TEBBUTT: THE GRASS GAMES BEGIN
Defending champion Andy Murray officially got the 2014 Wimbledon Centre Court activity underway with a 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 victory over David Goffin on Monday.
Murray later said he felt he had his timing the entire match, one that was played with the sizeable figure of retired basketballer Shaquille O’Neal in the Royal Box.
“I saw him after the match, just when I came off,” Murray said later. “He’s a big boy, that’s for sure. He was huge. He said it was the first time he’d been to tennis before. He enjoyed it.”
Murray got an experience reserved only for the defending champions, and their first-round opponents – namely playing on a pristine grass court that has not been played on before except for a ritual single set of women’s doubles on the preceding Saturday.
“The grass is very lush,” Murray said. “But the grass played very well – like no bad bounces or anything. It was perfect.”
For the first time since 1989 when Chris Pridham of Oakville, Ont. played defending champion Stefan Edberg in the opening match, a Canadian graced Centre Court on the first day of the fortnight.
Aleksandra Wozniak’s match (above) against No. 10 seed Dominika Cibulkova was listed a “Not Before 5:00 p.m.” So when men’s top seed Novak Djokovic expeditiously took care of Andrey Golubev 6-0, 6-1, 6-4 in the third match of the program in an hour and 28 minutes, Wozniak – Cibulkova was put on Centre Court a little after 6:30 p.m. to extend the order of play for spectators.
Unfortunately, the 25-year-old Slovak was in imperious form and beat Wozniak in exactly one hour – 6-1, 6-2.
“It was a nice moment to savour,” Wozniak would say later of the experience, adding, “of course winning would have been nice but that was going to be tough today.”
Vasek Pospisil, near side in the picture at the top, played Robin Haase on Court 19, which is right beside No. 1 Court. It is a partially sunken court and has a certain atmosphere to it, being located between the “Isner-Mahut” Court 18 and the No. 1 Court stadium.
In the plans for a retractable roof on Court No. 1 by 2019, Court 19 will disappear to make way for the structure required to support the roof.
On Monday, spectators witnessed a very even match that might have swung Pospisil’s way with the score at one set apiece and him holding three break points at 4-all. The first and third set points were decided immediately by Haase serves, but on the second there was a very make-able forehand passing shot that Pospisil had time to line up but just barely missed – hitting the tape on the net.
He later talked about a “rookie mistake” he made when he served at 5-6 three games later. He chose not to change racquets to a tighter string job, partly because he had used the one racquet up to that point and felt comfortable with it. Unfortunately, the looser, livelier strings – he tried to compensate and things got wonky – wound up leading to consecutive double faults when he lead 30-15. He did save a set point but Haase won the set on his second opportunity when Pospisil’s angled forehand volley landed wide.
The fourth set was probably a step too far for Pospisil, who, as most people know, has suffered with a back issue since the very beginning of 2014.
Haase broke in the fourth game and though Pospisil managed to save three match points when the Dutchman served at 40-love leading 5-3, the match ended two points later.
Afterward, the talk with Pospisil, on his 24th birthday, was mostly about his back. He was pleased to declare, “the last two weeks are the first two weeks of the year that I’ve been pain-free.”
“Last week (winning two matches before losing to Benjamin Becker in the quarter-finals in s-Hertogenbosch) was the first time that I recognized myself on the court in terms of competing and being able to focus on the game,” he said. “I actually played quite well last week and had a tough one in the quarters.”
The final score on Monday was 7-6(6), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 for the No. 51-ranked Haase.
“It was finally a normal match and now I just go back and learn from it,” Pospisil said. “The whole year has been a battle and I think that cost me today. It’s pretty clear what I need to work on and I’ve spoken with my coach and I think it’s going to be some steps in the right direction.
“I feel like my year just started last week, which sucks in one way but it’s great in another way because I feel like I can now go out there and feel that I can win every match that I play – which wasn’t the case throughout the year. It was a tough period.”
Many people admire Pospisil and his game – so for them here follows, in his own words, what he has been through over the past six months
“It was the last week of the off-season (late December) when I started feeling some tweaks in my back – nothing serious but I felt that something was going on there. Leading up to Chennai (the ATP 250 event in the first week of the year), I had back spasms but it released and in the first two matches I didn’t feel anything. Then obviously in the semis (final score 6-4, 5-5 RET vs. Stan Wawrinka), I hurt it and it’s been pretty much a problem ever since. But the last two weeks I’ve been good and there’s no physical excuse for this match. I lost to the better player on the day.
“It affected me a lot. What affected me more was a wrong diagnosis in the beginning – the first guy told me that it might take me six months to even be able to play. That ended up being wrong, so we took a decision to start playing. In the back of my mind, being on the court and not knowing what’s wrong that anyone could really put their finger on, created a lot of doubt in my mind. It was difficult for me to just focus on tennis. And I was getting relapses, so that wasn’t helping – it wasn’t like it was steadily getting better. I didn’t know what was happening and I couldn’t put it aside and say ‘it’s going to be okay.’
“But I was getting the relapses – two or three times I had to stop playing for 10 days. Like for example, my first match on clay (a 6-2, 6-2 loss to Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in Monte Carlo), I played two games of points the day before on clay. I didn’t have any practice on clay playing points. So, that wasn’t great preparation. Then two weeks later I was feeling better and I had another relapse in Bucharest (a 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 loss to Romanian Adrian Ungur) in my match there and after.
“It was at that point that we saw somebody (a doctor) in Prague who put all the pieces together and so it was it was after that trip that I started having a clear mind. Once the pain went away, he said it would take a couple of weeks and exercises I need to do and everything – but it’s pretty manageable. Now we know what was happening. It should be fine now if I just take care of it.”
Discussing his goals for the rest of 2014, Pospisil said, “now I can actually think about that. The No. 1 goal is to stay healthy. If I stay healthy, you have to make some adjustments and you learn from them and you can have a big week. That’s how you go about things. If I can stay healthy we’ll see. I’m obviously quite far in the Race right now, but if I’m playing well and up to my ability, I still feel like I can finish in the Top 50, even if I only have half the year or less left. I feel I can still do that if I have a couple of big weeks.”
Currently ranked No. 33, Pospisil is No. 106 in the Race, which is based on results only from the beginning of the calendar year.
His plans, after a break to rest and re-charge, are to play Bogota, Atlanta, Washington, Rogers Cup in Toronto and Cincinnati – five weeks in a row beginning July 14.
He really did look a lot like his old self against Haase, as mentioned there was really nothing to choose between them until the final game of the third set.
So, a revival should be in the cards. Even if the 360 points he received from his semifinal showing at Rogers Cup in Montreal is subtracted from his ranking points total, he would still be about No. 60.
Wozniak, currently ranked No. 116, is confident that with her 40 points for qualifying for Wimbledon, and 10 points for losing in the first round, she will be able to get her ranking up to approximately No. 108 for direct entry into the US Open.
On Monday, she ran into a player in Cibulkova who was on her game right from the get-go.
Wozniak had played on Centre Court in a second-round loss to Venus Williams at the 2012 Olympics. On Monday, she was able to smell the roses as she walked though the historic All England Club on her way to a small room where she waited with Cibulkova for about half an hour for the Djokovic-Golubev match to finish. And later, she made no excuses about the aura of Centre Court as a distraction.
“I thought I served well, but she was really consistent,” Wozniak said. “All the Top10 are like that with the speed of the ball and the changing direction of the ball really quickly. There was really some great tennis from her side.”
The numbers show that the match was not as one-sided as the score might suggest. Cibulkova had 14 winners and just nine unforced errors, while Wozniak’s ratio was 16 winners and 19 unforced errors.
Centre Court was no more than one third full for the match, but the spectators there were very appreciative – there is nothing quite like being in Centre Court, Wimbledon.
Even after Wozniak fell behind 6-1, 3-0 in 42 minutes, there were cries of support for her and applause whenever either player won a good point.
All and all, it was a decent European season for Wozniak – highlighted by qualifying for both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. At the five events she played, she compiled an 11-5 win/loss record and raised her ranking from No. 157 to likely a spot inside No. 110.
She will now take a break and play either Atlanta or Stanford and then Rogers Cup in Montreal.
On Tuesday, Eugenie Bouchard (above), Sharon Fichman, Milos Raonic and Frank Dancevic will play their first-round matches.
The number of houses that ESPN is renting for its personnel in Wimbledon – an impressive 55 residences!
Things aren’t as easy for Belgian tennis journalists these days without Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters on the women’s side, and now without the Rochus brothers or Xavier Malisse among the men.
In the picture above, four Belgian writers were caught by a Canadian paparazzo on the grounds on Saturday. On the right is Filip Dewulf, in his day a player good enough to reach the 1997 French Open semifinals. His gesture is all about trying to fend off an intrusive photographer.