Bouchard’s bid for Australian Open spot ends in qualifying

AP Photo
0 Comments

MELBOURNE, Australia — It was in the shadows of the main show courts at Melbourne Park, days before the first Grand Slam tournament of the season is set to begin in earnest, and Eugenie Bouchard’s stay at the Australian Open was over in the last round of qualifying.

The 2014 Wimbledon runner-up, once as high as No. 5 in the rankings, has had a long slide down to No. 211. She’s had to get used to playing away from packed stadium courts. But a constant echo around the arena on Friday presented something new.

The 25-year-old Canadian survived nearly three hours against China’s You Xiaodi in heavy smoke and haze in the first round of qualifying and advanced through a second-rounder against Maddison Inglis in 65 minutes. With a spot in the main draw on the line, though, Bouchard lost 6-4, 6-3 to Martina Trevisan, a 26-year-old Italian who now will make her debut at a Grand Slam tournament.

“Super tough,” Bouchard said of the loss. “It’s last round of qualies. I felt like I was close.”

Bouchard lost seven straight games from 4-4 in the first set before she rallied and got back to 5-3 in the second, getting plenty of encouragement from a small but supportive crowd. Trevisan held her composure, though, and closed with an ace.

Bouchard said the changing wind and left-handed Trevisan’s different spin were tricky. But one distraction, she said, was just odd.

Every hit of the ball, every noise the players made, could be heard again a half-beat later.

After the third game, Bouchard went to chair umpire Carlos Bernardes to talk about the the noise.

“I said, `I don’t know if it’s a speaker, or a TV or what, but I can hear our match, like, half a second after. In the point, I hear us grunting during the point,”‘ she said. “It was weird.”

The echo – from a giant TV somewhere behind the arena – continued until match point.

“That’s, like, never happened to me before,” Bouchard said.

Still, there’s plenty she’s experiencing now as she tries to work her way back. She’s prepared to deal with it.

“Well, life is not a straight line upward,” she said. “I just take the good with the bad. Sometimes you’ve just got to put your head down and grind, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

In 2014, Bouchard reached a career-high No. 5 ranking after making the semifinals at the Australian Open and French Open and losing the Wimbledon final to Petra Kvitova.

She made it to the quarterfinals in Australia in 2015 and was into the fourth round at the U.S. Open that September, but had to withdraw because of a concussion she sustained after slipping and falling on wet locker room floor.

She reached a settlement with the United States Tennis Association in 2018 but her ranking has continued to fall.

Her health and fitness, she said, are improving.

“Generally I feel good. Today … I felt slow and I didn’t feel that great on court,” Bouchard said. “One of those days when I feel like things weren’t working. I didn’t feel like my usual self on court. But overall, I feel good.”

The smoke that blew over Melbourne earlier in the week caused some of the worst air quality measured in the world on Tuesday, sparking complaints and health concerns from players.

Bouchard had a medical timeout during her win that day, but didn’t think it caused any issues beyond that match.

“Not at all. That match and after that match, I felt bad,” she said. “But the next day, I recovered and felt fine.”

Her short-term aim is just to keep trying to win matches back-to-back, following a drought last year when she had 13 straight losses, including first-round exits at the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. She had two wins in Melbourne in qualifying and last week in Auckland, New Zealand, when she beat Caroline Garcia and Kirsten Flipkens before a loss to Amanda Anisimova.

That’s a step in the right direction. Now her focus is on an upcoming tournament on the lower-tier Challenger circuit.

Other qualifiers joining Trevisan in the women’s main draw include Americans Ann Li and Shelby Rogers, Liudmila Samsonova of Russia and Monica Niculescu of Romania.

Ernests Gulbis was among the men who made it out of qualifying, which continues Saturday at Melbourne Park.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
Getty Images
2 Comments

SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

Getty Images
3 Comments

LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”