drawn to face him in his first match, he smiled and said sarcastically, “thank you.” Next Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s name came out as a possible second-match opponent and then Andy Murray for the third. Things continued in that vein, with Stan Wawrinka or Grigor Dimitrov as his potential semifinal opposition. Djokovic eventually joked, as he left the dais after the ceremony, “I’m never coming to a draw again!”
ANDY MURRAY: Amélie Mauresmo (coach) and Jez Green (physio) were with Murray during Rogers Cup. He lost to Tsonga 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4 (after leading 3-0 in the final set) in Toronto and then 6-3, 7-5 to Federer in Cincinnati after leading 4-1, up two service breaks, in the second set.
It seems to be a pretty simple matter with Murray – he looks good physically but he still hasn’t regained the confidence or the nerves he had prior to his back surgery last September. You have to wonder just how much the back surgery and/or the split with coach Ivan Lendl last March have affected him?
MILOS RAONIC: Going down 6-2, 6-3 to Roger Federer in the Cincinnati semifinals was tough for Raonic. There were many similarities to his 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 loss to the Swiss maestro in the Wimbledon semifinals.
The most obvious is that he lost his very first service game in similar fashion in both matches. At 30-all, he double faulted, followed by a forehand error on the ensuing break point.
He didn’t really recover in either match.
During Rogers Cup, Raonic repeated several times that he was very disappointed with his Wimbledon semifinal performance against Federer, seeming not to see the bright side of having reached his first ever Grand Slam semifinal.
From the Federer perspective, he said after winning the semifinal against Raonic in Cincinnati, “I think the start was big again. Like at Wimbledon, I got off a flier and never looked back. I think I returned well in patches. I would return really well one game and not for three games and then return well again. I feel like, because of that, it matched up really well with how he was serving. I think maybe the problems (he now leads Raonic 6-0 in their head-to-head) I’ve caused him in the past, he was pushing too much on the serve or felt like he had to do something special. That’s exactly what you want your opponent to feel. I was playing my pace. I was calm.”
It seems sometimes as if Raonic is just too serious, too intense, too driven. You can’t always be so hard on yourself, sometimes you have to see the glass as half full. Sure the Wimbledon semifinal against Federer was not his best effort, but he shouldn’t forget the good stuff. Five match wins – proving himself for the first time in his career on the hallowed Wimbledon lawns – was a major accomplishment.
On Saturday, it was never going to be a good night against Federer if he served badly, and he made just 44 per cent of his first serves.
“I just served poorly the whole time,” he said afterward. “I was barely 40 per cent in the second set. That’s not going to get it done.”
He added that improving the serve is “an easy fix that I can fix quite handily.”
Finally, Raonic summed up, “I’ve got to figure out how to step up against the top guys.”
He is 0-6 versus Federer, 0-5 against Nadal and 0-3 with Djokovic.
But the first three times against Federer (all in 2012) he pushed him in very close three-setters, but since then has not won a set at the 2013 Australian Open and at Wimbledon and in Cincinnati in 2014.
Still, he took Djokovic to the limit in Rome this year, and played well in a close three-set loss to the Serb in the French Open quarter-finals.
A break-through is likely not far away, but maybe he actually wants it too much and needs to pull back a little.
VASEK POSPISIL: For the first time since the week of July 14, Vasek Pospisil is finally taking a week off. He had played Bogota, Atlanta, Washington, Toronto and Cincinnati one after another.
The singles highlights of that stretch were reaching the Washington final before losing to Raonic and saving three match points in beating Radek Stepanek 5-7, 6-1, 7-6(4) in the first round in Cincinnati before losing to Federer.
In doubles, he and Jack Sock (at top) won the title in Atlanta and finished as runners-up in Cincinnati to the Bryan brothers – ending their 14-match winning streak.
Still, Pospisil and Sock are in sixth place in the doubles (top-eight) Race to the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November, just five points (2,880 to 2,885) behind fifth–place Lukasz Kubot and Robert Lindstedt. Not counting a walkover because of Pospisil’s adductor (groin) injury in Toronto, Pospisil and Sock have played only three tournaments compared to 13 for Kubot and Lindstedt.
Pospisil ranks No. 19 in doubles and No. 45 in singles. He has no singles points to defend at the US Open – having lost that 4-6, 3-6, 7-6(9), 6-2, 7-6(10) heartbreaker, after having seven match points, to Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil in the first round a year ago. He would have played Rafael Nadal in the second round.
Unfortunately, he won’t be seeded in Thursday’s US Open draw, which could create some interesting possibilities.
EUGENIE BOUCHARD: All Eugenie Bouchard fans can finally exhale. Following losses to No. 113-ranked qualifier Shelby Rogers at Coupe Rogers in Montreal and to veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova last week in Cincinnati, Bouchard appears to be back on her game after a 6-1, 6-1 pasting of No. 35-ranked Bojana Jovanovski in New Haven on Monday.
Seeded No. 3, she will face Samantha Stosur in the second round.
Even after the loss to Kuznetsova last week, Bouchard seemed to have a handle on things, saying in her media conference, “sometimes you guys ask me the questions and then you sound more kind of negative than I feel. I’m like ‘well, okay.’ It’s just interesting for me to note that before the French I won a title and I had to play (Roland Garros) 48 hours after.
“Wimbledon, I lost the first round the week before. There’s no secret recipe. So it’s just trying to do as well as you can all the time. So it doesn’t worry me if I have a kind of different lead-up to a Slam than I have in the past, because it’s been so different for me and I have still managed to do well.
“You never know what’s gonna happen. I could crash out early. But I’m not really kind of stressed about the perfect lead-up.”
Monday’s win over Jovanovski suggests she is on the upswing again. At the US Open she will attempt to become the only player currently on tour to have reached the semifinals of all four Grand Slams in the same year.
ANA IVANOVIC: Ana Ivanovic has one of the most dedicated fan followings on the tour. Unfortunately for them, it was been mostly disappointments since the 6-foot Serb won Roland Garros and reached No. 1 in the WTA rankings in June 2008. Subsequently, after finishing 2008 at No. 5, her highest year-end ranking has been No. 13 in 2012.
But Ivanovic played one of the most impressive matches of her career in the Cincinnati semifinals on Saturday, beating Maria Sharapova 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 after saving two match points trailing 5-4 in the final set.
On the first she hit a bold inside/in forehand winner, on the second Sharapova erred long with a backhand.
But most notable was that Ivanovic, facing those match points, appeared calm and very much in the match. Television, with its close-ups, is great for giving viewers a great look at a player’s emotional state at crunch-time.
Too often in the past Ivanovic has looked unhinged and flustered in similar situations. But on Saturday she kept her poise and was rewarded.
That match finished after 10 p.m. and – with the short turnaround from night to day for the 2 p.m. Sunday final and the letdown after such a big win – it was no surprise she lost 6-4, 6-1 the next day to an in-form Serena.
Still, the fact that Ivanovic maintained her composure so well against as tough and experienced a competitor as Sharapova has to be a positive sign for her going forward.
SOCIAL MEDIA VIGNETTES
Milos Raonic took the ice bucket challenge this week – here’s the visual evidence, complete with the names of those he nominated to follow him.
— Milos Raonic (@milosraonic) August 18, 2014
At nearly age 33, Serena Williams is still pretty limber, as her warm-up routine here demonstrates.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) August 14, 2014
Here’s a kind of home-alone style tweet from Eugenie Bouchard.
Just totally screamed alone in my hotel room #SharkWeek
— Eugenie Bouchard (@geniebouchard) August 18, 2014