Tennis, like golf, struggles to maintain a sharp autumn focus once all of the year’s major titles have been decided.
But there are still significant events to be completed in 2015 – principally the Davis Cup and Fed Cup as well as the men’s and women’s respective tour grand finales.
Two important matters have been determined – Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic will the year-end world No. 1s. Williams has packed it in for the year, at least at WTA events. Djokovic could have done the same at ATP tournaments, though he will not, and he’ll finish at No. 1 for the fourth time in the last five years. For Williams, it’s now three years in a row.
Closer to home, Genie Bouchard and Milos Raonic were hoping the fall tournaments might allow them to regain some of the form that they had lost in disappointing campaigns marred by injuries and, in Bouchard’s case, a seemingly inexplicable March to September swoon – losing 14 of 17 matches from Indian Wells through until the US Open.
The inexplicable finally appeared close to some kind of positive resolution when she beat Dominika Cibulkova 7-6(9), 4-6, 6-3 in the third round of the US Open while displaying a level of tennis and competitive spirit remarkably like 2014 – a combination that took her to as high as No. 5 in the WTA rankings one year ago this month.
Her fateful fall at the US Open late in the evening of September the 4th after that inspired win over Cibulkova – and a mixed doubles victory with Nick Kyrgios – is now ancient history but the resulting concussion continues to be an issue after her 6-2, 1-1 ret. loss to Andrea Petkovic on Monday at the China Open in Beijing.
Bouchard didn’t play particularly well but she kept her composure and there were flashes of her trademark aggressive play until right after she hit an aggressive backhand swing volley winner to lead 15-love in the third game of the second set.
Before the next point – with her back to the net – she paused behind the baseline for a moment and one immediately sensed she was in discomfort. It was hard not to suspect post-concussion symptoms.
She walked over to her courtside chair and received attention from a tour trainer and then a man who appeared to be a doctor. She was teary-eyed and obviously distraught. Ironically, after some discussion, tour supervisor Pam Whytcross could be heard saying, “give it another shot.” Just seconds later Bouchard bowed her head in her towel in a wordless gesture that signaled she could not go on.
Petkovic came over from her courtside chair and spoke briefly to Bouchard, learning that she was experiencing dizziness. She then tapped Bouchard sympathetically on the shoulder. Soon Bouchard was leaving the court, managing to give the crowd a little wave of acknowledgment as she departed.
The forced retirement was an unfortunate and inauspicious debut for Thomas Hogstedt of Sweden as her new coach. A former coach of Maria Sharapova, Li Na and Tommy Haas – as well as having had shorter stints with Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep and Daniela Hantuchova – Hogstedt looked concerned as he watched his new player. But he was not called to the court at any time during the match for one of the WTA’s on-court coaching visits.
Bouchard’s current ranking is No. 38 and, with the 30 points she would lose from a second round in Linz, Austria, last October and the 210 points she would fail to defend from the WTA Finals in Singapore later that same month, she would drop to about No. 50 if she doesn’t play anymore in 2015.
And it’s difficult to imagine she will based on recent developments. She was supposed to play in Tokyo the week of September 21st but withdrew. She then travelled to Wuhan, China, for the Premier 5 event there but pulled out before her first match. Then, this week she makes her first actual appearance since the fall in the US Open locker room and has a reoccurrence of her post-concussion issues and has to retire from her match at the Premier Mandatory tournament.
It’s highly unlikely she will try again next week in her last scheduled event in Asia – the lower level $250,000 (US) WTA International Series tournament in Hong Kong.
After her inspired and confidence-building performance against Cibulkova at the US Open, it’s almost inconceivable what has transpired since that exhilarating moment.
Generally time heals all ills all wounds and hopefully that will be the case with Bouchard. Probably most people will agree with the following post on Monday on Tennis.com related to Bouchard’s retirement at the China Open.
sportmac This can be serious and scary stuff. Years ago a car ran a red light I was broadsided and my head slammed against the window. Took me about 3 to 4 months before the dizzy spells went away. I definitely couldn’t bike or play tennis. At times I wondered if they would ever go away.
She should call it a year and give it time.
To hark back to a happier time not so long ago – here’s a picture of Bouchard playing her first round US Open doubles match with Elena Vesnina of Russia last month.
In the same National Tennis Centre stadium on Monday where Bouchard lost to Petkovic, another Canadian, Milos Raonic, seeded No. 5, had an unexpected first round China Open exit. In his first match since winning the ATP title (his seventh) in St Petersburg, Russia, two weeks ago, Raonic was beaten 6-4, 6-4 by No. 24-ranked Viktor Troicki.
It was a poor display as Raonic was ‘out-aced’ 8-4 by the 29-year-old Serb, who also won a higher percentage of first-serve points – 70 per cent to 65 per cent – than the No. 9-ranked Canadian. Troicki had an impressive 23/4 winners to unforced errors ratio while Raonic was 12/13.
It was a flat performance by Raonic, who had won his two previous meetings with Troicki. Raonic did have a strip of kinesio tape up the inside of his left arm, but it didn’t appear to affect his two-handed backhand.
Each of the sets on Monday ended the same way – with Troicki breaking serve in the ninth game and then holding in the tenth. Additionally, he converted both break chances in the penultimate games in an identical manner – cracking a backhand service return down-the-line winner off a first serve in the first set and then doing likewise off a second serve in the second.
Troicki had not been playing well entering the match – having dropped eight of his last 10 matches dating back to his loss to Vasek Pospisil in the round-of-16 at Wimbledon in July. Just last week, he was beaten 6-2, 7-6(5) in Kuala Lumpur by No. 107 ranked Radu Albot of Moldova.
Despite his foot surgery in May and back problems over the summer, Raonic had not had any so-called ‘bad losses.’ His worst defeat this year dates back to February when he was beaten 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(3) in Marseille by No. 53-ranked Simone Bolelli in his opening-round match.
He has four tournaments remaining in his 2015 season, and week-after-week they are: Masters 1000 in Shanghai, ATP 250 in Moscow, ATP 500 in Basel and Masters 1000 in Paris (Bercy).
His hopes of reaching the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London are still very much alive even with his current No. 12 position.
With 2,080 points, he trails the No. 8 and final qualifier David Ferrer (3,255) by 1,175 points but is only 275 points behind No. 9 Richard Gasquet who has 2,355.
And with Andy Murray’s participation possibly in doubt because of the Davis Cup final the following week, a player or players outside the top eight might make it if there are one or more withdrawals.
The third Canadian playing in the China Open singles, No. 44-ranked Vasek Pospisil, won his opening round match on Tuesday, defeating Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic 4-6, 7-5, 6-0.
That sets up a second round meeting with No. 3 seed Rafael Nadal. The match-up with the No. 8-ranked Nadal will complete Pospisil’s career head-to-head against the so-called Big Four. He has played Novak Djokovic three times, Roger Federer four times and Andy Murray three times – as yet without a victory.
In doubles on Tuesday, Pospisil and partner Jack Sock advanced to the second round with a 7-6(5), 2-6, [11-9] victory over third-seeded Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini.
Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin also won their opening round. The fourth seeds beat Leander Paes and John Peers 7-6(1), 4-6, [11-9].
JUNIOR DAVIS CUP SUCCESS
Canada won its first ever Junior Davis Cup title on Sunday when Félix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal and Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., combined to win the decisive doubles match in the final over Germany to give Canada a 2-1 victory.
Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov defeated Marvin Moeller and Nicola Kuhn 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 to clinch the win. Earlier, Shapovalov had beaten Moeller 6-4, 6-1 while Kuhn inflicted the only match loss of the week on the Canadians, a 6-3, 6-3 decision over Auger-Aliassime.
The event was staged on red clay at the Caja Magica in Madrid, site of the combined men’s and women’s Mutua Madrid Open in May.
On the way to the final, Canada beat Poland, Hong Kong, the Czech Republic and Russia – all by 3-0 scores.
Overall, Auger-Aliassime, playing at No. 1, went 4-1 in singles, Shapovalov was 3-0 and Benjamin Sigouin of Vancouver was 2-0.
In doubles, Shapovalov, 16, won all five of his matches, Auger-Aliassime, 15, won three and Sigouin, 16, won two.
There were 16 nations in the event, which is for under-16s from all over the world. In the boys junior Davis Cup and girls junior Fed Cup competitions there were a total of 96 players from 21 different countries.
In the girls event, the Canadian team of Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., Charlotte Robillard-Millette of Blainville, Que., and Vanessa Wong of Toronto reached the semi-finals before losing 2-1 to the eventual winners, the Czech Republic. In the third place playoff against Russia – both Andreescu and Robillard-Millette won their singles before Andreescu combined with Wong to take the doubles and make the final score 3-0.
The performances by both teams, the boys captained by Oded Jacob of Vancouver and the girls by Ralph Platz of Montreal, indicate the upcoming Canadians are more than competitive with the best players their age from all over the world.
There may not be another country that can boast of having two 15-year-olds with WTA and ATP rankings as high as Andreescu and Auger-Aliassime. Both have recently turned 15 – Andreescu is the WTA’s No. 637 while Auger-Aliassime is No. 762 on the ATP list.
By all accounts, the event was a big success, with some of the enthusiasm shown by the players evident in the above picture of Auger-Aliassime taking a selfie of himself and the Madrid ballkids.
ONE OF THE UNLIKELIEST INSTAGRAMS
The above was posted on instagram by Milos Raonic and has to be one of the quirkier scenes around. It’s believed to have been taken by him while he was in Russia playing the St. Petersburg tournament two weeks ago.