First Ball In, 8/6: Lights Out

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Top Canadian Eugenie Bouchard lost to Shelby Rogers in stunning fashion at the Rogers Cup. (AP Photo)

Eugenie Bouchard tossed her racquet down, sat in her chair, and waited as her coach, Nick Saviano, rushed onto the court to talk to her. When he got there, she buried her face in a towel.

“I know, it’s overwhelming,” Saviano said.

It certainly wasn’t going as planned. This was Bouchard’s post-Wimbledon homecoming in her native Montreal, and the stadium was packed from the warm-up on. But they had hardly made a noise through the first five games. That's because Bouchard had lost them all to Shelby Rogers, a qualifier from the U.S. who was playing considerably better than her (current) ranking of No. 113. I had joked in my preview of this match that I hoped Bouchard would do a little better than she did in her last match, her blowout loss to Petra Kvitova in the Wimbledon final. She did, but not by much.

“I think I was feeling the pressure a little bit on the court,” Bouchard said after her eventual, strangely topsy-turvy 6-0, 2-6, 6-0 loss to Rogers. “I felt a little match rusty, kind of. But I knew coming into the match that I can’t use those excuses. I knew it would be kind of a difficult match.”

From her serve to her strokes to her swing volley, Bouchard was out of rhythm. Where she has looked composed for much of 2014, she looked rushed yesterday. But I thought that was largely due to the play of Rogers. The 5’9” South Carolina native has more natural power than Bouchard; with her Western grip, she can smack a forehand winner while standing behind the baseline, and her two-handed backhand was effective on returns. Like Kvitova at Wimbledon, Rogers kept putting Bouchard’s serves back at her feet and forcing her to hurry in rallies. 

“This was my first experience in an atmosphere like this,” Rogers said. “The whole stadium cheering for one person. I was just trying to stay in my little zone, zone it out....In the third set, I just took it one point at a time and stuck to my routines.”

Rogers’ win, and especially its two bagels, was an upset, surely. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. Earlier this summer at a clay event in Bad Gastein, Rogers beat Sara Errani and Carla Suarez Navarro on her way to her first WTA final. Last week in D.C., the 21-year-old upset Alizé Cornet.

“She was solid the whole match,” Bouchard said of Rogers, who recently left the USTA training center in Florida to work with a private coach. “She never really sprayed too many balls, and she was always there. Whenever I let up a little bit, which I think I did in the third, she was all over it. She definitely took the match.”

Bouchard, always level-headed, said she was happy that she had at least won the second set—in other words, she was happy not to have been double-bageled. Feeling the pressure of the moment was understandable; as Rogers said, it’s rare to hear an audience go completely silent when one player isn’t winning points. The scene in Montreal reminded me of watching, and hearing, a Spanish player lose in Madrid. 

This was a unique situation, but is it a reason to worry for Bouchard? She’ll obviously play better, but like Kvitova, Rogers has something that the Canadian lacks—the raw timing that can create winners from anywhere. That’s a trait that virtually all of the women who have won Grand Slams in the last decade share, and which the women who haven’t won Slams, like Aga Radwanska, don’t share. In some ways, this helps Bouchard; she has to construct and think her way through rallies. But when she’s off, she can’t count on hitting her way out of trouble.


The Full Vika

In her comeback matches at Wimbledon and Stanford, we had seen bits and pieces of the old Victoria Azarenka. The edge was there, but the strokes weren’t quite in place. Finally, on a Tuesday evening when the lights went out in Montreal, we got the full Vika.

There were the shorts, which I think suit her. There was the slow, frustrated start—Azarenka went down 0-3—as she worked her early nerves out. There was the moment, once those nerves were gone, when everything clicked and she went on a run of unbeatable tennis. There was, just when everything seemed to be working, the twisted leg and fall to the asphalt. There was the immediate pained reaction, the unhappy limp around the court, and the eventual, delayed treatment. And then there was the fight again, which got her across the finish line against Alizé Cornet, 6-4 in the third. After going out to Venus Williams in her Stanford opener, Vika was hellbent on not losing another early one.

A left leg injury kept Azarenka on the sidelines for court months; last night she hurt her right leg. I’ve wondered in the past whether she isn’t a victim of her own zealous footwork at times—as she moves across the baseline, Vika doesn’t so much take little steps, as she does little hops. Whatever the reason for it, let’s hope this isn’t the start of another physical problem for her. Whether fans love Azarenka or not, I hadn’t realized until she came back this summer how much the game missed her quality and her fight.


OOP Analysis

See Wednesday’s Order of Play in Montreal here and Toronto here. There’s a lot going on.

Maria Sharapova vs. Garbine Muguruza: Today it’s Maria’s turn to reappear. She’ll have to be ready right away, because she plays one of the women who nearly beat her in Paris.

Serena Williams vs. Sam Stosur: Serena’s win in Stanford last week was a confidence boost; the question now will be how well she recovers and keeps going, physically, through three straight scheduled weeks of play. Stosur has beaten her three times.

Petra Kvitova vs. Casey Dellacqua: No offense to the Aussie, but I don’t want to see Kvitova come out and lose her first match after her Wimbledon run.

Sloane Stephens vs. Jelena Jankovic: I thought I saw positive signs—a slimmer body, a calmer mind—in Sloane’s last match. Let’s see how far those things get her against a Top 10 player. Jankovic won their only meeting, in three sets, last year in Cincy.

Sabine Lisicki vs. Madison Keys: The Blast Off II. Lisicki won the first one, in straight sets, last winter.

Venus Williams vs. Yulia Putintseva: Tall vs. not so tall; experience vs. youth; dignity vs. feistiness. If you like contrasts, you’ve come to the right place. This is their first match.

Nick Kyrgios vs. Andy Murray: Talk about an eye-opener. The young Aussie faces Murray for the first time. Muzz’s return may be the difference.

Novak Djokovic vs. Gael Monfils: Like Kvitova, Djokovic will also play his first match since winning Wimbledon. It should be fun, and Nole should win; he’s 9-0 against his old French friend.

Grigor Dimitrov vs. Donald Young: The DY MO is that he puts together a few wins before getting utterly outclassed by a top player. That could be the case today, though Young does have a win in three matches against Dimitrov.

Milos Raonic vs. Jack Sock: They face off for the fourth time in 2014 alone; Raonic has won all seven sets they’ve played so far this year.

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