First Ball In, 8/13: The Back-to-Back Blues

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Champion in Canada, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga went down meekly in his Cincinnati opener. (AP Photos)

The Canada-Cincy double lived up to its reputation as perhaps the toughest turnaround in tennis yesterday. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, so brilliant last week in Toronto, looked like he had forgotten how to play the game in his 6-1, 6-4 defeat at the hands of Mikhail Youzhny. Jo lost the first set in 26 minutes, won just seven of 23 points on his second serve, and was discombobulated throughout. Even the simplest putaways were complicated for him.

“It’s never easy,” Tsonga said afterward, with a hint of understatement, about playing back-to-back weeks. “You have to get used to the conditions really quick.”

Tsonga obviously could have used another day to recover, but there were no more days left for him in tennis’ accelerated August schedule. Normally, the winner of a tournament like Toronto would also be one of the top eight seeds in the following Masters event. That means he would get a first-round bye and not have to play until Wednesday. But Tsonga, whose ranking has slipped, wasn’t among the Top 8 in Cincy. Even if he had won his opener, he would have been up against it in Cincy. To win the title, he would have had to play every day until Sunday.

The turnaround was just as tough on the women’s side. Venus Williams, who was nearly as brilliant as Tsonga in reaching the final in Montreal, went out in Cincy on Tuesday to Lucie Safarova, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4. Venus, like Tsonga, was ranked too low to secure a first-round bye. This was also a bad draw for her; Safarova reached the semifinals at Wimbledon last month. Even worse than that, Venus wasn’t happy about being scheduled at 11:00 in the morning. Yet she was philosophical about the defeat afterward.

“It was definitely a quick turnaround,” Williams said. “But she just played so well. No matter what shot I hit, she hit a winner.”

“It was just one match,” was Venus’ conclusion. And as far as U.S. Open preparation, the 34-year-old has probably done all she needs to do.

From the perspective of a fan watching from home, the Canada-Cincinnati double does have one upside: You tend to see different faces each week. Up north, we watched Tsonga and Venus; now, hopefully, we’ll get to watch two different players make surprise runs to the weekend. 

Still, it’s obviously not an ideal situation for the pros or the tournaments. Ideally, you could give the four finalists in Canada first-round byes in Cincy, but that would wreak havoc with the draws there, and force higher-seeded players to play an extra match to compensate. Another, broader solution would be to do what the spring Masters in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne do: Stretch the two events over four weeks, so there’s a week of downtime in between.

More realistically, and without subtracting any events from the U.S. Open Series, you could move Canada up a week and put the smaller, not-mandatory D.C. event in between the two Masters tournaments.

In both cases, you would get complaints from the Europeans about having to spend more time in the States. For now, judging by the crowds that all three tournaments have drawn this year, Toronto, Montreal—which had record-setting ticket sales—and Cincy have found their niche in the schedule.


OOP Analysis

See Wednesday’s Order of Play here.

This is another reason to keep the rapid turnaround between the two events: It doesn’t take long for things to get good again. There's a lot going on today.

Serena Williams vs. Sam Stosur: Serena beat Sam easily last week, which means the Aussie has to put up more resistance this time around, right? She owns three wins over the world No. 1.

Roger Federer vs. Vasek Pospisil: Federer is 2-0 in their head to head, but Pospisil nearly knocked him off last fall in Basel. We’ll see how the Canadian recovers after saving a match point against Radek Stepanek yesterday.

Jerzy Janowicz vs. Grigor Dimitrov: Jerzy is down to No. 65 in the rankings, but he’ll always be dangerous. These two have never played.

Sloane Stephens vs. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova: Sloane showed more positive signs in her win over Andrea Petkovic yesterday—such as, when her coach, Thomas Hogstedt, spoke to her on a changeover, she listened, nodded, and responded. But BZS won’t be easy; she won their only meeting, three years ago.

Eugenie Bouchard vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova: Bouchard has lost three of the last five sets she’s played 6-0. Playing Kuznetsova, champion in D.C., isn't the easiest way for her to get her confidence back. Kuzzie won their only meeting, on clay earlier this year, in straight sets.

Petra Kvitova vs. Elina Svitolina: Is Kvitova finally ready to show us she’s more than a Wimbledon wonder? Svitolina is a solid young opponent. They’ve never played.

Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Kurumi Nara: Let’s see if Radwanska can put the extra day of rest after Toronto to good use. She has never played Nara, who reached the final in D.C. last month.

Taylor Townsend vs. Flavia Pennetta: The teenage qualifier from the U.S. should have a shot at upsetting the No. 13 seed.

Ekaterina Makarova vs. Angelique Kerber: A tough draw—both of these players have the potential to go deep here and at the U.S. Open. 

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