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Tebbutt: Leylah, Félix okay – Bianca’s out

May 25, 2022
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

Perhaps because Bianca Andreescu’s triumph at the 2019 US Open was so historic in Canadian tennis and Canadian sport, her rematch with the woman she beat in the semi-final of that magical run stirred the emotions in Wednesday’s second round of the French Open more than wins by Leylah Annie Fernandez and Félix Auger-Aliassime.

The latter two advanced relatively uneventfully – Fernandez 6-3, 6-2 over Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic and Auger-Aliassime 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 against Argentine qualifier Camilo Ugo Carabelli.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

In a feature match that began in the early evening in Court Philippe Chatrier, largely empty after an Alexander Zverev – Sebastian Baez three-and-a-half-hour extravaganza that left Parisian spectators tennised-out – No. 14 seed Bencic had it her way from the start against Andreescu, taking the first set 6-2 and going ahead 5-1 in the second.

From the first ball, until nerves crept in as she was on the verge of victory, the 25-year-old Swiss was brilliant, serving great and mostly playing ping pong with her ground strokes from the back-court, hitting the ball early with impeccable timing and immaculate depth.

Andreescu had moments where her own brilliance shone through but it wasn’t until Bencic could sense the finish line serving at 5-2 in the second set that the match truly came alive.

There had been a sense throughout that Bencic was ultra motivated to avenge the US Open loss – a match in which she had a set point in the first set and was twice up a break in the second. But even though she was in total control, on the other side of the net it was still that awesome champion who beat her in Arthur Ashe Stadium and wasn’t about to go down easily.

Andreescu was more than eager to capitalize on any opening that might change the result or just restore some balance to the match.

Serving at 5-2 in the second set, Bencic began to crumble – double-faulting on the first point and making three other errors to lose the double break advantage. Andreescu held serve to 4-5 comfortably – emoting two of her trademark ‘c’mon’ shouts in that game to fire herself up and throw a little shade on Bencic.

It all came down to the Swiss serving at 5-4 and it could hardly have been more tense. When Bencic hit a double fault on the first point, that made it 12 of the previous 15 points that she had lost. Then she hit an ace (one of only two on the day!) to help restore her confidence. But she double-faulted again at 30-all to give Andreescu a break point to level at 5-all. How did she follow that? – with a big service winner to get to deuce.

It was that dizzying kind of drama that makes tennis so compelling and Andreescu did her part by saving two match points with bold, aggressive play but she couldn’t save the third – misfiring with a forehand service return.

Final score 6-2, 6-4.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

“I think it was a very tough second round,” Bencic said. “I was expecting a difficult match. It was part of the plan to dictate because that’s my game. That’s not what she likes, she wants to dictate as well. I think it was who was holding the baseline more – and I’m happy today it was me.”

The final stats were 17 winners and 22 unforced errors (many in the final four games) for Bencic and 12 winners and 22 unforced errors for Andreescu.

In view of just how well Bencic played for most of the match, an understandably upset Andreescu was probably a little too hard on herself post-match. “I think towards the end of the second set I kind of got my s*** together and started playing,” she said. “Because during the whole match, I don’t know what happened. I was missing a lot. I didn’t feel myself out there, sadly. Yeah – real disappointing.”

She added, “actually, I had no nerves today. I don’t know what it was. I feel like I was doing everything I could today – just nothing worked out.

“I feel like I prepared so well for this tournament and I’ve had really good momentum in my last couple of tournaments. I was feeling really good.”

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

The expressions on the faces of Team Andreescu showed the concern and worry it had watching courtside.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

There was a surprise at the end of Andreescu’s media conference. After all the hype about a possible meeting with her compatriot Fernandez in the third round, Andreescu was asked about missing the opportunity. “I didn’t know that, actually,” she replied. “That would have been cool.”

Regarding any advice she would have for Fernandez, she said, “my game plan was to stay aggressive right from the start. So I think if she can do that and just fight until the end, then I think she can win.”

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

Fernandez got all the separation she would need against Siniakova with a break of serve in the sixth game of the opening set to lead, 4-2. She closed out the set 6-3 in 42 minutes, hitting from the backcourt with superior power, angles and consistency, and won the first two games of the second set to love on the way to a double-break 3-0 lead.

Siniakova got one break back to 3-1. But it was a momentary reprieve and Fernandez would just lose one more game in the Court 6 match to finish it in 67 minutes.

The victory would seem like ideal preparation for Bencic as she hit 19 winners to go with 10 unforced errors and capitalized on five of her six break-point opportunities.

She is into the third round for the second time (2020) at Roland Garros and looking the best she has on clay in 2022 – recording consecutive wins for the first time in four events.  

“I think I just played a really good match, especially on important points in the first set,” Fernandez said. “Then in the second set I was happy I was able to keep that offensiveness and keep going for my shots. I’m glad that the balls went in when it mattered.”

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

The women’s event has opened up with five of the top-10 ranked players out in the first four days. Asked if she paid attention to tournament happenings outside herself, the 17th seeded Fernandez said, “I try to focus on myself, but it’s a little hard when you just see the TVs everywhere, the scores everywhere. I do catch glimpses here and there, but I don’t try to follow matches. I just want to focus on myself, just improve every match and enjoy the time that I have on the tennis court.”

She and Bencic have met before, in what was then the Fed Cup competition in pre-pandemic 2020 in Biel, Switzerland. The then 17-year-old Canadian upset the No. 5-ranked Bencic 6-2, 7-6(3) in the third match of a tie Canada lost 3-1 when both Andreescu and Genie Bouchard were unable to play.

Fernandez didn’t know who her next opponent would be when she did her media on Wednesday, but she did (predictably) say about Bencic or Andreescu, “I know that both players are very good. These matches are never easy to play.”

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

After dropping the first two sets in his opening-round match against Juan Pablo Varillas of Peru, Auger-Aliassime was fast out of the chute Wednesday – winning the opening set in 26 minutes on his way to a straight-set victory over Ugo Carabelli.

The 22-year-old Argentine actually didn’t win a game until the 43-minute mark, making it 1-all in set two.

Ugo Carabelli had zero winners to Auger-Aliassime’s eight in the first set and overall in the match the Canadian’s power and consistency off the ground overwhelmed the qualifier.

Ranked No. 155 and playing in only his second Grand Slam or ATP Tour-level match, Ugo Carabelli needed four hours and 17 minutes to beat Aslan Karatsev in the first round on Sunday. In Wednesday’s encounter, he had his best moments in the second set when he stretched Auger-Aliassime to seven minutes plus in three consecutive service games – but failed to win any of them. He finished 0/5 in break points for the day and was ‘out-winnered’ a remarkable 41 to six for the match as Auger-Aliassime took his game up a notch from the first round.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

His growing confidence – and willingness to move forward – at the net was clear in winning 28/34 of points played there in the Court 7 match.

His opponent in the third round on Friday will be Filip Krajinovic. The 30-year-old Serb advanced to his second career third round (2019) at Roland Garros with a 7-6(5), 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 victory over qualifier Borna Gojo of Croatia. It will be the fifth Auger-Aliassime – Krajinovic confrontation and the head-to-head is 2-2. But Auger-Aliassime has won their most recent meetings, both in 2021 – 6-3, 6-4 indoors in Stockholm and 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4 on clay in Rome. 

“Good, complete match from my part,” Auger-Aliassime said summing up just his second career match win at Roland Garros. “Not getting broken is always good. It’s good to be through again.”

At his post-match media conference, he was asked a common question these days, about Wimbledon and whether he would play it without ATP Tour ranking points. “I’m set on going,” he said. “It’s a Grand Slam. Look, I’m in the top 10 now. In the next few years, I have to take every opportunity I can to try and win one of those tournaments. I’m not going to skip that opportunity.

“I think also the tournament’s going to happen however it happens. Then we are going to move on to something else.”

INCOMPARABLE ROLAND GARROS & PARIS

It’s one of the secrets of the Grand Slam tennis scene – the best strawberries are not to be found in London in the bowls of Wimbledon’s famed ‘strawberries and cream.’ In fact, the berries at the All England Club are ordinary compared to the sumptuous, juicy ones in Paris – just like those here from le marché de la rue Cler in Paris 7ieme last week.