Good Morning Canada: Thursday
Each day this week, Peter Bodo will review action from the Rogers Cup tournaments in Canada and preview upcoming matches. These "Good Morning Canada" posts will be published around 10 am EST, and we encourage you to discuss the day's play—along with Pete's thoughts—in the comment section below.
Yesterday: Any hopes that our friendly neighbors north of the 49th parallel were going to make a big deal out of Wimbledon champ Andy Murray’s debut in the Coupe Rogers were obviously misplaced, or mere wishful thinking. Montreal is the heart of Francophone Canada, which means the locals might have been more inclined to lionize Benoit Paire (who upset No. 8 seed Stanislas Wawrinka) than Murray, or any other Anglo.
But still—can you remember a less auspicious debut by a player who hasn’t swung a racquet in anger since he won Wimbledon? You can put some of that down to the personality of TFBMTWWI77Y (“The First British Man to Win Wimbledon in 77 Years”), who’s generally dyspeptic, and yesterday seemed as refreshingly unimpressed with his own bad self as ever. But why would the tournament trot out such a high-value specimen at 11 a.m., even if his opponent was Marcel Granollers? (Somehow, the very name “Granollers” somewhat mystically suggests that the other guy has nothing to worry about; call me crazy.)
Let’s not forget that TFBMTWWI77Y has won this tournament twice in succession (2009 and ’10). In his successful title defense, he beat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in back-to-back matches without losing a set. Yet there the Wimbledon champ was yesterday, the warm-up act for some guy named Nadal, who was last seen slinking away from Wimbledon after absorbing a first-round beating at the hands of non-icon Steve Darcis.
“I was pretty nervous beforehand,” Murray said after his routine 6-4, 7-6 (2) win over Granollers. “That was a good sign. I'm pretty ready to move forward and not think too much about Wimbledon.”
Nadal, the No. 4 seed, didn’t do too badly either in his first singles outing since his Wimbledon debacle (he spanked Jesse Levine, 6-2, 6-0) and pronounced his knees fine. Nadal’s friend and countryman, David Ferrer, didn’t do so well, though. Seeded No. 3, Ferrer was picked apart by Alex Bogomolov Jr. by a stunning score of 6-2, 6-4. Hey, when a vehicle has a lot of miles on the odometer, a brake line fails here, a fuel pump there. Ferrer is 31 and you wouldn’t exactly describe his game as “effortless.”
The only other noteworthy upset on the ATP side was Vasek Pospisil’s triumph over Radek Stepanek, because any journeyman can tell you that the toughest thing to do after recording a significant upset (Pospisil took down John Isner in the first round) is to back it up. And while the 34-year-old Stepanek is a little long in the tooth, he’s a crafty and seasoned veteran who knows how to get under the skin of his opponent.
The women, playing in Toronto, didn’t exactly generate headlines either. The major surprise wasn’t much of a surprise: No. 9 seed Caroline Wozniacki lost in three sets to Sorana Cirstea, 7-5, 6-7 (0), 4-6. Wozniacki won just 54 percent of her first serve points, but it wasn’t like Cirstea imposed herself on the two-time year-end No. 1. The match had a total of 31 break points, 20 of them against Cirstea’s serve. But Cirstea fended off 13 of them, while Wozniacki deflected just four of 11.
Maria Kirilenko, the No. 11 seed, also lost, falling to Alize Cornet, 7-5, 7-5. I’m hoping this means we’ll be spared any more blogging by Kirilenko at the WTA website. Did you know that she likes to get her own groceries at tournaments? Likes to relax after matches? That texting and chatting with her fiancé, Alex Ovechkin, makes her feel closer to “home”? The pen may be mightier than the sword because unlike the blade, it can bore you to death.
Otherwise, Serena Williams was money again, and Marion Bartoli acquitted herself admirably in the first match she’s played since winning Wimbledon—she crushed Lauren Davis, 6-0, 6-3. Out of 14 WTA singles matches, only four went to three sets. In one of them, Sloane Stephens continued her rehabilitation with a nice win over versatile Mona Barthel.
Today: Wednesday is over-the-hump day at most Masters and Premier events, and even if they’ve been uneventful, something is almost always guaranteed to pop by the end of Thursday.
On the WTA side, the most intriguing offering appears to be the clash between Agnieszka Radwanska and Sloane Stephens. Radwanska has won their only two previous meetings, both on hard courts. But both matches went three sets.
These women share a similarity; both of them can make it look like they haven’t the least bit of interest in the proceedings while they’re playing. That can lull an opponent into a false sense of security. However, Radwanska is better equipped and more capable of exploiting a letdown by an opponent, and she probably has a more highly developed sense of just how to react to one. Stephens must avoid falling asleep at the wheel—and attack Radwanska’s second serves.
The most explosive clash might be the one between two flawed Grand Slam champions, Petra Kvitova and Sam Stosur. The advantage going in belongs to the former Wimbledon champ Kvitova, who’s 4-1 against the former U.S. Open champ, and that includes two hard-court meetings.
But—and this is always a big but—Stosur won the last meeting, which was on clay in Rome a few months ago. Kvitova is seeded No. 6 and Stosur is No. 12, but I don’t put too much stock in that because these two may be the most erratic Grand Slam champs of the present era—and that’s saying something, given that Svetlana Kuznetsova is also still knocking around.
On the ATP side, the docket is loaded.
We know how often Nadal has spoken in fearful terms about facing atomic servers on a medium to fast hard court. Guys like John Isner or Ivo Karlovic truly make him nervous, and the more insistent they are on avoiding rallies and ending points with two or three swings, the more anxious Rafa gets. Today, he’ll face 6’8” acemaker Jerzy Janowicz for the first time in his career, so you can just forget about that little cakewalk he had in the second round (after a first-round bye) yesterday.
As noted up top, the draw gods also gave Murray a comfortable if not exactly compelling second-round debut match. But they also cooked up a nice surprise for him in round three, in the form of Ernests Gulbis. Okay, so TFBMTWWI77Y is 4-0 against the volatile Latvian; the stat to keep in mind is that in their last meeting, way back in 2010, Gulbis extended Murray to a third-set tiebreaker in round of 16 at Cincinnati. And Gulbis has the firepower to obliterate anyone. If you can’t catch up to it, you can’t hit it, period.
But the highlight match in my book is No. 7 seed Juan Martin del Potro vs. No. 11 seed—and the Great Canadian Hope—Milos Raonic. The two have yet to meet, which may work to Raonic’s favor. At 6’6”, Delpo is an inch taller than Raonic, but the Canadian lad seems a better mover.
In some ways, both of these men have been spinning their wheels, albeit at a high level. Del Potro just hasn’t been able to smother opponents as ruthlessly and consistently as he did way back when, and Raonic rocketed up into the territory he presently occupies very quickly after his breakout year in 2011, but hasn’t made a big impression at Masters or Grand Slam events. He could use a breakthrough at a Masters 1000, and he’ll be inspired by the support of his fellow Canadians.
Almost every day through the first few rounds of a tournament there are also matches that I sometimes think I would pay not to watch. On the ATP side today, that would be Kei Nishikori vs. No. 7 seed Richard Gasquet. Nishikori hasn’t won a set from Gasquet in two meetings; in fact, he hasn’t collected more than three games in any of those four sets he lost.
The honors in the WTA go to the meeting of Alize Cornet and Sara Errani, who’s yielded but eight games to Cornet in their last two meetings, one on hard and one on clay.