Gauff At Ease Winning On Montreal Big Court

Coco Gauff (photo: @OBNmontreal/Twitter)

MONTREAL/WASHINGTON, August 11, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

In her third year on the WTA tour, American teen prodigy Coco Gauff has had the opportunity to play on all of the Grand Slam show courts as well as many main stadiums. On Tuesday, as the 24th-ranked Gauff made her tournament debut at the Omnium Banque Nationale in Montreal against No. 64 Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, a player whom she was 0-3 lifetime, the 15th seed was given the opening slot on Centre Court at IGA Stadium.

“I’m very grateful that I’m being put on these courts, because it gives more people opportunity to see me play for the first time or, maybe, the second or third time – and, I do like the bigger courts,” the 17-year-old Gauff said recently, while playing a series of non-sanctioned exhibitions in Washington, D.C. against Victoria Azarenka and Jessica Pegula. “I like it loud in the stands. So, obviously, I’m always excited to play on a big court, but also, like, no matter what court I play, as long as I have my dad or one person out there watching me, I think I’ll be okay no matter what.”

Each time that Gauff and Sevastova previously met – at last year’s US Open and earlier this season in Miami and at Eastbourne – Sevastova won in three sets. That changed on Tuesday as Gauff raced to a 5-0 first-set lead and went on to win 6-1, 6-4 in 66 minutes to advance to the second round against 100th-ranked qualifier Anastasia Potapova of Russia.

“This is my first time beating her, so I’m super happy,” Gauff said during an on-court interview. “I think all of our matches except this one have been three sets. So, it shows we’re pretty close to each other and I’m glad today was finally my turn.”

Gauff had been idle for the past 35 days since losing to Angelique Kerber in the fourth round of Wimbledon. Her last match on a hard court was at the Miami Open four months ago. So, against Sevastova, she came out raring to go. She hit four aces and 19 winners and broke her opponent’s serve four times in nine opportunities. Meanwhile, Sevastova hit 23 unforced errors and was able to garner just one break-point opportunity against Gauff. The young American outpointed Sevastova 60-41.

Later in press, Gauff said: “Sevastova obviously gave me problems in previous matches. Even today, she’s still a tough opponent. Today I just came out on top. She can mix up the game really well, which is what. You don’t see often on the women’s tour. It’s definitely troublesome. But what I adjusted today was just focusing more on myself and not about what she does on her side of the court. I think in the past I overthink what she can do. Sometimes, it’s just better to make your opponent play the ball.”

Last month, Gauff was all set to play in the Tokyo Olympics following Wimbledon until she tested positive for COVID-19.

“I was obviously disappointed,” Gauff said. “I mean, you all know I have talked about the Olympics pretty much since the Australian Open, when I realized I had a chance to make the team. I’m very hopeful I will have many other opportunities to qualify for the team and, hopefully, actually get to the Olympics before any unforeseen circumstances happen.

“I’m just happy that I didn’t really have many symptoms. I was pretty much asymptomatic. I still have a loss of small, but other than that, I’m okay.”

Gauff said in Washington that being under the age of 18 coupled with the nature of travel on the pro tour has made it difficult to get vaccinated before now. “I’m going to get it as soon as I can,” she said. Her plan is to get her first vaccine dose after next week’s Western & Southern Open and a second shot after the US Open.

Gauff was one of three Americans to move into the second round. Joining her were 62nd-ranked wild card Sloane Stephens, who held off No. 50 Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, and No. 30 Pegula, who rallied to beat No. 29 Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.

Advancing with Tuesday wins were: No. 2 seed Bianca Andreescu of Canada, who played and won for the first time since June with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over 172nd-ranked qualifier Harriet Dart of Great Britain; No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic, who beat No. 84 Fiona Ferro of France, 6-4, 6-4; and No. 10 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who defeated 63rd-ranked qualifier Caroline Garcia of France, 6-4, 6-4.

Three seeds were eliminated. No. 55 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic upset fifth seed and World No. 9 Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, 6-2, 0-6, 6-3 in back of 22 winners. Also, No. 71 Camila Giorgi of Italy rolled to a 6-3, 7-5 victory over No. 9 seed and World No. 16 Elise Mertens of Belgium, and No. 12 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan was upset by No. 52 Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.

Nadal withdraws from National Bank Open

Five-time National Bank Open champion Rafael Nadal pulled out of the tournament on Tuesday afternoon citing a left foot injury. Nadal returned to the ATP Tour last week at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. after being off tour since losing in the semifinal round of the French Open in June. He played back-to-back three-set matches, beating Jack Sock before losing to Lloyd Harris.

“I have had this issue for a couple of months, as people know,” Nadal said in a statement released by Tennis Canada. “Of course, it is not a happy situation after all the success that I had here in Canada, not being able to play this year after missing a year. It’s a tough one, but that’s how it is today. I need to go back and try to find a way to be better again. At the end of the day, for me the most important thing is to enjoy playing tennis. Today, with this pain, I am not able to enjoy it, and I really don’t believe that I have the chance to fight for the things that I really need to fight for.

“I really wanted to play here a lot, but now is the moment to make a decision, and this is unfortunately the decision that I have taken, and probably in the next couple of days we are going to know more.”

The No. 2 seed Nadal was replaced in the main draw by lucky loser and fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez.

“We are of course disappointed that Rafa [Nadal] is being forced to withdraw due to injury,” said Karl Hale, National Bank Open tournament director in Toronto. “We know our fans were looking forward to seeing him in action at the Aviva Centre. However, we understand his decision and we wish him a quick recovery. We are already looking forward to welcoming him back to Canada next year, and to Toronto in 2023.”

Medvedev back on favorite surface: an outdoor hard court

National Bank Open men’s No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev has won 10 of his 11 ATP Tour titles on hard courts, and he’s enjoyed previous success in Canada, reaching the 2019 Canadian final. “I like to play in Canada. I love playing in Toronto,” Medvedev said this week in press. “Feels great to be in a Masters 1000 again on hard courts. I like playing hard courts, so [I] just want to show good tennis, play some good games, win as many matches as possible. That’s what I like to do.”

Tuesday afternoon on Stadium Court at Aviva Centre, the World No. 2 Medvedev faced No. 38 Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan and, after enduring a 53-minute rain delay, won 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and two minutes. It was a gut-check for the top seed, who fired 13 aces and hit 27 winners but also committed 28 unforced errors. This was their third meeting of the season following a pair of straight-set wins by Medvedev’s in the first round at the French Open and two weeks ago in the opening round at the Tokyo Olympics. Medvedev reached the quarterfinals at both of those tournaments. This time he played from behind and got better as the match wore on.

“[The rain delay] helped a lot,” Medvedev admitted during his on-court interview after the match. “I don’t know if the conditions changed with the humidity, but I was not playing well before the rain. I had my opportunities. I was missing second-serve returns, missing balls. I knew I had to play better if I was to win.

“When back on court, from the first game I felt much better. I only felt better and better during the match, he did not have one break point [after the rain]. I turned around the match completely. It is a tough draw, even without Rafael Nadal. It does open up the draw [though] for sure.”

Next, Medvedev will face the winner of Wednesday’s match between 85th-ranked qualifier James Duckworth of Australia and Italy’s No. 16 seed Jannik Sinner, fresh off his Citi Open title victory Sunday evening in Washington, D.C.

Also, No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece recovered from losing a second-set tie break 15-13 that lasted more than 20 minutes and beat No. 27 Ugo Humbert of France, 6-3, 6-7 (13), 6-1. The new World No. 3 Tsitsipas fired 16 aces and hit 37 winners and outpointed Humbert 111-91. Earlier, No. 6 Casper Ruud of Norway joined Medvedev and Tsitsipas in the third round after beating No. 38 Marin Cilic of Croatia, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, in a match interrupted by rain.

Meanwhile, American wild card Jenson Brooksby‘s ATP Masters 1000 debut was one he would soon forget. The newly-99th-ranked Brooksby started well against No. 42 Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia by winning the first set, but lost 12 of the last 16 games in the match and fell 2-6, 6-0, 6-4. Also, No. 30 John Isner of the United States hit 19 aces and took advantage of four service breaks to beat No. 34 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain, 6-4, 6-1.

Other winners included: Dusan Lajovic, Kei NishikoriKaren Khachanov, lucky loser Frances Tiafoe and Benoit Paire.

Two big servers: Opelka and Kyrgios produce memorable shootout

When Reilly Opelka of the United States and Australia’s Nick Kyrgios – two of the best servers on the ATP Tour – collided in a featured first-round match at the National Bank Open in Toronto Monday night, it was expected that they would pepper the stadium court landscape with an abundance of service aces. They did. The two combined for 38 – 22 for Opelka and 16 for Kyrgios – and Opelka was the steadier player in winning 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4.

“Yeah, it’s as expected – he’s got one of the best serves in the world, his skill set is off the charts,” Opelka said of Kyrgios. “When you’re not on tour for a while, it’s hard to be as sharp. It takes time. I know his best tennis of the season will probably come around at the US Open, but yeah, he’s still a nightmare.”

By the numbers

Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic champion Danielle Collins of the United States made it 11 wins in a row after defeating Jil Teichmann of Switzerland, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, to set up a second-round clash on Wednesday evening with No. 6 seed Simona Halep of Romania, who won titles in Montreal in 2016 and 2018.

“Quotable …”

“I feel like from Olympics I have been starting to play better. I don’t really know why, but maybe, you know, it was a big tournament and also playing home. I know the venue for a long time and … from the first match against Rublev, I start playing so much better and more confidence coming up. I mean, it was [a] good experience. Of course, little shame we didn’t have any spectators, but still it was fun and I enjoyed. … It was a good experience.”

Kei Nishikori of Japan, asked what he will remember most about playing in the Tokyo Olympic Games in his home nation.

“I think it was the right decision at the time for me to step away from the game. I know some people didn’t understand it at the time, but I’m really proud of the decisions I made because it made me feel like a completely whole individual, and it made me rediscover my love and passion for the sport. I think it shows when I play.”

Rebecca Marino of Canada, ranked 220th, who earned her first win against a Top 50 player in nearly a decade with her 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 16 seed Madison Keys of the United States Monday evening. In 2013, Marino started a five-year hiatus from tennis before retuning in 2018. Now, at age 30, she qualified for the Australian Open, which was her first Grand Slam main draw since 2013.

“Well, it nice, I think, to see especially for the tennis world getting new names on it. Everyone is a great, great player, great athletes. Everyone has his own team which I think is very impressive. Everyone is so competitive, and that’s very nice, you know. Nobody wants to lose one single point.

“It’s great to see a lot of Americans, young guys like Nakashima, Brooksby, Korda, they are getting very, very good. Talking about all the rest, you know, Musetti, Alcaraz, everyone. I don’t want to miss anybody of them, because I think it’s going to be very, very exciting.”

Jannik Sinner, on the success of #NextGenATP rising stars at the Citi Open.

“People don’t know this but Nick Kyrgios and Roger Federer are literally my dream mixed doubles partners. So, hopefully, we can make it happen.”

Coco Gauff, on her mixed doubles dream team at a future major.