2014/11/26

This Month in Canadian Tennis

If January’s Australian Open was the announcement of two young up and coming Canadians, Milos Raonic and Rebecca Marino, then February was their proper arrival to the big leagues. Both turned the country’s sports fans on their ear. For the first time in years, Canadians not normally interested in tennis had their gaze fixed on the sport, and tennis fans had their gaze fixed on the country.

For Raonic, it was a whirlwind of a month that he is likely still reflecting on. In Johannesburg, he won the two required matches to qualify for the main draw, where he would go on to defeat second seed Yen-Hsun Lu before bowing out to Simon Greul in the second round. From there, he travelled to Memphis and rode a wave of confidence. He defeated fourth seed Malisse in the first round, then James Blake andRichard  Berankis. He made his first ATP Tour level final after receiving a walkover from Gael Monfils, and defeated number one seed Fernando Verdasco 7-6(6), 7-6(5). Milos did not drop a set the entire week.

With the win, Raonic had captured the attention of this fine, hockey crazed nation. He was the feature of an exclusive, one on one interview on one of Canada’s premier sports networks, Sportsnet, and the final was also shown nation-wide on the same channel. However, he was not done there, and the momentum would continue to build.

Raonic then travelled to Memphis and kept the winning streak alive. He drew an unlikely and unlucky Fernando Verdasco, who he would defeat again, this time in three sets. It was a trying run to the final this time, as the Canadian needed 3 sets to get past Radek Stepanek, Robert Kendrick, and Mardy Fish. By now, we all know the result of his second straight final, which came against Andy Roddick. Three sets, once again, and a 7-6(7), 6-7(11), 7-5 win to the American, winning on one of the most thrilling match points in recent memory. Roddick was gracious in his victory, however, and had nothing but praise for the young Canadian’s game and future. The following day, Raonic not only rose to a career high rank of 37, but he also became the highest ever ranked Candian male in singles. After two weeks and nine matches, Raonic withdrew from the event in Acapulco, Mexico, but travelled there regardless, as he will compete there as part of the Canadian team in Davis Cup next weekend.

Somewhat lost in the amazing achievements of Raonic’s runs to the final was fellow Canadian and 20 year old Rebecca Marino’s first WTA tour level final in Memphis. She lost just two sets in four matches as she picked opponents apart with impressive power from both wings. Unfortunately, she was forced to retire to Magdalena Rybarikova in the final after dropped the first set 6-2 due to an abdominal injury. Regardless, it was an impressive week for the Canadian who continues to improve and impress, and has reached a career high rank of 60th and is now the highest ranked Canadian female on the WTA tour in singles.

Marino also took part in Canada’s World Group II Fed Cup tie against Serbia, which was also the simultaneous return of Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak from injury. Unfortunately for Marino and the Canadians, they ran into another impressive young gun, big hitting Serbian Bojana Jovanovski, who won both of her singles matches against Marino and Wozniak, as well as the deciding doubles rubber with partner Aleksandra Krunic against the Canadian team of Sharon Fichman and Mary-Eve Pelletier.

Not to be forgotten in the hype of the Canadian youngsters is doubles powerhouse veteran Daniel Nestor. Nestor and his new partner in 2011, Max Miryni continued to improve after an impressive Australian Open semifinal run. They won Memphis, the only tournament they played in February, defeating the team of Eric Butorac and Jean-Julien Rojer in the final.

Long time Canadian number one Frank Dancevic has had a great start to 2011 after a difficult 2010. He had a strong showing in Johannesburg, defeating Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the first round and making the quarterfinals, where he would lose to Adrian Mannarino. His only other tournament in February was in Delray Beach, where he lost in the final round of qualifying to Alejandro Falla.

Lastly, promising young Canadian Eugenie Bouchard won her first ITF title, a $25,000 level event, in Burnie, Australia. She just turned 17 this past month, on February 25th.

Brodie McPhee is the author of the tennis web site Mind the Racket. Each month he’ll update readers on the tennis happenings in his homeland.

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Tennis Loves Canada

By Brad Hunter

Milos Raonic News conference

MEMPHIS, Saturday, February 19, 2011 -You know those days where you do a million different things, go a million different places, have a million different conversations, and never really feel tired because it’s all so fun? Even though you forgot to eat but remembered to drink coffee.  Well, I had one of those types of days today out at the Racquet Club of Memphis. Today was the men’s singles and doubles semi-finals and women’s singles and doubles finals.  The strongest theme around the club today was the rise of Canadian tennis.

Milos Raonic, last weeks’ San Jose title winner was up in the first match against Mardy Fish.  The Memphis crowd supported Fish loudly, but Mardy’s game never caught fire against Raonic’s game.  Yesterday, Raonic’s win was edgy and labored, but today he was noticeably more relaxed and bold. Moments of Raonic’s play, especially when he found himself down break points, were opportunities he used to play aggressive, championship winning tennis.  When I watched Milos during his run to the quarters in Australia this year, I was shocked at how hard he struck the ball.  At the time, his groundstrokes looked like the hardest hit groundstrokes on the men’s tour.  This week, del Potro’s groundstrokes looked the most forcefully struck, but Raonic has used his risky looking game and strategy to strike more winners/forced errors than unforced errors.  He looks like a cross between a high jumper and a wild cat, and moves so well, plays all shots of the game so well, it’s hard to imagine a future of his without some very big titles in it.

Raonic’s News Conference was well attended and it ran twice as long as the other news conferences  I’ve been to at this event.  Just about every journalist asked him a question, and he mixed his answers with a mature blend of thoughtfulness and humor.  He seems to think he can accomplish his goals, he has big plans for his tennis, but he doesn’t want his thinking to get ahead of his results.

After wards, Raonic and Rebecca Marino had an impromptu photo shoot out in front of the tennis club, both young players draped on a Canadian flag. Sometime during this, Daniel Nestor carrying the Canadian torch to more victory with the aid of Max Mirnyi in the first men’s doubles semi.  They took out Nestor’s former partner Mark Knowles and Michal Mertinak.

The fairytale Canadian day did not end well, with Marino retiring against Magadalena Rybarikova after the first set of the women’s final.  Marino came out making error after error, causing loud groans in the crowd, and a few rally cries like “tighten up Marino!” Rybarikova’s Hingis-like game forced Marino into one uncomfortable position after another, and Marino could not continue playing because of a left ab strain.  She was very upset after chair ump legend Lynn Welch announced the retirement. She was obviously crying into her towel, and she looked embarrassed to face the crowd, and I heard a few angry ticket holders mutter complaints about the retirement.  During the trophy presentation she apologized to the crowd “for not giving a better match” and praised Rybarikova’s week and strong play.

Marino walked in to the press room with a sad face, but immediately she was given a bouquet of flowers by a Canadian Consulate rep and she smiled from then on.  The media was inquisitive and gentle with her, and she remained upbeat and sounded like she wanted a few days of rest before she ventured back into the competitive world of the WTA Tour.

Brad Hunter is covering Memphis for Tennis Panorama News this weekend. Follow his reports here and live on our twitter account @GVTennisNews. Follow his personal twitter account @BradHunter.

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15-year-old Duval Has First Pro Win at Dow Corning Tennis Classic

MIDLAND, Mich., February 9, 2011 – After leaving Florida and landing in Michigan earlier this week, 15-year-old Victoria Duval said that she couldn’t wait to play in the snow.

On Wednesday, she turned Stadium Court at the Dow Corning Tennis Classic into her own personal playground, falling to the surface and waving her arms in the shape of a snow angel after defeating Mashona Washington 6-3, 6-3 in a first-round match.

The wild card Duval delivered on her very first professional victory in a main draw, dictating play with her forehand against the 34-year-old qualifier.

“In the first three games I was tight,” said Duval, who does not have a WTA Tour ranking. “But I said: ‘You know what. I have nothing to lose right now. Just go for it.’ I was so free and I hit so loose, which helped me a lot. Next round, I’m going to be even looser.”

Washington entered the match with 16 years of professional experience, cracking the Top 50 in 2004 and reaching the Dow Corning Tennis Classic final in 2002.

But while Washington scolded herself as she struggled to find the range on her shots, Duval appeared as if she were simply playing a practice match back at IMG Academies in Bradenton.

“You don’t see very many pros get emotional like the juniors,” said Duval. “I just said, ‘I belong here and I have to do what everyone else does.’ I stayed calm and it worked.”

Leading 6-3, 4-3, Duval earned two break points by running Washington ragged behind the baseline before bringing the veteran to the net with a short slice. Though Washington reached that ball, she was helpless when Duval passed her with an inside-out backhand winner.

Duval clinched the break, and then the match, by pushing Washington deep into the court and forcing forehand errors. Unable to contain the emotions she’d been bottling up for 76 minutes, Duval squealed as she raced to grab her towel, and then collapsed to the center of the indoor court.

The snow was outside, but Duval didn’t care: She spread her arms wide as if she could penetrate the hard court and permanently leave an imprint of her body.

“I’m going down in five, four, three, two, one,” Duval said she told herself. “I’m beyond excited. I can’t even believe it.”

After a quick call to her mother, Duval was handed another cell phone by a smiling Sabine Lisicki, who also trains at IMG. The man on the other line was Nick Bollettieri, who congratulated Duval on the first of many professional wins.

Drawn to play a qualifier, Duval could have been matched against big-hitters Alexandra Stevenson, Ahsha Rolle or Alexa Glatch. She was happy to have faced Washington, a counterpuncher whom she believed could not overpower her. ’Turns out, she was right.

“I like the way she plays,” said Duval, the No. 1-rated sophomore in the nation according to TennisRecruiting.net. “She doesn’t have too many weapons, but also makes you earn every point. I like a good challenge and I was ready for anyone in the qualies. But she seemed to suit my game the best.”

Duval said that she plans to play the French Open and Wimbledon junior tournaments this season after compiling a 32-11 singles record on the ITF Junior Circuit in 2010.

She is making her eighth appearance at a professional event, having lost her pro debut 6-0, 6-1 to Rebecca Marino one year ago in Memphis.

Who should await Duval in the Midland second round but the 6-foot-tall Marino, who overpowered Glatch in a 24-minute first-set before surviving 6-1, 1-6, 7-6(5).
“It wasn’t my best day of tennis, but I’m glad I was able to pull through and tough it out,” said Marino, “especially after losing the second set quite easily and being down a break in the third… I was able to come back and fight through that very scrappily – if that is a word (laughs).”

Marino didn’t make it to the Midland Community Tennis Center until Tuesday night, having played Fed Cup in Serbia over the weekend. On Monday, she rode with her teammates from Novi Sad to Belgrade, and then flew from Belgrade to Munich and Munich to Chicago before a cancelation forced her to stay overnight in the Windy City.

But the Vancouver-native showed no signs of jetlag at the start against Glatch. She followed a knifing slice backhand winner with a devastating down-the-line forehand winner on consecutive points, proving that there’s more to her than a serve.

Glatch stayed steady in spite of the barrage of shots coming off her opponent’s racquet. The American served for the match at 5-4 in the final set, and again at 5-4 in the deciding tiebreaker.

With the win on her racquet, Glatch made the mistake of pitting her strength (the serve) against Marino’s (the forehand). Marino read Glatch’s first serve and pummeled a deep forehand return to force an error and even the tiebreak at 5-5. She proceeded to bash back-to-back inside-out forehand winners to finish Glatch off.

“It’s these matches that make you realize how much you want to play and what it takes to stay in matches,” said Marino, who finished with 11 aces in just 13 service games.

Like Marino, Frenchwoman Stephanie Foretz-Gacon needed a third-set tiebreak to advance to the second round. She and Heather Watson of Great Britain pushed each other physically over the course of two hours and 54 minutes, but they saved their best shots for last.

Foretz-Gacon took a 5-3 third-set lead by retrieving two straight overhead smashes from Watson, blocking the second one back at the Brit’s feet to draw a half-volley error.

Watson broke back for 4-5 by winning one of the longest rallies of the match, throwing up a backhand lob that nearly hit the ceiling before Foretz-Gacon finally let loose on a forehand long.

Watson’s ranking has jumped from No. 556 to No. 142 since she played in Midland last season, and she showed why as she served to stay in the match at 4-5.

Moments after she couldn’t put Foretz-Gacon away with her overhead, Watson was faced with déjà vu. On game point, the Brit hit two swinging volleys and another smash, but could not get the ball past the Frenchwoman. On her fourth shot from the net, Watson took the pace off her forehand volley and dropped it short for a winner.

“It was always close – like 30-all every game,” said Foretz-Gacon. “I knew she could come back, so I was prepared for that. I fought until the end.”

After each player held, Foretz-Gacon earned two match points by taking a 6-4 lead in the tiebreaker. Watson saved the first in a scintillating 16-shot rally and the second with a daring inside-out forehand return winner.

Foretz-Gacon rebounded to earn a third match point at 7-6, and this time she took the pace off one of her shots, slicing a short backhand cross-court that caused Watson to lose control and miss her own backhand wide.

“I was really happy to win the final-set tiebreak like this,” said Foretz-Gacon after her 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(6) win. “Thanks to my backhand slice – I didn’t hit too many today. But it was perfect, I hit it low on the court and it was a hard shot for her to get.”

Also advancing on Wednesday were qualifiers Stevenson and Rolle, who have both won four matches in as many days. Stevenson, the 1998 Midland champion, flummoxed No. 8 seed CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-2. Rolle had an even easier time with No. 3 seed Evgeniya Rodina, running roughshod through the Russian 6-1, 6-1 in 51 minutes.

Stevenson and Foretz-Gacon will meet in the second round on Thursday, while Rolle takes on Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal.

Now in her fourth full season on the WTA Tour, the 18-year-old Larcher de Brito got a monkey off her back on Sunday by winning her first professional title at the $25,000 USTA Pro Circuit tournament in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

After winning matches at the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open in 2009, Larcher de Brito dropped out of the Top 200 last season.

“I lost a lot of motivation,” said Larcher de Brito. “I used to have a lot of fight in me, but this past year I haven’t been fighting at all. I don’t know what happened, but I’m getting over it now.”

Larcher de Brito was the last player accepted into the Midland main draw, making the cut on Saturday when Stephanie Dubois of Canada withdrew.

She nearly made the trip to Michigan in vain, arguing with the chair umpire about line calls as she fell behind 3-0 in the third set against Julie Coin of France.

Just like that, something clicked inside Larcher de Brito. She won 20 of the next 25 points to take a 5-3 lead, reversing her negative emotions by yelling: “Come on,” “Vamos,” and “Davai”. Though Coin held for 4-5, Larcher de Brito served out a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 win at love.

“When I was 3-love down, I thought I was going to go home,” said Larcher de Brito, who made her pro debut at the 2007 Dow Corning Tennis Classic. “But I got myself together and started getting more balls in, because I had been trying to hit winners all the time.”

All eight second-round singles matches will be played on Thursday, highlighted by a 7 p.m. encounter between two of the quickest players on tour: No. 4 seed Anne Keothavong of Great Britain and American upstart Irina Falconi. After missing six months with a knee injury, Keothavong has worked her way back into the Top 100, while Falconi has flown up to No. 156 in just seven months as a professional.

Following that contest, Rolle and Washington will team up to take on Rodina and Liga Dekmeijere in the feature doubles match. Already in 2011, Rolle and Washington have won a pair of doubles titles on the USTA Pro Circuit.

Rolle vs. Larcher de Brito, Marino vs. Duval and Stevenson vs. Foretz-Gacon are among the singles matches scheduled during the day session. Lucie Hradecka, the 2009 champion and 2010 runner-up in Midland, will play Anna Tatishvili at noon on Court 3.

By Joshua Rey

Admission to the Dow Corning Tennis Classic is free until the 7 p.m. feature session. General admission tickets to see Keothavong vs. Falconi and Rolle/Washington vs. Rodina/Dekmeijere cost $12 for adults and $8 for children.

Dow Corning Tennis Classic

Midland Community Tennis Center

Midland, Mich.

Purse: $100,000

Surface: Hard-Indoor

Wednesday, February 9 – RESULTS


Singles – First round

[6] Magdalena Rybarikova (Slovakia) def. Aleksandra Wozniak (Canada) 6-4, 6-1

[Q] Ahsha Rolle (United States) def. [3] Evgeniya Rodina (Russia) 6-1, 6-1

Michelle Larcher de Brito (Portugal) def. Julie Coin (France) 6-2, 3-6, 6-4

[7] Ksenia Pervak (Russia) def. Alison Riske (United States) 6-3, 6-3

[5] Sorana Cirstea (Romania) def. [WC] Jessica Pegula 7-6(6), 6-3

Madison Brengle (United States) def. Olga Savchuk (Ukraine) 3-6, 6-3, 7-5

[4] Anne Keothavong (Great Britain) def. [WC] Brittany Augustine (United States) 6-0, 6-2

[Q] Alexandra Stevenson (United States) def. [8] CoCo Vandeweghe (United States) 6-3, 6-2

Stephanie Foretz-Gacon (France) def. Heather Watson (Great Britain) 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(6)

[WC] Victoria Duval (United States) def. [Q] Mashona Washington (United States) 6-3, 6-3

[2] Rebecca Marino (Canada) def. [Q] Alexa Glatch (United States) 6-1, 1-6, 7-6(5)

Doubles – First round

Beatrice Capra and CoCo Vandeweghe (United States) def. [1] Marina Erakovic (New Zealand) and Lucie Hradecka (Czech Republic) 0-6, 6-4, [10-6]

Jamie Hampton (United States) and Anna Tatishvili (Georgia) def. Rebecca Marino and Marie-Eve Pelletier (Canada) 6-3, 7-5

Thursday, February 10 – SCHEDULE

Stadium Court – starting at 10 a.m.

Sabine Lisicki (Germany) vs. [6] Magdalena Rybarikova (Slovakia)

[WC] Victoria Duval (United States) vs. [2] Rebecca Marino (Canada)

[Q] Ahsha Rolle (United States) vs. Michelle Larcher de Brito (Portugal)

Jamie Hampton (United States) and Anna Tatishvili (Georgia) vs. [3] Ksenia Pervak (Russia) and Ipek Senoglu (Turkey)

Stadium Court – starting at 7 p.m.

Irina Falconi (United States) vs. [4] Anne Keothavong (Great Britain)

Liga Dekmeijere (Latvia) and Evgeniya Rodina (Russia) vs. Ahsha Rolle and Mashona Washington (United States)

Court 5 – starting at 10 a.m.

Sorana Cirstea (Romania) vs. Madison Brengle (United States)

Anastasia Pivovarova (Russia) vs. [7] Ksenia Pervak (Russia)

[4] Sorana Cirstea (Romania) and Anastasia Pivovarova (Russia) vs. Amanda Fink and Lena Litvak (United States)

Court 3 – starting at 10 a.m.

[Q] Alexandra Stevenson (United States) vs. Stephanie Foretz-Gacon (France)

Anna Tatishvili (Georgia) vs. Lucie Hradecka (Czech Republic)

Beatrice Capra and CoCo Vandeweghe (United States) vs. Gabriela Dabrowski (Canada) and Whitney Jones (United States)

ABOUT THE USTA PRO CIRCUIT:

With more than 90 tournaments throughout the country and prize money ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, the USTA Pro Circuit is the pathway to the US Open and tour-level competition for aspiring tennis players and a frequent battleground for established professionals. The USTA launched its Pro Circuit 32 years ago to provide players with the opportunity to gain professional ranking points, and it has since grown to become the largest developmental tennis circuit in the world, offering more than $3 million in prize money. Last year, more than 1,000 men and women from more than 70 countries competed in cities nationwide. Among those who have played at the Dow Corning Tennis Classic are seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin, former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova, reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone and 2011 Australian Open runner-up Na Li.

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