Beijing weekend – Kyrgios’ best and worst

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When Nick Kyrgios met Alexander Zverev Saturday in the China Open semifinals, he was devastating.

It was the fourth meeting between the young guns this season. And Kyrgios has now won three of them.

Not only was his tennis world-class, the Aussie got inside Zverev’s head so comprehensively in the 6-3, 7-5 win that it was the younger, higher-ranked German who was on racket-snapping detail.

Kyrgios sang along to the stadium soundtrack on the set break. And he came out in the first game and hit two ridiculous volleys on the first point. Then, he pulled a Roger Federer-like SABR (although with a two-handed backhand) on the second point that got the crowd into it.

Which unnerved Zverev enough that he double-faulted on the next point.

Zverev lost his cool a few times in the face of Kyrgios’s shotmaking in the Beijing semifinals Saturday. (TennisTV.com)

Later, after a brilliant 31-shot rally, he beat Zverev with a deft and well-conceived shot that was within the German’s reach at the net. But it dipped so dramatically right in front of him that he couldn’t handle it.

Which unnerved Zverev enough that he double-faulted on the next point, coughed up the break of serve and then went rogue on his tennis racket.

What a difference a day makes

The victory put Kyrgios in the final against Rafael Nadal, whom he defeated in their last meeting, on a hard court in Cincinnati in August.

But when Kyrgios came out on Sunday, he wasn’t the same fellow.

Mainly, his serve wasn’t the same. And that likely was the main source of his tennis frustration. His first delivery landed at a 70 per cent clip against Zverev. Against Nadal, he couldn’t break 50 per cent.

And he was cranky, getting into it with umpire Mohamed Lahyani from the get-go on some dodgy line calls. There was no getting him out of his funk.

Alexander Zverev really didn’t quite know what hit him at times during his loss to Nick Kyrgios in the Beijing semifinals. (TennisTV.com)

The SABR didn’t work. He got a couple of challenges wrong. At one point, when Nadal was ready to serve (and we know how long that takes), Kyrgios was still giving Lahyani lip and the world No. 1 had to back off.

There were some ill-advised serve-volley plays on second serves. And unlike much of the week, Kyrgios played speed-dating on his service games, barely waiting for one point to finish before he was ready to begin the next.

Mohamed Lahyani was on the receiving end of some abuse from Kyrgios during the Beijing final. It was unreasonable enough that the friendly umpire assessed a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. (TennisTV.com)

On the changeover at 2-5, Lahyani assessed a point penalty, so as he served to stay in the set, he was down love-15 before he stepped to the line.

Two double-faults at 30-all, and the set was over. And the match; Kyrgios earned just one more game as Nadal won 6-2, 6-1 to win his 75th career title.

In a little more than 24 hours, the space of a short weekend, the best and the worst of Kyrgios were on display.

In other words, not an atypical Kyrgios weekend.

“He played well. I played terrible. He’s in great form. He just destroyed me today, so it was too good,” Kyrgios told the media in Beijing. “I put in a pretty good week, had some good wins. It’s tough to find positives when you won three games in the final. But I guess there were positives. In the semi-final I played well, obviously beating Alex (Zverev).”

When it was good, it was GOOD

It was a shame. Because when the tennis was at forefront of this Beijing final, it was breathtaking. But after four wins during the week, the Aussie had turned the page on Beijing.

It wasn’t as though the crowd didn’t get its money’s worth. The women’s final preceded the men Sunday night. As well, despite the lopsided score and the lightning round on serve, the match still took an hour and 32 minutes – 15 minutes longer than the much tighter contest against Zverev.

With two opponents Sunday – Nadal, and himself – Kyrgios was unable to repeat the impressive level he displayed in his semifinal win over Alexander Zverev. (TennisTV.com)

Kyrgios will drop a couple of spots in the rankings – he’ll be just out of the top 20 Monday. The Aussie won the tournament in Tokyo a year ago and so failed to defend 200 of the 500 points he earned.

Still alive for London

Meanwhile, Kyrgios moved up – five spots – in the race to the ATP Tour finals in London. He stands 15th;  in reality, he’s 12th with the idle Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray ahead of him. With two Masters 1000 series tournaments to come, he’s far from out of contention.

And he’ll get right back at it in Shanghai, with a tough first-round match against Steve Johnson in singles, but slotted into a good section of the draw.

With only second-round points to defend and the difference between No. 21 and No. 13 only 400 points right now, it’s an opportunity. He’s also playing doubles with Lucas Pouille.

The Kyrgios road show rages on, coming to a tennis stadium near you.

Raonic retires in Tokyo, out of Shanghai

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More bad news on the health front for Milos Raonic.

The Canadian returned after a seven-week absence due to a wrist injury in Tokyo this week, and won his first round against Viktor Troicki.

But Thursday against Yuichi Sugita of Japan, he was broken in his opening service game – and then retired from the match.

The reason was a calf injury. Raonic also pulled out of next week’s Masters 1000 tournament in Shanghai.

Unusually for the Canadian, he skipped his mandatory post-match press conference.

He issued a statement through the ATP.

“I picked up a strain to the calf. It’s hard to know the extent of it, I’ll have to wait because it’s too soon to have an exact evaluation. It happened when the score was deuce. I felt a sharp pain at the back of my leg. I will head home now and get medical attention,” Raonic said in the statement.

“It’s been a difficult and frustrating year. I obviously wish I could have focused on tennis more rather than chasing help all the time.”

It’s yet another physical setback for a player who has had plenty of them in his career, most of them involving his hip and upper-leg area.

Woeful season at top of ATP

After his first-round match, the 26-year-old talked about how he felt the ATP Tour schedule was too demanding on the top players. He pointed out that the top five players in the year-end rankings last year – Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and himself – had missed extended periods.

Raonic was the only one of the five who hadn’t already pulled the plug on his 2017 season.

Now, he may well join them to make it unanimous.

One and done for Bouchard in Beijing

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It’s a rather familiar story for Genie Bouchard these days – a first-round exit.

The 23-year-old Canadian was beaten by Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4, 6-3 Sunday at the Premier Mandatory event in Beijing, China.

So before the week even sets in, she’s already out, in her debut on the fall Asian swing.

Since her second-round loss to Anastasija Sevastova at the French Open, Bouchard has played eight tournaments. She has won two matches.

The matchup was promising from a positive-history standpoint for the struggling Canadian. She came in 2-0 head-to-head against the 28-year-old Slovak.

The first meeting came at the same tournament four years ago when their rankings were nearly identical: Bouchard was at No. 36 and out of the qualifying; Rybarikova was one spot better at No. 35. Bouchard won 6-4, 6-1.

Last year at Wimbledon, Bouchard again defeated Rybarikova in straight sets in a first-round match that began on Court 12, and was moved under the Centre Court roof the next day.

Since then, Rybarikova had been out injured. She then crawled her way back up the rankings and reached the Wimbledon semifinals this year. At No. 28, she is one off a career-best ranking reached after the US Open.

Mostly mental for Bouchard

Bouchard
Bouchard might well have been asking herself what she was doing in Beijing. At times, she was dug in; other times, she looked like she wanted to be anywhere else. (Screenshot: WTA TV)

Bouchard’s ball striking was just fine. The velocity on the serve was fine.

And if Bouchard still doesn’t have a clear vision of what to do once she heads to the net, she at least was heading there on the right shots.

But the desire level fluctuated. And the errors came on the most routine shots – rally balls, open courts. The match was somewhat close in large part because Rybarikova made plenty of errors of her own.

Bouchard fought back from service breaks with breaks of her own. But she couldn’t do it at the end of the first set.

It was clearly a deflating moment. She began the first game of the second set with a double fault, ended that game with another double fault, and chased after it the rest of the way.

Pep talk, to no avail

Diego Ayala, a Florida-based coach who was with Bouchard at the Australian Open in 2015 and knew her from their days at the Saviano Academy when Bouchard was a teenager, is along for the three-tournament swing that will end the Canadian’s season.

Diego Ayala tried to pump Bouchard up. But it was for naught. (Screenshot: WTA TV)

A chill customer, Ayala gave her some good tactical advice on his first visit to the court, at 3-4 in the first set.

Bouchard shrugged her shoulders.

She appeared a little more receptive on his second trip, at 3-4 in the second set. Ayala tried the pep-talk route this time.

“Don’t worry about what it feels like, just keep digging. You’ve got to scrap, you’ve got to kick, you’ve got to fight,” he said. “You can do a little bit better job with the positive energy. Show her that you’re here a little bit more. Celebrate your good positive stuff.”

Bouchard won just two points the rest of the way. She finished it off with … a double fault.

Beijing
Rybarikova didn’t play her best match of the year. Not even close. But on this day, it was more than enough to beat Bouchard for the first time. (Screenshot: WTA TV)

In a twist of fate, the Canadian’s ranking will actually rise, despite the early exit.

She didn’t play the Asian swing a year ago. And a few players with points to defend – Kateryna Kozlova, Francesca Schiavone and Alison Van Uytvanck among them – didn’t defend theirs, aren’t in the Beijing draw, and dropped below her.

From her current No. 85, Bouchard could move up as many as six spots, although there are still a couple of players who could pass her.

She is entered in the International-level event in Hong Kong next week. And then Luxembourg to finish out a very tough season.

(All screenshots from the WTAtv stream)

Bouchard gets wild card into Beijing

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Genie Bouchard will not have to suffer the rigors of qualifying this weekend.

The 23-year-old Canadian has been issued a wild card into the big Premier Mandatory tournament in Beijing. Bouchard left her home in Miami Wednesday to head for Asia for the first time during this Asian swing.

It will be Bouchard’s first tournament since losing in the first round of the US Open to Evgeniya Rodina of Russia.

(Update: she’ll play Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia in the first round. For an explanation on how she was able to get a fourth wild card this season, click here).

The China Open offers nearly $6.4 million in prize money. Other than the 10-day events in Indian Wells and Miami, that’s the biggest purse on the WTA Tour.

Bouchard’s ranking stood at No. 74 at the entry deadline. So she was still 14 spots out of the 60-player main draw as of Thursday evening back home. The Canadian would have been unseeded in the qualifying draw as well.

There certainly was a possibility Bouchard would just end her season. Or, at the least, skip the Asian swing entirely. But with a main-draw spot in Beijing, and a main-draw spot in the International-level event in Hong Kong the following week, the issue of a match-rusty Bouchard trying to qualify was off the table.

First appearance in Asia

Citing a slow recovery from the virus she contracted in New York after her first-round exit at the US Open, Bouchard withdrew from the Quebec City WTA event the week after the US Open.

She also withdrew from scheduled participation in the Korean Open in Seoul (main draw). And then, she also pulled out of qualifying for the Premier 5 tournament in Wuhan, China this week.

With the departure of coach Thomas Högstedt, Bouchard will not even have Roberto Brogin with her in Asia. Brogin, who worked with Bouchard when she first returned to the national training centre in Montreal from Florida nearly a decade ago, had filled in at various events in Högstedt’s absence this season.

He also has a full-time job with Tennis Canada at their training centre in Vancouver.

Blast from the past

Diego Ayala will be on board in Asia. Ayala, a coach based in south Florida, began the season with Bouchard down in Australia in 2015 after her split with Nick Saviano. Bouchard knew him from her younger days at Saviano’s academy.

Ayala’s agreement, we’re told is that he’ll be on board for the three tournaments remaining on Bouchard’s schedule for 2017.

So, barring anything unforeseen, that could well mean she intends to remain on the road for both Hong Kong and Luxemberg, two smaller events, to close it out.

At the time, Bouchard would not refer to Ayala as her “coach.” She preferred “hitting partner.” And upon returning home, she hired current Garbiñe Muguruza coach Sam Sumyk as a permanent replacement for Saviano.

But despite not playing any official warmup events, and under pressure to back up her breakthrough semifinal the previous year, Bouchard reached the quarterfinals in Australia with Ayala on board.

She lost in three sets to Maria Sharapova.

Beijing
Ayala, whom Bouchard has known since she was a young teenager, will reportedly be on the rest of the Asian swing with her. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Coincidentally, Sharapova also has a wild card into Beijing, announced last month.

The two names have been linked often recently, for other reasons. Their last meeting was blockbuster.

This linkage is a little more unexpected.  First-round wild-card popcorn, anyone?

(Chinese players Zhu Lin, Wang Yafan and Duan Ying-Ying also have wild cards into the main draw).