Tennis Elbow: North Americans at home in New York

August 31, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2015 US Open.

Can you hear the crescendo?

It’s here, and by here we mean in New York. The tennis world has descended upon the great metropolis (i.e. the US Open is in Flushing Meadows, but whatever) for what, this year again, profiles as the season’s biggest party.

In part because we live in North America, it feels like the final Grand Slam of the year annually serves as the end point of the current season—despite the fact that there is still much, much more tennis played after this turn in New York.

What is true, however, is that the final Grand Slam tends to be the biggest party and celebration of the sport. It’s the one where the fans are the loudest and the rowdiest and, well, let’s use this column to give these North Americans something to sink their teeth in. Let’s preview the North American players in the men’s and the women’s draw.

*****

Men’s draw

John Isner

Is this the year that the tall American finally does it? Throughout his career, John Isner has typically not done so well at his home Slam, only once going beyond the third round—this happened in 2011 and, since, all Isner has done is bow down in the third round.

At now 30 years old, Isner is who he is but he does arrive in New York in form, notwithstanding an ugly loss against Sam Querry in the first round at the Western & Southern Open. We’ll go out on a limb and give Isner an extra round this year: the draw put him in Roger Federer’s section and, well, tough luck.

Milos Raonic

What will Milos Raonic do? The Canadian followed a poor showing at Wimbledon with two losses at the Rogers Cup and the Western & Southern Open.

He’s now 24 years old and the great, great promise he’s showed when he first broke through has given way to a sort of acceptance that Raonic may just be destined for the Top 10 player that he currently is. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that, especially in this country whose tennis tradition has been rather poor.

If Raonic manages to overcome in the third round the same Feliciano Lopez who beat him in the first round in Cincinnati, he’ll likely have to then overcome Novak Djokovic. Hey, there’s always next year.

Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil

Switching to doubles for this last spot, we’ll be eager to see if Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock pull another rabbit out of their hats and avenge a difficult 2014 US Open showing, where they lost in the third round.

The thing is, it does a disservice to the pair to mention that they managed a magic trick  in winning Wimbledon last season—because, you see, Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil are a great doubles team. They should be doing well, so it’s no surprise that they are.

Finally, let’s all remember to wish our guy Mardy Fish a happy retirement!

*****

Women’s draw

Serena Williams

Yep. Because really, until she loses, no narrative on the women’s draw really matches the possibility of Serena Williams 1) completing the 2015 Grand Slam and 2) matching Steffi Graf’s 22 career Grand Slam titles.

Madison Keys

If Williams does lose before the quarterfinals, however? The smart money would be on the young Madison Keys upsetting the great champion. Keys has been one of the five best Grand Slam players on the WTA Tour this year after all, right?

The 20-year-old hasn’t played particularly well since making the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, but I’m confident that Keys can bounce back on the surface that best suits her style of play.

Not Eugenie Bouchard

At this point, I would really love to do nothing more than to avoid discussing the fall from grace of Eugenie Bouchard—because it really doesn’t seem about to change.

Bouchard seemed destined to take over the sport just a year ago, but is now ranked No. 25 after a high of No. 5. The good news is that she finally enters a Grand Slam tournament where she doesn’t have a kazillion points to defend from last season. The bad news is that she has won only four times in her previous 20 matches, only nine times in 2015 and only 18 times since losing in the 2014 Wimbledon final.

But who else? Even when Bouchard plays terrible tennis, she still dominates the chatter.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: Cincinnati is always so kind to Roger Federer

August 25, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2015 Western & Southern Open.

Cincinnati has always been kind to Roger Federer. Well, not Cincinnati exactly—the city of Mason has.

What’s Mason? It is a small city in Ohio, and in 2013 it had a population of only 32,282 (an increase of 42.1 per cent since 2000). You don’t particularly care for Mason or probably wouldn’t, but the city is only 22 miles away from downtown Cincinnati, and so you do.

Cincinnati is sort of where the tennis world gathered last week for the 2015 Western & Southern Open; we say sort of, because this Masters 1000 event is actually held in Mason, OH, every year—and hey, look, we’ve come full circle.

So it’s Mason, OH, that has been kind to Federer over the years and this season will not go down as an exception, not after the Swiss captured the Western & Southern Open over Novak Djokovic by the score of 7-6(1) and 6-3.

Federer has now emerged victorious in Mason, OH, in 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2007 and 2005; this haul corresponds to about 8 per cent of his total 87 career titles and gives him a fourth event on the ATP World Tour calendar that he has won at least seven times (i.e. along with the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the Gerry Weber Open in Halle and Wimbledon).

Perhaps the King knew what he was doing by skipping out on the Rogers Cup the week before in order to better focus on his Western & Southern Open title defence? (Though the fans really did want to see you, Roger!)

The win reaffirms Federer’s place at No. 2 on the ATP World Tour rankings a mere few days after Andy Murray overtook him by winning said Rogers Cup. “Now I’ve got the confidence, I’ve got the matches, and I’m actually still feeling really fresh even after this week, because the matches have been rather short,” Federer said after his win. “I was explosive moving forward. Volleys were good. I think from the baseline I was hitting my forehand very well.”

The sad group of opponents the Swiss defeated on his way to the 2015 title would agree, as Federer managed to complete the event without losing any of his 49 service games.

Djokovic thinks the playing surface in Mason suits Federer perfectly. “I think he’s more aggressive here than in any other tournament, because the surface and conditions allow him to play very fast,” the Serb said. “He generally copes well with the fast balls. The fast game. He likes the rhythm.”

Something else that the Swiss will like is that this win gives him a slight 21-20 edge in his rivalry against Djokovic—but Federer praised the Serb more than anything else. “I’ve seem (him) adapt to my play over the years and he’s also improved a lot. His movement and his backhand and forehand are always so solid,” Federer said. “Our rivalry has definitely evolved.”

It’s evolved, but not in Mason, OH, where Djokovic falls to 0-5 in Western & Southern Open finals, including 0-3 against Federer. This 2015 US Open series will have turned out to be more challenging than many would have anticipated considering how his season up to this point had unfolded, with Djokovic making, but also losing, the two Masters 1000 finals he competed in. (It’s good, but it isn’t otherworldly like his season up to this point.)

Djokovic moves on to New York and Flushing Meadows for the US Open now, where he’ll hope to square his head-to-head rivalry with Federer at 21; a second career US Open title would also bring his record to 2-4 in the finals there.

You might say, then, that Flushing Meadows would be so much kinder to him than Mason, OH, has been. He’s not Federer.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Tennis Elbow: 2015 Western & Southern Open men’s and women’s draw preview and analysis

August 17, 2015

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-previews the 2015 Western & Southern Open.

And so it is, only one day after Belinda Bencic’s and Andy Murray’s respective wins in the women’s and men’s Rogers Cup, that the world of tennis heads over to the next big tournament on the calendar—in this instance, the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

Alright alright, this is basically what happens from the start of the clay court season and onward in tennis, but whatever. It’s the stretch run of the season. There. I can say that.

This week, let’s have another tournament preview and analysis. And by all means, if you missed what happened last week at the men’s Rogers Cup, then please do read my recaps in their entirety here.

Women’s draw

The Rogers Cup reminded everyone that Serena Williams is indeed human, as she suffered only her second non-walkover loss of the 2015 season when young Belinda Bencic beat her in the semifinals. This week, in her native USofA, she will be back to her former self: other than Ana Ivanovic, there is no one to bother her before the semifinals in this section.

Belinda Bencic is only 18 years old, but she could be the future of the sport; yet, that’s an entirely different discussion than a preview of the Cincinnati tournament, so let’s have that debate another day. What we can say, however, is that she might be the one playing the best tennis currently on the WTA Tour. She’ll prove it in the quarterfinals against Petra Kvitova.

Victoria Azarenka arrived in Toronto having played no matches since reaching the quarterfinals in Wimbledon and promptly reached the third round, which is good. With a relatively open draw, let’s say that she can do one better in Cincinnati We’ll also give the benefit of the doubt to Simona Halep and say that she’ll have recovered in time (i.e. she pulled out of the Rogers Cup final) for a good showing this week.

Maria Sharapova hasn’t played since losing in the semifinals of Wimbledon against Serena Williams earlier in July, but don’t expect this to stop her from making the Western & Southern Open final… where she will lose against Serena Williams. Yep.

Quarterfinals: Serena Williams over Ana Ivanovic; Belinda Bencic over Petra Kvitova; Victoria Azarenka over Simona Halep; Maria Sharapova over Madison Keys

Semifinals: Serena Williams over Belinda Bencic; Maria Sharapova over Victoria Azarenka

Final: Serena Williams over Maria Sharapova

*****

Men’s draw

As hard as it may be for some to consider, Novak Djokovic is enjoying an even better season this year than his famed 2011 season. He has won six of the nine finals he has made this year and, well, we’re not sure which nugget is the most impressive here: that he has won so many or that he has made so many. He won’t always be the absolute best player on any given day, but he is quite comfortably ahead of the pack overall. Put him through to the final.

The second section of this main draw is—what, interesting? Interesting might not be the word, but how about wide-open? Let’s see we have a bunch of guys who did nothing in Montreal in Tomas Berdych and Gael Monfils and a bunch of Americans. Give me John Isner and Bernard Tomic, who both did relatively well at the Rogers Cup.

Ah yes, the third section is the reminder that Marin Cilic as a seeded player is a thing. Maybe we’re being too hard on the Croatian, since he did make the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year, and the Citi Open semifinals, but it does seem out-of-whack to the daily reality of the ATP World Tour to see Cilic as the seventh favourite of a Masters 1000 event. All of which is to say that we do not have him emerging from his section, choosing instead Andy Murray and the resident “bad boy” Nick Kyrgios.

We’ll just go ahead and pencil in Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Joining him will not be Rafael Nadal, because we would then be confronted with the possibility of a Federer win over Nadal, thereby signaling that the Spaniard has forever lost it, and we do not believe the universe is quite this cruel, not yet. Instead we’ll settle for Jeremy Chardy in Nadal’s place.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Borna Coric; John Isner over Bernard Tomic; Andy Murray over Nick Kyrgios; Roger Federer over Jeremy Chardy

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over John Isner; Andy Murray over Roger Federer

Final: Novak Djokovic over Andy Murray

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Montreal by night: Andy Murray wins the Rogers Cup

August 17, 2015

All week, I’ll be at Stade Uniprix and will update readers on the latest happenings at the Rogers Cup evenings.

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray played tennis at the Rogers Cup in the first men’s final with the top two seeds since 2004 Cup and the match-up lived up to the billing.

Judging from the way they played in the Rogers Cup final, you wouldn’t think that Novak Djokovic had beaten Andy Murray eight times in a row.

That’s not to say that the Brit was dominant and coasted to an easy win, but rather that it seems odd that their rivalry had been so one-sided recently. Because on Aug. 16, on the final Sunday at the Rogers Cup, the two combined for a very competitive match: throughout, the point tally never veered much to the advantage of one or the other, and Murray had an 118-112 edge by the end. Murray made 60 per cent of his first serves and won 69 per cent of the points, Djokovic 60 per cent and 65 per cent of the points. He made five double faults to the Serb’s two.

Go through the list of statistics, and the match was close. And it was.

But Murray will remember the number one—as in, his first win against Djokovic in nine matches. Indeed, the Brit captured a third Rogers Cup title with a 6-4, 4-6 and 6-3 win over Djokovic. “It was tough. This time, both of us were dictating the points,” Murray told reporters after his win. “I tried to play aggressive today.”

It worked, especially at the turning point of the match. This turned out to be a marathon game in the third set, on Andy Murray’s serve, a game that lasted over 17 minutes and 50 seconds. Up 3-1, Murray managed to save six break points and to consolidate his hold on the match. “Most of all the moments when he needed to, he served very, very well,” Djokovic said in his post-match conference. “He just came up always with big serves, so I couldn’t do much.”

Murray was already guaranteed to overtake Roger Federer at No. 2 on the new edition of the ATP World Tour rankings simply for having made the final, but the win is the icing on the cake.

It’s also a boost for the Brit as the season fast forwards and hits the stretch run of the US Open series, with the big prize of the US Open as the carrot at the end of the road for the players on tour. “When we play each other, we always kind of take the best out of ourselves,” Djokovic said. “We need to deliver the best game possible in order to win. That’s what he did and I congratulate him.”

The loss reminds us all that Djokovic is but a mortal and brings his record in 2015 to a mere 52-4, including a gaudy 18-3 against members of the Top 10. “I know people always expect me to do well,” Djokovic said, “but I try to be modest with my expectations.”

Whoever told you that losses can be good for you was lying because you actually can’t win for losing, but to the extent that a loss can be constructive, perhaps this one qualifies for Djokovic. The Serb had been cruising along, having won the previous five Masters 1000 events he competed in, riding a 30-match win streak, and another two Grand Slams. “You never like losing but any streak comes to an end,” Djokovic said. “Again, I lost to a better player today.”

Djokovic’s level has been much better than more or less everyone else on tour, but he’ll remember this Rogers Cup for the fact that he did improve. “I played better as the tournament progressed,” Djokovic explained. “I did fight until the last point and did try my best.”

That’s a positive, and that’s the thing about tennis if you’re Djokovic: more often than not you win, but sometimes you lose. Even in the finals.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Montreal by night: Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in the final

August 16, 2015

All week, I’ll be at Stade Uniprix and will update readers on the latest happenings at the Rogers Cup evenings.

Then, there were two.

After so many matches and a whole lot of rain, the final for the 2015 Rogers Cup is set. To the surprise of absolutely no one—okay maybe not, but the seeds didn’t lie this week—Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the two favourites at the start of the event, will battle for the right to hoist the Rogers Cup trophy.

After his win the previous day against John Isner, Chardy was asked if he would rather play Djokovic or Ernests Gulbis in the first Masters 1000 semifinal of his career. By way of answer, Chardy said that, “Well I’ve yet to win a set against Novak (Djokovic)…”

He trailed off, but his silence spoke loudly. The Frenchman nearly got his wish, after Nole needed three sets and to save two match points against Ernests Gulbis, but sure enough there stood the world’s best player across the net from him as the first semifinal got underway. At the post-match conference this time, after losing 6-4 and 6-4, Chardy spoke of playing against the No. 1-ranked player. “Every time if you win or lose,” he said, “you learn a lot about your game.”

This match was no different: Djokovic wasted little time in asserting his might and broke Chardy in the match’s first game. “I don’t know what happened, but when the match started I became extremely nervous and I made two double-faults,” Chardy told reporters. “But… it’s part of tennis. This is how you build your experience.”

And despite the fact that the Frenchman’s record against Djokovic now stands at 0 sets won and 24 sets lost in 10 match-ups, Chardy’s week in Montreal attests that he’s become a better player. “The more you play tournaments and the more you get used to it, you get used to the intensity,” Chardy said, “to the length of the matches.”

The 28-year-old closed the interview by praising Djokovic on a facet of his game that tends to be overlooked. “There’s not one single moment where I was able to read his serve,” he said. “He doesn’t serve that fast, but he changes the speed and he’s extremely precise.”

Speaking to reporters, Djokovic jokingly complained that the 42-year-old Daniel Nestor managed to maintain his immaculate record in doubles after he and Édouard Roger-Vasselin beat the Djoker and Janko Tipsarevic in three sets in the doubles semifinal. “He continues to annoy me,” Djokovic said, speaking of Nestor. “He’s an example of somebody that has so much passion for the sport (and who) can be a real role model for many young tennis players coming on the Tour.”

The Serb had teamed with Tipsarevic this week in Montreal and was thrilled for his great friend that they made the semifinals—even though he only had an hour or so, after his singles match, to prepare for the doubles match. Djokovic said that, “I enjoyed winning also with him on the court, because I know that’s going to help his confidence.”

Fans of Tipsarevic hope that it will, as the Serb has endured a difficult past two seasons. The 31-year-old was a Top 10 player in the world for two seasons, achieving a high of No. 8 in April of 2012. He’s since plummeted all the way to No. 443 following a number of injuries that has kept him off the courts for 17 months.

Djokovic also looked ahead to the final, saying that he needed to play his best match of the week. He’ll need to against an Andy Murray who was at the top of his powers in dismantling a spent and tired Kei Nishikori by the score of 6-3 and 6-1 in only 66 minutes.

With the win, Murray becomes the new No. 2 on the ATP World Tour rankings regardless of what happens in the final. But surely he’d rather punctuate the ranking with a win.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Montreal by night: Everyone gets their share

August 15, 2015

All week, I’ll be at Stade Uniprix and will update readers on the latest happenings at the Rogers Cup evenings.

Tennis tournaments are set up in such a way to maximize the odds of having many great matches.

Players are seeded, No. 1 through No. 16 in the case of the Rogers Cup, and placed on the main draw in such a way as to create relatively sections; the top players don’t play fellow top players until the latter stages of a tournament, thereby decreasing the odds of upsets and increasing the star power of the players involved in the later matches.

At an event like the Rogers Cup, a Masters 1000 tournament, there are plenty of great players: 36 of the players ranked in the Top 40 are in Montreal, and only Roger Federer and David Ferrer are missing from the best 10. If it feels like there’s seemingly always a top player playing, it’s because it just about is the case.

Montreal’s draw is loaded this year, as it typically is, and this is a big reason why the tournament routinely appears near the top of the list of most popular one-week events. (Montrealers attended last year’s WTA Tour tournament in record numbers.) It’s because the numerous many great players battle in what amounts to a number of great matches every day.

Take August 14, for example. Fridays at the Rogers Cup, and just about everywhere actually, are for quarterfinals. In Montreal, nine of the previous 10 Rogers Cup winners were still in contention at the start of the day; 16th-seed John Isner and Jeremy Chardy were set to get the festivities started, to be followed by World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and qualifier Ernests Gulbis.

That schedule was for the day session and, sure enough, that’s exactly how it played out, but the 12:30 p.m. start was delayed by two hours due to… our old friend the rain. Yep.

Chardy and Isner then played tiebreak tennis, with the Frenchman prevailing by the score of 6-7(9), 7-6(13) and 7-6(4) over 3:08 of play. It was a second match in a row against one of the world’s best servers for Chardy, after his win against Ivo Karlovic, and maybe the experience helped him. “I know if I get broken, the set is close to (being) finished,” he told reporters in the post-match press conference. “Every small chance you have, you need to take the chance.”

By the time Djokovic and Gulbis started their match, it was about 7 p.m. and the day session had spilled into the evening session.

Montreal loves tennis a whole lot, but the fact that there are so many great matches contributes to the ever-excellent attendance. Fans know that if they buy tickets, especially for the Fridays and the final weekend, they’re likely to see a top player or two or four. Tournament director Eugene Lapierre can give one set of fans a Djokovic quaterfinal knowing full well that the fans in the evening will get their own rock star in Rafael Nadal.

But what happens when the day has turned into the evening, except that the day session isn’t finished yet? Well, there’s a work-around for that: you give priority to those with daytime tickets for the Djokovic match.

Even as the Serb and Gulbis play on and as the clock nears 9 p.m. when they head to a third set, you give the fans with the day tickets priority for their day match. Because the fans who purchased evening tickets will still get to watch Nadal battle Kei Nishikori before a duel between Andy Murray and defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Chardy discussed a potential solution to the schedule shuffling that comes as a result of the rain. “Having a roof is always an asset for a tournament, especially for the crowd,” he told reporters. “When you buy your tickets, at least you’re sure you can see the match.”

It may not be feasible with Uniprix Stadium, but he’s right. That way, everyone gets their share. And everyone buys their ticket to see their great matches.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Montreal by night: Rafael Nadal is a damn rock star

August 14, 2015

All week, I’ll be at Stade Uniprix and will update readers on the latest happenings at the Rogers Cup evenings.

Rafael Nadal is still Rafael Nadal.

He’s still Nadal in the sense that he remains as popular as ever. Before his matches, tennis fans at Uniprix Stadium amass near the players’ entry, if for no other reason than to see their favourite player as he walks by on his way to Centre Court.

They take pictures too, because there’s nothing else they can do since everyone is cordoned off as authorities have made a sort of corridor for the players to walk through. Just a chance to get a glimpse of the Spaniard is enough for most to stand still, shoulder to shoulder with those around them. It’s chaos, and no one can move, so much so that if your seat happens to be at the other end of the stadium and across from the human corridor, well tough luck because you’re not going anywhere for a little while.

It’s chaos, and it sucks mightily, but I mean, it’s Nadal. So it doesn’t quite suck that bad.

Nadal is still Nadal in the sense that when he’s introduced ahead of his third-round match against qualifier Mikhail Youzhny, he’s still greeted by nothing but loud, loud cheers. Maybe that’s related to the last point, but it’s not just that Nadal is so popular.

Still, he remains a sort of rock star. It’s like, you’re there at the Rogers Cup and you don’t just clap your hands to greet him; you cheer and scream too. Because it’s as if you just can’t believe that you’re there and, you know, so is Nadal, who is about to play tennis. I mean, Nadal. Holy hell!! Right??

Put it this way: you were there for Novak Djokovic’s first match in Montreal this week against Thomaz Bellucci and no one cheered as loudly as they did for Nadal tonight. Why? Because Djokovic isn’t Nadal.

And yet, the rub is that even in 2015 Nadal has very seldom been Nadal. As he put it, “I am out of the top four now.”

Yes, exactly.

This season, Nadal is so far removed from his typical ranking of No. 2 or No. 3 and rather stands all the way back at No. 9. At the 2015 Rogers Cup, the 29-year-old is seeded seventh, but it’s more than that. The best way is to document Nadal’s problems this season is to say that he couldn’t win Roland Garros—and worse, that he was utterly overmatched against Djokovic in the semifinal.

And in the third round of the Rogers Cup, the Spaniard had all the difficulty in the world to put his opponent away in two identical sets of 6-3 and over 1:41 of play. “I think I played some good shots in the important moments,” Nadal told the reporters after his win. “I saved some good moments, I served well, and I played well.”

But if Nadal only converted three of 10 break points, it’s in part because of a spirited effort from the veteran Youzhny. At 33 years old and ranked No. 107, the Russian is far from the level of play that once had propelled him to a career-high of No. 8 but he’s still battling after 17 years on the ATP World Tour. (And he still has that wonderful one-handed backhand of his.)

This Rogers Cup could do wonders for Youzhny’s self-belief moving forward, as he adds two wins to his meager haul of six up until this point. “His level of tennis is much higher than what his ranking says,” Nadal said of his opponent. “If he can play like this, for sure he will finish the season in a higher position in the rankings. No doubt [about] that.”

But because he is still Nadal, he still beat Youzhny—regardless of what a great narrative it was to see the Russian do well this week in Montreal. Nadal may be a bit diminished, but he’ll still win a match against a qualifier like a Youzhny in the third round of a Masters 1000 event more often than not.

He’s still Nadal. Right?

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Montreal by night: It’s Vasek Pospisil’s turn to fall

August 13, 2015

All week, I’ll be at Stade Uniprix and will update readers on the latest happenings at the Rogers Cup evenings.

Make them hit another shot, they say, is a key to being successful in tennis.

It’s one of the core tenets of the sport, and a reason why and how Rafael Nadal has enjoyed such an illustrious career—but enough about the Nadal. The Spaniard had already moved on to the third round by the time you arrived at Uniprix Stadium, defeating Sergiy Stakhovsky by the score of 7-6(4) and 6-3.

No, Vasek Pospisil and John Isner were playing when you arrived, and early on both used that core tenet of the sport to their advantage.

During the Canadian’s first service game, and the first game of the match overall, the American twice challenged a Pospisil service winner and made the younger hit a second serve. Twice, the 25-year-old double-faulted, which led to a break of serve for Isner. “Not the kind of start you want to have,” Pospisil called this after the match. “Maybe that carried over the rest of the set.”

Not immediately however, as Pospisil managed to break back shortly afterward by making his opponent, from the same mold as Ivo Karlovic, hit another, another and another shot. While it’s unfair to Isner to paint him as nothing but a giant with a giant serve—he actually is strong from the baseline and wouldn’t be ranked at No. 12 if he weren’t—it is true that he isn’t quite as nimble as others. Unlike Karlovic, Isner can reliably win rallies against the best players but, like him, he would rather have the rallies happen on his opponent’s service games.

From there, both players carried on and moved on to a tiebreak, which Isner promptly won in only nine points. Fittingly, Isner won on a Pospisil double fault.

Having lost the first set only meant that the Canadian would now need to play one more set. And he would need to break Isner’s serve at least once, because one simply does not win a tiebreak against the tall American who wins about 65 per cent of all tiebreaks he has played in his career, and Pospisil managed just that in the opening game of the second after having taken a bathroom break. “I just came out fighting for every point,” Pospisil said, “trying to get deep into his service game.”

And because the Canadian captured the second set, the two would then play another set, a third one, where they would have to hit more and more shots. And in the end, after 2:03 of excellent tennis, Isner was the one left standing when all the points had been played and all the extra shots had been hit, winning 7-6(2), 4-6 and 6-3. “The difference was just a few points here and there,” Pospisil said. “It’s a pity, but that’s how it is.”

For his efforts, the 30-year-old Isner will now get to play yet another match against Nick Kyrgios, who overcame Stanislas Wawrinka in a testy affair in the day’s final match.

Once again, Isner will look to force Kyrgios into making another shot in order to win another game and play another set, and on and on—though on his service games, he’ll hope to keep rallies to a minimum.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Montreal by night: Beware the rain? What rain?

August 12, 2015

All week, I’ll be at Stade Uniprix and will update readers on the latest happenings at the Rogers Cup evenings.

The doomsday scenario most had feared and predicted turned out to be much ado about nothing as for once, Montrealers got the last laugh over rain.

Oh sure, it still rained, plenty even—as much as 70 millimeters in Montreal in over 24 hours—but all that matters is tennis. Right?

Because on August 11, tennis fans in attendance at Uniprix Stadium got the full slate that they deserved. Sure, the matches started after a two-hour-ish delay because of the rain, but in the grand scheme of things and considering that it was supposed to rain through the day, uninterrupted, until 8 p.m. local time? I’m sure tournament director Eugene Lapierre will take it.

You take it as well. The two-hour rain delay meant that by the time you arrived at Jarry Park around 6:45 p.m. the match between Novak Djokovic and Thomaz Bellucci, scheduled for much, much earlier, had just started.

The No. 1-ranked Djokovic enjoyed a workmanlike win over his Brazilian counterpart, winning 6-3 and 7-6(4), before going into “Operation Charisma” right afterward: he conducted his entire post-match interview en français and wrote “Bonsoir Montreal <3 J” on the camera lens. “The match could have gone either way, honestly, especially in the second set,” Djokovic said in his interview afterward. “So that’s what I take out of this match, you know, the ability to play my best and stay calm in the right moments and overcome this tough challenge.”

This was a more eloquent answer from the Serb, who had only managed an “Easier said than done” when RDS’s Hélène Pelletier had asked him about that right after his win—time gives someone the chance to reflect.

After Djokovic’s win, Canadian Milos Raonic and Ivo Karlovic battled and traded canon serves after canon serves.

And few are as good as Dr. Ivo at that game. Against the Canadian, the Croatian was more than willing and happy to play efficient and unexciting tennis en route to a 7-6(1) and 7-6(1) win. Karlovic was more than happy and willing to kill any kind of rhythm to the match. To render the home crowd a non-factor. Raonic praised his opponent after the match. “He was playing a little bit better than I was. You sort of saw that difference in the tiebreaks,” he said. “I gave away a few too many free points.”

This style of play has served the 36-year-old Karlovic well, as he’s amassed six career titles and over $6 million in prize money over what is, so far, a 16-year career.

Karlovic would rather play a match with as few rallies as possible. Or put it another way: Karlovic is fine with rallies, but he’d prefer that they happen during his opponent’s service games. On his own, he would rather hit a few aces—22 against Raonic, including the 10,000th of his career—and call it a day. “I was hitting forehands unbelievable. I was running around. I mean,” Karlovic said after his win, “everything was going my way.”

Because of that, the pro-Raonic crowd was about silent throughout, right up until their favourite had to save three break points in the second set as he served down 2-3. Raonic impressed his opponent during those points. “I had opportunities to end (the match) earlier, but he just did unbelievable on those break points,” Karlovic said. “I had maybe one chance. Every other ball he hit was [an] ace or [a] winner forehand.”

How did Karlovic follow up this sequence? With a service game won at love that included an ace, two service winners and a whopping four-shot rally that ended on a long Raonic miss.

Unexciting, sure, but that doesn’t make it boring. And, especially, it doesn’t make it any less prolific and efficient for Karlovic.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Montreal by night: A French day at the Rogers Cup

August 11, 2015

All week, I’ll be at Stade Uniprix and will update readers on the latest happenings at the Rogers Cup in the evenings.

On the evening of the first day, the cousins had Uniprix Stadium all to themselves.

The cliché goes that Quebecois are France’s long-lost cousins, and vice-versa, because they really kind of are actually, and this held true on August 10 when Frenchmen Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were the two main events on Centre Court.

A mere six hours after walking down Sainte Catherine Street in downtown Montreal (I know, because I saw him), Monfils was dominant against Fabio Fognini, winning in 63 minutes by the final score of 6-3 and 6-1. After the match, he explained that since arriving in town on August 6 he had worked on his precision and getting reacquainted with the hard courts of Montreal: this is Monfils’s first visit in the city since 2011 and the speed at which the courts play has surprised him.

Evidently, this was time well spent.

The beginning of the match hinted at perhaps a classic, long and spirited fight between the two veterans, but too many unforced errors spelled doom for the Italian. “He was annoyed with the break points (at the end of the first set),” Monfils said of Fognini, “I was able to stay solid.”

In the post-match interview, the 28-year-old reflected on how he’s matured as he’s aged. “I feel much better, [more] aware of what I have to do,” he said. “I understand much better the way I need to play.”

On the first day of the Rogers Cup, Monfils quickly understood that one way to do this was to let his opponent beat himself—because that’s another way to win a match. The Frenchman did enough to ensure that he stayed ahead in the match and he let Fognini miss shot after shot after shot and he obliged.

It was a mere act of presence for Fognini, and Monfils will move on to face Gilles Muller, an opponent he’s never faced before in his career, whether in the juniors or on the ATP World Tour.

In the evening’s second act, Jo-Wilfriend Tsonga moved on to the second round with a win over Borna Coric in a wildly entertaining match, or maybe it was Coric who beat Tsonga, because who knows with all this rain?

Indeed, the rain stole the show, as it always does seemingly at least once at every single edition of the Rogers Cup (here is last year), and Tsonga and Boric couldn’t finish their match. Play was halted after 14 minutes with Coric set to serve down 1-2 in the first set at 8:44 p.m. local time, and the cleaning crew was on Centre Court at 9:08 p.m., and the players stepped on the court at 9:48 p.m., warmed up and then play resumed at—

Nope, kidding! It rained just as Coric and Tsonga were set to warm up again and play was halted for good at 9:57 p.m. for the evening, and the pair will resume their match the next day. Whatever, welcome to Montreal, where rain is the third wheel to death and taxes, etc. etc.

The typical reaction, during these hard times, is to say that it’s okay. That tomorrow will be better because you think that it can’t possibly get worse. Oh but it does. Because life sucks and is deeply unfair and we can’t ever have nice things, the forecast for August 11 calls for at least 70 per cent chance of rain until 6 p.m.

Go to hell, rain. Give us more tennis.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

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