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Tebbutt: Félix feeling it at Wimbledon

Jun 30, 2021
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

Félix and Denis, first names that have become synonymous with Canadian tennis, had a good day on Wednesday – both advancing to the next round of Wimbledon ’21.

Auger-Aliassime recorded an uncomplicated 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Thiago Monteiro, while Shapovalov took the ultimate fast track to the third round – not even stepping onto the court when his opponent, Pablo Andujar, had to withdraw with a rib injury.

Nothing came as easily for the three other Canadians in action – Bianca Andreescu, Leylah Fernandez, and Vasek Pospisil. All three exited without winning a set.

Auger-Aliassime dispatched No. 81-ranked Monteiro with the kind of authority one would expect from someone getting more and more comfortable on grass matched against a Brazilian clay-court player. He didn’t face a break point, had eight aces and zero double faults and won an impressive 87 per cent of his first serve points and 70 per cent on his second serve.

“It’s always tricky the first rounds,” Auger-Aliassime said. “You know there was a long wait also to step out on the court Wednesday. You’ve got a bit of nerves but I was able to control that really well, step up my game, play aggressively with dominance. I served great.”

One of the form players (7-2) of the grass-court season after reaching the final in Stuttgart, the semi-finals in Halle and winning a round at Wimbledon, Auger-Aliassime has put a disappointing first-round loss to Andreas Seppi at Roland Garros behind him.

“I had to bounce back and then just refocus on my fundamentals and essentials in my game,” he said, “which are my serve, my forehand, and just playing instinctively and free. Just, you know, going for my shots, being creative. The surface has been suiting me, so it’s been good. I’m enjoying myself so far.”

There has been much discussion about the condition of Wimbledon’s grass, and Auger-Aliassime conceded that there were spots on No. 2 Court where he played, and where Andreescu had earlier played, that were “muddy.” But he qualified that by adding, “fortunately I had a good time moving on the court. Of course you’re careful with your movement, try to be stable – and always, you know, on my toes.”

Photo : @felixtennis/Twitter

In the second round on Thursday, No. 16 seed Auger-Aliassime will play No. 98-ranked Mikael Ymer, 22, of Sweden, in what will be a first meeting between the two.

It really wasn’t too much of a surprise that the No. 10 seed Denis Shapovalov advanced to the third round with a walkover when Andujar had to pull out. The 35-year-old Spaniard needed five hours and two minutes Tuesday to defeat Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-6(7), 4-6, 7-6(7), 5-7, 8-6. Next for Shapovalov will be Andy Murray after the two-time Wimbledon champion (2013 and 2016) needed three hours and 51 minutes to overcome Oscar Otte of Germany in an emotional five sets Wednesday night on Centre Court.

Wednesday didn’t start well for Canadian hopes when No. 5 seed Bianca Andreescu was beaten 6-2, 6-1 by Alizé Cornet in a first-round encounter.

Out of the gate, there was no hint that the result would be so dramatically one-sided. Andreescu belted a forehand winner on the opening point, won that game and then held serve again to 2-1 in a love game that she ended with a flourish by hitting a forehand volley winner.

But suddenly things went all the way of the 31-year-old Frenchwoman as she played incredibly error-free, consistent tennis to win 11 of the final 12 games.

The stats sheet told a story after the first set – Cornet’s winners to unforced errors ratio was 3/4 while Andreescu was 14/22. The total for the match wound up at 17 winners and 34 unforced errors for Andreescu and a tidy 10 winners and seven unforced errors for Cornet.

“At one point she just, I don’t know, she just switched gears and she was, like, on another level,” Andreescu said about Cornet. “I tried to, like, figure it out how I can play her better. But honestly, she played really well. She was taking control from the start.”

Andreescu had some problems with her footing, saying after the match, “I didn’t slip just once. I slipped like six times during the match. The courts are pretty wet. I don’t think it affected my game, but, I mean, those points I think I maybe won one point out of the six or how many times I slipped.”

There, the weather has been rainy and humid and the courts are greasy in some areas – but probably not that much more than they are in most years over the course of the first few days.

With her grass-court season over, and it being just three weeks since she announced the end of her long association with Sylvain Bruneau, Andreescu said about her current coaching situation, “I was getting some advice here and there. But I never really sat down to think about what I really want to do. Definitely going to have a good talk with my team tonight to figure a lot of stuff out. At least I know now, I guess, how it is to not have a coach a little bit. But, yeah, I will figure that out soon.”

Maybe the best thing about the one-hour and 21-minute match for Andreescu was its ending. On match point, she drove a ball deep to Cornet’s backhand and then watched as the Frenchwoman lofted a desperation stab lob that appeared to be floating long but somehow landed just in. Both women (Cornet above and Andreescu below) were momentarily surprised and it briefly provided a touch of levity to what was not a happy day for Andreescu.

The 18-year-old Fernandez, making her debut in a main-draw match at Wimbledon, was essentially over-matched against Jelena Ostapenko, the red-hot Latvian who has discovered a vein of rich form of late. Roland Garros champion in 2017, Ostapenko has always hit one of the heaviest, flattest balls in women’s tennis. In recent years she has not found the control to have the results that would logically complement her power game. But she won the Eastbourne tournament last Saturday and carried that level into Wednesday’s match on Court 6 against Fernandez – winning it 6-1, 6-2 in 54 minutes.

It was misleading to note that Ostapenko, 24, hit only 11 winners to go with nine unforced errors while Fernandez was eight winners and eight unforced errors.

A better measure would be the points won receiving serve where Ostapenko’s big ball-striking allowed her to win 31 of 51 (61 per cent) of her serve returns while Fernandez was just at 36 per cent, 16 of 44.

Photo : Martin Sidorjak

If it was a favourable Wimbledon draw for the Canadian men in terms of their opening-round opponents, Andreescu and Fernandez drew the short straw and would likely have gained more traction in the event if that had less awesome opponents than Cornet and Ostapenko – both flirting with being “in the zone.”

Pospisil also encountered an opponent in No. 57-ranked Frances Tiafoe who was flying high and playing virtually untouchable tennis. The 23-year-old American beat Pospisil 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 with a dazzling start-to-finish display. His serving was impeccable with 74 per cent of first serves made, 79 per cent of first-serve points won and an exceptional 70 per cent of second-serve points won.

An example of the pressure he put on the Pospisil serve was the fact that he won 46 of 113 points (41 per cent) returning serve while Pospisil was only 18 for 78 (23 per cent).

Tiafoe didn’t face a single break point against Pospisil and, including his 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 upset of No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Monday, he has now held serve 29 times in a row at Wimbledon this year.

As well as Pospisil can play on grass, in hindsight it seems that he had to hope that Tiafoe (now 8-2 on grass in 2021 including a title at the ATP Challenger event in Birmingham three weeks ago) would come down from the lofty level he reached against Tsitsipas on Monday in No. 1 Court. The showman that Tiafoe is, there was also the possibility that being consigned to the more proletarian Court No. 5 would rob him of some inspiration. But that simply did not happen.

On Thursday, Auger-Aliassime will be the only Canadian in singles action as he returns to No. 2 Court to face Ymer in the fourth match after an 11 a.m. (6 a.m. ET Canada) start. A victory over Ymer and a win for Nick Kyrgios over No. 77-ranked Gianluca Mager, 26, of Italy, who won his first main-draw Wimbledon match on Wednesday beating Argentine clay-courter Juan Ignacio Londero, would pair the calm Canadian and the combustible Aussie for a blockbuster third-round showdown.          

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Feature Photo: Martin Sidorjak