Good Morning Canada: Wednesday
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: In the past few years, John Isner has been frequently spoken of as the young man who would help lead a long-awaited resurgence in U.S. tennis. Yesterday, he became the unwilling answer to a painfully embarrassing trivia question among his countrymen.
By losing to Canadian wild card Vasek Pospisil in the Rogers Cup, Isner will fall out of the Top 20 when the next rankings are released on Monday. It will be the first time in the history of the ATP rankings (which commenced in 1973) that no American male is in the Top 20.
It was a doubly painful blow because, before Isner ran into the 23-year-old from Vancouver (one of five inspired Canadian men who have battled through into the second round), he was actually playing some wonderful tennis. He’d won 11 of his last 14 matches (with the title in Atlanta his major prize) and this looked a lot like win No. 12 of 15 until very close to the end.
Isner won the first set but lost control of the second-set tiebreaker. He built a 4-2 lead in the third set, only to see Pospisil find the range with his service returns and groundstrokes. Yet even after Pospisil broke back, Isner would go on to lead in the final-set tiebreaker by 4-2, and his record this year in tiebreakers has been superb (28-9). It didn’t help much. The memorable—and emblematic—point was at 4-all, when Pospisil stretched way over to crunch an forehand service return to Isner’s shoetops.
The startling thing is that Isner lost despite an outstanding 70 percent first-serve conversion that stood in stark contrast to Pospisil’s anemic 54 percent.
Overall, though, it was Canada day all over again in Montreal. Flagbearer Milos Raonic, the No. 11 seed, sputtered a bit but finally downed Jeremy Chardy in straight sets; No. 169 Frank Dancevic nailed down his first main-tour match win of 2013 over Yen-Hsun Lu, and No. 355 Filip Peliwo, who’s just 19, advanced when Jarkko Nieminen quit their match with a hamstring injury after falling behind 1-3 in the third set.
The celebration went on in Toronto, too. There, Canada got every possible win out of the day, starting with Eugenie Bouchard’s straight-sets thumping of Alisa Kleybanova. Another Canadian, Sharon Fichman, outlasted her countrywoman Stephanie Dubois in three sets.
But the big news of the day was Dominka Cibulkova’s triumph over No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber, who had built a 4-1 lead in the third set before the pint-sized dynamo (Cibulkova is just 5’3”) struck back with her bouncy, precise, go-for-broke game. Ranked No. 20, Cibulkova upset top-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska to win at Stanford just two weeks ago. It looks like she’s on her way to matching or bettering her career-high ranking of No. 12.
Meanwhile, what do we make of Marcos Baghdatis? Apparently, even the sea-change represented by his recent marriage hasn’t really provided the happy-go-lucky Cypriot with new drive or inspiration. He hammered red-hot Fabio Fognini 6-1 in the first set—then promptly lost the next two sets by the same score. Awaiting that sure-to-come Baghdatis resurgence has proved to be one of the loneliest of all vigils in tennis.
Speaking of lost souls, Svetlana Kuznetsova, the two-time Grand Slam champion who’s still just 28, lost in Toronto to American Lauren Davis. Okay, no big deal—Kuznetsova is in one of her dark phases again, at least when it comes to tennis. But there’s an intriguing backstory.
Kuznetsova, the top seed in qualifying, lost a 6-4 in-the-third squeaker in the second round to. . . Lauren Davis. . . who then made the main draw as a lucky loser (a failed qualifier who replaces a last minute withdrawal), and ended up drawing Kuznetsova as her opponent again.
There’s no truth to the rumor that Davis came off the court after this second straight win over Kuznetsova and said to her coach, “Hey, I could get used to this!”
At 5’2”, Davis is an inch shorter than Cibulkova—and a full 20 inches shorter than Isner. Make what you will of that, I’m just throwing it out there.
Today: For those of you who have suspected that Kiki Bertens and Kirsten Flipkens might be the same person, let me reassure you that they are not. I can tell because they play each other on a day short of match-ups that jump clear off the page at you, begging to be pondered.
Top-seeded Serena Williams vs. Francesca Schiavone? Nah.
Klara Zakopalova vs. No. 5 Sara Errani? Meh.
Maria Kirilenko vs. Alize Cornet? OK.
No. 14 Sloane Stephens vs. Mona Barthel? Getting warmer. Barthel is a versatile and talented pro, but she’s gotten stuck and appears to be spinning her wheels in the Top 30 ranks. Still, this will be another good test for Stephens. Heck, in recent times any match in a tournament below Grand Slam level has been a “good test” for the American, who has a marked preference for the center stage. These two have never played. I smell an upset.
But the juiciest offering appears to be a night match between Bouchard and Petra Kvitova. The 19-year-old Canadian has the home crowd behind her, and Kvitova is capable of panicking like a chicken if you put her under sufficient pressure. You can always count on Kvitova’s game to run off the rails for a substantial period of time in almost any match; it will be interesting to see what Bouchard can do with her opportunities.
In Montreal, you have to wonder, can Stanislas Wawrinka stand the pressure of being the highest ranked Swiss in a Masters 1000 event (he’s No. 8), or will he now spread his wings a fly, now that he’s not relegated to the role of Roger Federer’s wing man? He plays Benoit Paire in what may be the most tantalizing match-up of the day.
Wawrinka has handled Paire with relative ease in two previous matches, but the Frenchman seems a different, better player these days. He’s still lavishly talented and seemingly crazy as a loon, but he’s winning matches now, perhaps following in footsteps of fellow head-case Fognini. A Masters 1000 isn’t the most likely venue for a breakout tournament, but you never know—just ask Jerzy Janowicz, who went from sleeping in his car to qualifying and making the final at the Paris Indoors. He hasn’t looked back since.
And speaking of Fognini, he meets Ernests Gulbis in one of those “connoisseur’s special” matches that come along now and then, and less frequently than you may think. Gulbis is 2-1 against Fognini, with his two victories on clay. But Fognini won their only hard-court clash, at the 2009 Shanghai Masters.
Given the unusually heavy work load Fognini has taken in these past few weeks, this is a good opportunity for Gulbis to make a statement, after which he probably will make many more statements generally pertaining to how much better he is than anybody else.
Gee, I can hardly wait.