TEBBUTT: THE SPECTRE OF SERENA AND KEI
Wimbledon’s round-of-16 on the second Monday is probably the best day of tennis of the entire year.
Weather permitting, it’s the only day of the fortnight at the All England Club when all the remaining players in the men’s and women’s draws are in action. Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic are just one match away from making it to the Grand Slam status of “the second week” if they can, respectively, overcome Andrea Petkovic and Lukasz Kubot on Saturday.
Looming Monday would then be potential meetings with top seed Serena Williams for Bouchard, and No. 10 seed Kei Nishikori for Raonic. Dare one dream bigger dreams for Bouchard and Raonic? Beyond that, in the quarter-finals, could be former champions Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal.
But to begin with, Bouchard (on practice courts Friday) will hope to win a first match against Petkovic and end a 0-3 drought in her head-to-head versus the 26-year-old German.
Here are their previous meetings:
Petkovic bt. Bouchard 6-2, 6-2: 1st round, 2011 Rogers Cup (hard).
Petkovic bt. Bouchard 2-6, 7-5, 6-1: 1st round, 2013 Luxembourg (indoor hard).
Petkovic bt. Bouchard 1-6, 6-3, 7-5: semifinal, 2014 Charleston (clay).
Their first match was at Rogers Cup in Toronto when Bouchard was only 17. “I remember it being a really big occasion for me,” she recalled. “It was my first wild card into the main draw of the Rogers Cup. It was a big deal.
“It was really close at the beginning. I stayed with her. In the end, she kind of overpowered me a bit. But I learned a lot from that match. That’s when she was playing really well, she was 10 in the world.”
Players’ memories of matches don’t always jive, but in this case they seem to. “I played her years ago in Toronto, or Montreal, I’m not sure, when she was pretty young – 16 or 17,” Petkovic, aged 21 at the time, said about Bouchard. “I won easily… 6-2, 6-1 maybe. Already after that match I said she’s going to be very good.
“You can see more in the attitude than the game really. I really loved her attitude, the way she behaved on court, how she wanted to win each point.
“You couldn’t really see that I was winning that easily because she kept her composure and was really in for everything. So I have a lot of respect for her. I think she’s going to be even better than she is now.”
The second time they played, Petkovic’s 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 win in Luxembourg came just days after Bouchard lost the Osaka final to Samantha Stosur and had to fly all the way to Europe from Japan. She put up a brave fight but, on limited energy, faded in the late going.
The Charleston semifinal earlier this year was a nip ’n tuck battle, although Bouchard completely dominated in the 6-1 first set. It looked like it might be a whitewash.
She won seven games in a row at one point and was ahead 3-2 in the second set. She also had a 4-2 lead in the third set with break points for 5-2. But Petkovic rallied and went on to win the title the next day beating Jana Cepelova in the final.
Bouchard had just come through third-set comeback wins over Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic the two previous days, so her tank may have been close to empty.
Winner of the Wimbledon junior girls title in 2012, Bouchard has said that grass is her favourite surface. Petkovic (above) has had a more checkered relationship with lawn tennis. On Thursday, she told of how a loss early in her career against a Japanese player had her thinking, “for me, it was definite that I cannot play on grass.”
She continued, “it took years to overcome that thought in my head. The minute you hit a wrong shot or you’re late for a shot, you’re like ‘well you see, it’s the grass.’
“It took me two or three years to overcome that initial thought of being a bad grass court player. Now I enjoy it much more.”
The adaptation has been easier for Bouchard. She just makes small tweaks to her game depending on the surface, but she’s not fazed by surface the same way she’s not fazed by big-name opponents, dicey situations in matches or the grandest stages in the great arenas of the sport.
Reviewing her Charleston match against Bouchard, Petkovic said, “that was on clay, which I prefer to grass. This is going to be a little different because I think Genie prefers grass more than clay…I would say just by her game. I played a really good match in Charleston. She played an amazing first set.”
About the third-rounder on Saturday, she added, “it’s going to be really, really tough. A lot will depend on the serve – how well I move after the serve because she returns so aggressively.”
After she lost in Charleston, Bouchard had regrets: “I think I just hesitated on a few balls and on my chances. That’s not the way I want to play. I really want to go for my shots, and when I hesitate, it doesn’t end up well for me.”
On Thursday, looking ahead to the third-round meeting, their fourth overall, Bouchard said about playing Petkovic, “it’s rematch of Charleston. I’m definitely going to be really motivated, just try to play my tennis, really try to take it to her.”
Whatever the circumstances of her three previous losses, it doesn’t take much to imagine the highly-driven No. 13-ranked Bouchard is not eager to go down 0-4 in the head-to-head, especially with someone who is ranked No. 20, seven spots lower than her in the WTA rankings.
For both Bouchard and Raonic (crossing paths at practice on Friday), they have a chance to be the first Canadians in this century to reach Wimbledon’s final 16. The last woman do it was Patricia Hy-Boulais – 1996 and 1997. The last man was Daniel Nestor in 1999.
Unlike Bouchard and Petkovic, Raonic and the 32-year-old Kubot don’t have a match-play history. But that doesn’t mean they are not familiar with each other’s games. They have practiced together several times, including more than once on grass during last year’s Halle warm-up tournament immediately after the French Open.
Kubot, ranked No. 72, is something of a singles late bloomer. Earlier in his career he was known more as a doubles player. In 2010, he and Oliver Marach of Austria finished the year at No. 6. That same year he reached his singles career high at No. 41.
At 6-foot-3, Kubot has a good serve – and he enjoyed pointing out to Polish reporters that he actually has more aces than Raonic in his first two matches at Wimbledon – 47 to 43. However, that doesn’t hold up on a per-game ratio.
A year ago, Kubot had his best result in a Grand Slam – reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals where he lost to his compatriot Jerzy Janowicz.
He has joked with Polish reporters that it has been that result that has extended his career by a year. Without the 360 ATP ranking points from the 2013 Wimbledon result, he would now be at about No. 130.
Kubot understands that, against Raonic, he will have to improve on his performances in upsetting No. 28 seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in five sets and then beating Dusan Lajovic in four in his previous two rounds.
“I’m playing a Top 10 player,” he said, “so there’s no pressure on me. There won’t be many long rallies and it will be all about the serve and the return.”
Kubot apparently has had two dreams – one to be become a member of Wimbledon’s Last Eight Club (which he did by reaching the 2013 quarter-finals) and then to play on Centre Court, which has never happened. The match with Janowicz was on No. 1 Court.
He will face Raonic on No. 2 Court at 11:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m. EDT) but still has chances to get onto the hallowed Centre Court in singles or in doubles with partner Robert Lindstedt as the seventh seeds in this year’s tournament.
Unlike Kubot, Raonic has economized his resources by beating Matthew Ebden 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 and Jack Sock 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in convincing style in his first two rounds.
Like Petkovic, Raonic is a thinker and has some interesting thoughts about playing on grass. “I don’t think really that grass is a surface that anyone can say they play their best tennis on,” he said on Thursday. “It’s a matter of playing less worse than you do on other surfaces. It does take quite a bit of adjustment. For me it’s difficult. I’ve got long legs – so my centre of gravity is pretty high. Movement takes a lot of adjusting, especially after clay. I’ve focused more on ways I start the point and then everything else has come together.”
It is useful to remember that seven-time champion Pete Sampras just won six matches in his first four Wimbledons, and Roger Federer, another seven-time champion, only won four matches in his first four tries.
Raonic, with four match wins so far, is in his fourth year in the main draw at the All England Club, so time is on his side…and he has made progress. He has now won two matches in one year for the first time.
Looking ahead to the next challenge against Kubot, he said, “I’ve practiced with him many times. I know what he likes to do. He likes to dictate. He likes to come forward. He likes to do a bit of everything.
“But I can take the rhythm away from him. I feel like I can give myself the possibility to do well.”
Logic says that Raonic, at 23, is on the way up and Kubot, at 32, should have peaked in his career.
The scoreline on 2014 is certainly in favour of Raonic – he is 21-9 in main tour matches while Kubot is 5-11 while losing in the first round nine times.
So, it’s clearly advantage Raonic as he aims for a spot in Monday’s very busy round-of-16 action.
NESTOR REACHES THIRD ROUND
Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic (far Court 11) reached the third round of the men’s doubles on Friday with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over the German pairing of Dustin Brown and Jan-Lennard Struff.
With that win, the third seeds will next face the No. 16 seeds, Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay and David Marrero of Spain.
The rambunctious Australian cheer squad, “The Fanatics,” bring a bit of Down Under to the more formal “The Championships” at Wimbledon. Here they are being interviewed by a TV crew near Centre Court after Lleyton Hewitt’s first-round win earlier this week.