Tennis

Tebbutt: Genie, Vasek out of qualies

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) has done a great job creating interest in the 2022 US Open by allowing free entry for the qualifying week. The crowds almost seem like the ones that will be flooding onto the site once the main draw starts next Monday.

In the picture at the top, fans watch players such as Maria Sakkari and Petra Kvitova working on their games on the practice courts, with huge Arthur Ashe Stadium looming in the background.

Court 17, on the opposite side of the grounds, is where Genie Bouchard and Vasek Pospisil played their second-round matches on Thursday’s day three of qualifying.

It turned out to be an inauspicious place as Bouchard was beaten 6-2, 6-3 by Czech 17-year-old Linda Noskova and Pospisil fought a losing battle with cramps in going down 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 to veteran Andreas Seppi.

Pospisil dominated out of the gate against the 38-year-old Italian but things began to turn in the second set when Seppi broke to 4-2 and then Pospisil pretty well tossed the final point of the following game when he was down 40-love.

It was mildly surprising that it was Seppi who took an off-court break at the end of the 6-2 second set – but he wasn’t away long.

When he returned things soon looked bleak for Pospisil when he lost his serve to love to go down 1-3 after a particularly poorly-played game. Then Seppi returned the favour in the following game, playing equally ineptly. When Pospisil held to 3-all it was back to being anybody’s match. But on the second point serving at 0-15, 3-4, he paused and bent over in some kind of pain before managing to straighten up and hit a serve. Even though he rallied from love-30, winning a four-deuce game after saving two break points, there were ominous signs.

Both players at this point were alternating between brilliance and incompetence and Pospisil managed to hold serve to 5-all after Seppi had won another easy love serve game to 5-4. He finished with his 16th ace followed by a beautifully angled forehand volley put-away.

But it was in a sense a last gasp. Serving at 6-5, the cramps seemed to overcome him as he lost the first point and then hit consecutive double faults to set up a love-40, triple match point. Pospisil saved one before Seppi prevailed on his second with an aggressive forehand.

Pospisil had spoken about how much was in his tank after his two-set win over Sumit Nagal on Wednesday night and it was clearly near empty by the end of the two-hour-and-nine-minute encounter with Seppi.

The picture below is of him walking dejected, post-match along a corridor, with a certain journalist behind not having the heart to approach him and ask for more specific details about his cramping issue.

GENIE NOT THERE, BUT NOT TOO FAR OFF

Bouchard came on court with her 17-year-old Czech opponent Linda Noskova and looked solid in the warm-up – at least to a journalist who hadn’t seen her play live in more than three years. But the match didn’t start in her favour when the No. 4 qualifying seed broke serve in the second game and soon led 3-0. But Bouchard hit consecutive aces at 108 and 109 mph in the fourth game to re-assert herself in the match.

The rest of the set was more competitive with Noskova, who hits a hard, flat and heavy forehand, having just a little more firepower and consistency.

She broke Bouchard in the final game of what turned out to be a just 25-minute set.

The former world No. 5 (October, 2014) picked up her game in the second set and matched Noskova as both players held serve handily until Bouchard served at 3-4. Then she was broken on four quick points and a hold to 15 in the final game gave the Czech the match on her second match point.

On the stat sheet – Noskova’s 21 winners and 12 unforced errors and Bouchard’s 18 winners and 13 unforced errors – were similar but the numbers that really separated them were Noskova converting 3/5 on break-point chances and Bouchard being unable to create even one – going 0/0.

There were voices in the crowd solidly behind the 28-year-old Montrealer but there was nothing akin to the days when the ‘Genie Army’ occupied stadiums in several countries around the world. With an early 11 a.m. start, there were probably no more than 700 spectators in the 3000-seat arena.

The final verdict on Bouchard’s 2022 US Open qualifying experience should be positive. In many ways she looked like the free-swinging, hard-hitting ‘Genie’ of her best days – and she also looked fit and (happily) unaffected by her shoulder surgery in April, 2021. She appeared to hit serves in the 110 mph range without any concern.

One win and a loss to a young prospect touted as possibly the best player in the qualifying is probably what a woman, who has now only had three matches since March 16, 2021 and who had subsequent June, 2021, surgery to repair a tear in her right subscapularis shoulder muscle, would have signed up for before this week began.

DRAW DESTINIES FOR CANADIANS

Caveat Emptor: Probably 75 per cent of these potential match-ups will NOT take place.

Félix Auger-Aliassime: Short Term: The sixth-seeded FAA starts out with a qualifier and then would face one of two rising, young players – No. 44-ranked Emil Ruusuvuori, 23, of Finland or No. 55 Jack Draper, 20, of Britain – before a possible match-up with No. 27 seed Karen Khachanov in the third round.

Long Term: Success in the first three rounds would likely find him matched against No. 12 seed Pablo Carreno Busta in the round-of-16 and then Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals. The last time they met in a Grand Slam – in the quarter-finals of the 2022 Aussie Open – Medvedev had to save a match point in a 6-7(4), 3-6, 7-6(2), 7-5, 6-4 victory.

Denis Shapovalov: Short Term: The 19th-seeded Shapovalov plays No. 102-ranked Marc-Andrea Huesler, 26, of Switzerland in the first round and then one of two Spaniards in the second – No. 57 Jaume Munar or No. 80 Roberto Carballes Baena.

Long Term: In the third round he might face No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev and either No. 7 seed Cam Norrie or No. 28 Holger Rune in the round-of-16. His potential quarter-final opponent would be No. 2 seed and four-time champion Rafael Nadal.

Leylah Fernandez: Short Term:  Last year’s runner-up and this year’s 14th seed, Fernandez plays No. 99-ranked Oceane Dodin, 25, of France in the first round and would face either big-hitting No. 45 Ludmilla Samsonova, 23, of Russia or a qualifier in round two.

Long Term: In the third round Fernandez could play struggling No. 23 seed Barbora Krejcikova, 26, of the Czech Republic and then second-seeded Anett Kontaveit, 26, of Estonia in the round of 16. Possible opponents in the quarter-finals would be No. 6 seed Ons Jabeur, 27, of Tunisia or No. 10 Daria Kasatkina, 25, of Russia.

Bianca Andreescu: Short Term: The 2019 US Open champion, currently ranked No. 50, starts out against No. 111 Harmony Tan, 24, of France, and her second-round opponent would be either 2022 National Bank Open runner-up, No. 15 seed Beatrix Haddad Maia, 26, of Brazil or No. 118 Ana Konjuh, 24, of Croatia.

Long Term: Andreescu could play in-form No. 17 seed Caroline Garcia, 28, of France in the third round and then out-of-form No. 3 seed Maria Sakkari, 28, in the fourth. Seventh seed and National Bank Open champion Simona Halep, 30, could be a possible opponent in the quarter-finals.

Rebecca Marino: Short Term: The 31-year-old from Vancouver is playing Flushing Meadows for the second year in a row after missing the event for eight years dating back to 2012. Her first-round opposition is No. 104-ranked Magdalena Frech, 24, from Poland. Her potential second round is a match-up with the seventh-seeded Halep.

Long Term: In the third round Marino could play No. 30 seed Jil Teichmann, 25, of Switzerland and then either of two seeded Americans, No. 12 Coco Gauff, 18, or No. 20 Madison Keys, 27.

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