First Ball In, 8/5: Claim Canada
The United States may want to start referring to itself as “North America” when it comes to tennis. The way it’s going now, that would be the easiest solution to the country's woes when it comes to the sport. The Rogers Cup in Toronto is only one day old, but already the U.S. and Canadian men have continued, in small ways, to go in different directions. The women’s event started the same way in Montreal, where 17-year-old Francois Abanda of Canada took a set from Dominika Cibulkova. But the night ended with the States getting a little head-to-head revenge.
“Isner wasn’t made available for comment”: That’s what serves as a quote from John Isner in the reports on his 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-3 loss to Ivan Dodig last night. Maybe the ATP didn’t want to hear him complain about not playing on Centre Court, the way he did last week in Washington. On Monday in Toronto, the Isner-Dodig match was scheduled for the stadium in the afternoon, but after a rain delay, it was played at night on the second show court.
Whether that bothered Isner or not, his main problem was one that he has wherever he plays. The American’s night can be summed up in one shot. Dodig was serving, up a break at 4-2 in the third. He went up 30-0, but then made a nervous forehand error to bring the score to 30-30. Dodig then missed his first serve. His second one sat up for Isner, who...hit it in the net. For every serve that keeps Isner in a match, there’s a return that keeps him out. Dodig, who beat Rafael Nadal in Canada three years ago, finished the match easily from there.
This looked, after his title in Atlanta, like it was going to be another Summer of Isner in the States, but since then he’s lost two first-round matches. Is the curse of Andy Roddick still alive? Since A-Rod's retirement, no U.S. man has been able to grab the country's tennis mantle and run with it. In March, when Isner re-entered the Top 10, he made a point of saying that he wanted to “keep going.” Now he’s down to No. 14. Maybe he can get to Cincy early, plant himself on the stadium court, and not let anyone else inside.
Last year, when Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil reached the semis in Montreal, Ernests Gulbis accused Canadian players of only playing well in Canada. Since then, Raonic has obviously proven Gulbis wrong. But last night another Canadian, Peter Polansky, brought Ernie’s words to mind again. The 129th-ranked Polansky, of Thornhill, Ontario, made the most of the wild card he received into the draw by upsetting Jerzy Janowicz 7-6 (5), 6-4. The win was just the second at the ATP level for Polansky in 2014, and it was certainly a step up from his last match, a three-set loss to 236th-ranked Matt Reid at a Challenger in Lexington, Ky.
Afterward, the 26-year-old Polansky tried to give his own small explanation for the Canadian surge.
“When you’re around your peers and your peers start doing well,” he said, “I think it pushes everyone, and it gives everyone a little extra confidence, saying, “‘I’m training with this guy, maybe I’m beating him a little bit in practice, and look where he’s ranked.’”
When I say that Polansky recorded an “upset” over Janowicz, I probably should have prefaced it with the word "mild." The defeat was another in what has turned into a season of defeats for Jerzy. In 2013, he reached the Wimbledon semifinals and knocked on the Top 10 door; now he’s ranked 52nd, is 13-17 for the year, and has lost in the first round 10 times.
A year ago at the U.S. Open, I paired Janowicz with Milos Raonic in an article about the next big (or at least tall) things on the ATP tour. Now we see who really was next—the Canadian is currently ranked 46 spots ahead of the Pole. Why? They both have cannon serves, and Janowicz is actually the better mover and more capable all-around player. Perhaps it’s proof that mindset and demeanor mean as much as any stroke. Raonic keeps calm and carries on; Janowicz, when things aren’t going well, lets his mind get the better of him.
Should U.S. tennis fans dare to feel encouraged by Sloane Stephens’ 6-3, 6-0 win over Canada’s Aleksandra Wozniak on Monday night? Granted, Wozniak was a wild card who is ranked 97th. But Stephens, who is in her second week with coach Thomas Hogstedt, is trimmer now, and she appeared to make a point of staying as calm, even stony-faced, as possible—from what I could see, there were no post-miss pouts. We’ll know more when she faces Jelena Jankovic in her next match.
Venus Williams vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Venus makes her Montreal debut in what could be a tough one. The American and the Russian are 2-2 in their head to head.
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova: Aga is 2-0 against BZS, but they haven’t played in three years. They also haven’t played since the Czech’s Wimbledon run.
Eugenie Bouchard vs. Shelby Rogers: Bouchard, a Montreal native, will play her first match since the Wimbledon final. Hopefully, for her sake, this one goes a little better than that one did.
Victoria Azarenka vs. Alizé Cornet: A second-rounder with quality and, just perhaps, a little drama. Cornet has played Azarenka tough in the past, but Vika really won't want to slow her comeback down with another early exit.
Madison Keys vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova: The D.C. champ vs the Eastbourne champ. All you can expect from these two is the unexpected.
Nick Kyrgios vs. Santiago Giraldo: This will be the Australian’s first appearance since his run to the Wimbledon quarters. The atmosphere at 11:00 A.M. in Toronto won’t be exactly the same as it was on Centre Court against Rafael Nadal.
Radek Stepanek vs. Gael Monfils: Two guys who can let their shows get in the way of their games.
Richard Gasquet vs. Vasek Pospisil: They played a draining three-setter on Saturday. When he was told afterward that he’d have to do it again in Toronto, Pospisil didn’t sound all that happy about it.
Roger Federer vs. Peter Polansky: Federer will likely be pleased to start his summer hard-court swing against Polansky, rather than the man he beat last night, Janowicz.
Stan Wawrinka vs. Benoit Paire: When these two friends played in Montreal last year, Paire was the winner.
Vasek Pospisil/Jack Sock vs. Richard Gasquet/Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Gasquet and Pospisil just can’t stay away from each other, can they? This should be fun out on Court 1.