TOO GOOD: MILOS, EUGENIE & FRANK
After Milos Raonic hit aces on two of his last three points in a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 win over Matthew Ebden in the Wimbledon first round on Tuesday, the Australian could be heard simply saying “too good” as the ball rocketed by – including on the ultimate match point.
Two other Canadians were also “too good’ for their opponents – both winning in straight sets as did Raonic. Eugenie Bouchard beat Daniela Hantuchova 7-5, 7-5 and Frank Dancevic tamed monster-serving Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 7-6(5), 7-6(4).
The lone exception on another temperate, sunny-and-cloudy London day, was Sharon Fichman. She was outplayed 6-1, 6-3 by Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland.
There were multiple matches going on at once, so yours truly was only able to see parts of Raonic – Ebden, including the final set. But walking out of No. 2 Show Court afterward with Austin Nunn, Raonic’s manager, he said that Milos had served really well – at a rate of about two aces a game.
It seemed that might be an exaggeration but sure enough he had 30 aces in 14 service games, which actually beats the two-per-game ratio.
“I played quite good considering it’s the first match,” Raonic said. “I was solid in the moments I needed to be. I served well. I just put more pressure on him. I was able to return quite well and do things I wanted when I got control of the point.
“I still got to get a little better on second serve returns. Other than that, I felt like I was doing things well.”
The match was played in Court No. 2, which has a capacity of 4,063 spectators. A sunken arena, it is somehow just the perfect size and dimensions – a great place to watch a match with not a proverbial “bad seat in the house.”
“It’s a good atmosphere,” Raonic concurred. “It’s actually quite similar to Court 17, the new Court 17 in New York. The atmosphere is good. It filled up pretty nice. So the general feeling on that court is pretty positive.”
As is often the case, Raonic came up with the “mot juste,” – Court No. 2, opened in 2009, does indeed resemble in feel No. 17 at Flushing Meadows.
He was in control right from the start against the No. 85-ranked Ebden, a nice all-round player but not someone who really can blow anybody off the court.
Raonic's 30 aces compared to just two for the 26-year-old Aussie, and he made a solid 71 per cent of first serves, winning 85 per cent of those points.
He just had too much game – his winners to unforced errors ratio was 56/17, while Ebden’s was a sizeable cut below at 20/8.
A year ago, Raonic won his opening match against Carlos Berlocq before losing to Igor Sijsling. It was not an easy period for him and he recalled that on Tuesday.
“Last year I was struggling between a coaching change and not playing well pretty much three weeks in a row on clay coming into here. After that as well, I didn’t feel I played well. I was struggling with my tennis, but then I was also struggling with outside things, trying to figure out where and how everything should be in place.”
He certainly appears in a good place at the moment, working with coach Ivan Ljubicic, but there will be a sterner test in round two on Thursday when he plays Jack Sock, the 21-year-old, No. 77-ranked American.
Raonic has won two of the three previous meetings against the big-hitter from Lincoln, Nebraska, now residing in Las Vegas.
Frank Dancevic played the big hitter of all big hitters – at least from the serving perspective – Ivo Karlovic on Tuesday. Dancevic came away with his first Wimbledon win since beating No. 7-ranked David Nalbandian in 2008.
“I went into the match knowing that I had to serve really well,” Dancevic said. “My main focus was to hold my serve and try to get the first two points of every game on my serve.”
Even though 54 per cent (55 of 102) of Karlovic’s serves were unreturned, Dancevic got enough of them back – particularly with some flashy backhands – to win the one hour and 53-minute contest.
The Croat had zero break points the entire match while Dancevic had four (converting one) in the first set, two in the second and none in the third.
“It was basically a guessing game,” Dancevic said about returning Karlovic’s serve. “When I could connect with the ball and get into the point, I felt like I had an advantage.”
Summing up, Dancevic said, “I returned a little bit better on the key points.”
Karlovic was not very impressive both returning serve and in the rallies. Maybe at age 35, he is starting to feel the years although he manages to hold a No. 35 ATP ranking.
In the second set tiebreak, Dancevic missed his last five first serves and still Karlovic was unable to win any of those points – often misfiring either way long or burrowing into the net.
“I haven’t been on this grass in awhile,” Dancevic mused about the Wimbledon experience. “It’s amazing being out there and playing on a nice court. I felt pretty motivated by the whole atmosphere – being given the chance to be alive here at Wimbledon.”
That is doubly so considering he got in as a lucky loser and won a Challenger tournament on clay on clay in Kosice, Slovakia, less than two days before the Wimbledon qualifying began.
Dancevic caused quite a stir with a Facebook rant about his poor treatment in the Wimbledon qualifying last week. On Tuesday he revealed that there has been some positive feedback. It should be noted that the Wimbledon qualifying is played at the Bank of England Club at Roehampton near London and the courts are basically just chalked off on a long strip of grass that is nowhere near the quality of the lawns at the All England Club. As well, the other three Grand Slams stage their qualifying at the actual tournament site.
“Somebody spoke to me, someone pretty high up in the ranks, and they believe the story and what happened,” he said about a Wimbledon official’s reaction after he wrote about conditions that included taking ice bathes in garbage cans and the premises that were locked up before all the players are ready to leave. “In a way, it’s really good, they stepped up to the plate and said ‘obviously there are some issues to take care of,’” Dancevic said. “Sometimes the people at the top don’t realize all the little issues that we players have to go through. It’s actually good, I feel that it brought some attention to what’s happening – and hopefully it will be a little different next year.
“The qualies obviously, aren’t played at the main site. They’re played – basically it’s a field with posts and curtains in the back. If you’re going to put the qualies at another site, you should make it a great experience for the players. You have a big lounge, make it fun…have good food. That’s the way I see it.”
Looking to the future, including a 30th birthday on September 26, the No. 107-ranked Dancevic said, “my short-term goal is to get into the Top 100, make the US Open (main draw). I think I have a fairly good chance of getting in now.”
He also has a decent chance to make the Wimbledon third round when he faces No. 63-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan in Thursday’s second round.
Like Raonic, Bouchard has benefitted from lots of time practicing on the grass – both now get more access as seeded players.
Seeded No. 13, she dispelled any thoughts that her poor play in a loss to Vania King last week in s-Hertogenbosch was something to be concerned about with the hard-fought victory over the No. 34-ranked Hantuchova.
The first set ended when the 31-year-old Slovak served at 5-6, 30-40. She hit what appeared to be a backhand cross-court winner and returned to serve at deuce.
But it had been a close call and, when Bouchard challenged, it proved to be successful. The ball was almost an inch wide and the first set was over.
“I thought it was out,” Bouchard said, “but you never know with the challenge system. Even if it was in, no big deal – just go one more point at a time, that kind of thing.”
That approach is typical of the precocious, ‘business is business’ competitor that Bouchard is.
“Daniela is a really good player and it was a really tough match,” Bouchard summed up about the one hour and 43-minute encounter on Court No. 1.
“She didn’t give many chances and I didn’t play quite as aggressively as I wanted to. But at the end, when I wanted to, I upped it a little bit.”
Despite her self-criticism, Bouchard’s match stats were solid – 26 winners and just 15 unforced errors.
She was happy to be back on Court No. 1 for the first time since she won the Wimbledon junior girls title there two years ago. “Walking out was really special,” she said. “I had flashbacks from my junior final two years ago. Obviously, when the match started, I forgot about that and forgot about the match. But walking out was really cool.”
There’s no doubt hard work and time spent on grass has helped bring Bouchard’s game to a level where she can at least imagine going far in the tournament – maybe as far as the her two 2014 Grand Slam semifinals at the Australian and French Opens.
She does not look ahead in draws but has not been able to avoid learning that she could potentially play top-seed Serena Williams in the round-of-16 next Monday.
When questioned about it by a British reporter on Tuesday, Bouchard answered, “it’s not really on my mind at all. It’s a cliché to say, but it’s important to focus on one match at a time. To me there’s zero point in looking past the next match. That’s when I feel the most focused, so I really don’t worry about it.”
Her next match will be against No. 75-ranked Silvia Soler-Espinosa. Bouchard beat the 26-year-old Spaniard in their only previous meeting – 6-3, 6-3 in the first round on clay in Strasbourg, France, right before last year’s French Open.
Sharon Fichman was the only Canadian to lose on day two. On paper the match should have been close – partly because Fichman ranks No. 85 and Bacsinszky ranks No. 86, and partly because they split two previous meetings on clay this past spring.
The match quickly got away from Fichman, as Bacsinszky simply outhit her. Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau summed it up well by saying that Fichman was just hitting too short.
It was a tough loss for the 23-year-old from Toronto – and she remains in search of her first victory in a Grand Slam event.
Andy Murray, the Wimbledon defending champion, has done a great job rolling with the punches in the lead-up to Wimbledon this year. Murray, 27, has appeared unfailing cheerful and accommodating.
In the picture above from last week, two men interrupted a conversation he was having with Daniel Nestor (see background) and former Tennis Canada president Michael Downey to ask for a picture. Murray casually stepped aside and let each of the men take a shot with him.