No Fed Cup for Bouchard, Stephens

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If there were going to be any suspense in the coming months about whether Canadian Genie Bouchard would return to Fed Cup action in the first round of the 2018 event, it was quashed on Monday.

The New York Open, which is the newly relocated Memphis Open men’s ATP Tour event, announced that Bouchard along with US Open champion Sloane Stephens, John McEnroe and James Blake will be taking part in a tournament-opening exhibition Feb. 11.

On Feb. 11, the Canadian Fed Cup team will be playing the second day of its first-round World Group II tie in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. 

The US team, of which Stephens was a part last weekend in a victorious effort against Belarus in the championship final, will be in Asheville, NC hosting the Netherlands in its first-round tie.

Bouchard

So that’s that.

No Fed Cup, no Doha

Bouchard last played Fed Cup in April 2015 in Montreal, when Canada faced the same Romania team (minus Simona Halep) to remain in World Group I.

Ranked No. 7 in the world at the time, the Canadian lost her singles matches against Alexandra Dulgheru and Andreea Mitu.

The week following Fed Cup week is the Premier 5 tournament in Doha, UAE. And the appearance could cost Bouchard that tournament as well.

The Canadian’s current ranking stands at No. 81, and she has over 300 ranking points to defend in January at Sydney and the Australian Open. She would most likely need to play the qualifying (unless Doha is planning to give her a wild card). 

Obviously, with this commitment, she couldn’t be in the Middle East that same weekend to play it.

US – Belarus tied 1-1 after Day 1

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On paper, the USA are massive favorites to win the Fed Cup final over upstart Belarus.

But on court, when tennis players are toiling for their country, a lot of things can happen.

So the fact that home-team Belarus and the U.S. are tied 1-1 after the first day of singles Saturday in Minsk is a surprise, but not a total shock.

Coco Vandeweghe, the American No. 1 who entered the top 10 in the WTA Tour rankings for the first time earlier this week, opened with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

There was, as Vandeweghe put it, a “brain fart” when she was up a set and a break in the second set. But she quickly put it right.

The second rubber, between US Open champion Sloane Stephens and up-and-coming teenager Aryna Sabalenka, was a different story.

Stephens, whose Open aftermath has been like one big hangover, has yet to win a match since she defeated Madison Keys in the final in New York. Then again, she has played just four in the nearly two months since then.

While the official site’s “gamer” made no mention of the thick wrap below the American’s left knee, it clearly seemed to be an issue in Belarus’s 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win.

Slam champ vs. up-and-comer

Sabalenka is a talented but raw up-and-comer who reached the final in Tianjin, China last month. She was up in both sets against the more experienced Maria Sharapova, but lost both.

BelarusMuch of the match simply wasn’t in Stephens’ hands. There were 31 winners and 57 unforced errors directly attributed to Sabalenka; that’s about a third of the total points right there.

Some shots, Stephens wouldn’t have been able to chase down no matter how healthy she was. But the American’s speed and silky movement are a cornerstone of her game. Against an erratic opponent like Sabalenka, she might well have gotten enough balls back into play to force even more errors.

But she wasn’t able to, even if she put in a solid effort to get back into it in a solid second set.

She gave her opponent and the occasion all the credit. 

“We’re playing Fed Cup, so anything goes,” Stephens said. “I want to play like that. That was insane. Playing for her country, the crowd behind her, she played great.”

For Sabalenka, there was plenty of emotion.

“I don’t know, I feel like disappointed, was a really hard fight for me. I felt really bad during the match. My mentality. I don’t know what happened. I feel all these emotions. Finally I won. I’m just happy,” she said during a post-match interview on court. “During the game I didn’t think she’s 15 (in the world) I was thinking I have to win because my team was 0-1 and I have to make the score 1-1, so that’s all what I had on my mind during the match.

“First time I cry after the match. Actually big win for me,” she added. “It’s like it’s (the) final, it’s home, and you play against America. They won it 17 times. That’s why the emotions are coming really more. I didn’t feel it before.”

Decisive Sunday looms

There was a small but vocal American fan presence in Minsk Saturday. But the Belarussians were ebullient in their support of their own. (Fed Cup livestream)

The second and final day begins at 6 a.m. EST (3 a.m. PST) and will have both reverse singles and the doubles as the fifth rubber.

First up will be the battle between the two No. 1s – Vandeweghe and Sabalenka.

It will be loud, and feisty. And the fascinating dynamic will be to see how the relatively inexperienced Sabalenka reacts against an opponent who has a much more dynamic, cocky on-court presence in Vandweghe.

Then, with one of the squads up 2-1 and looking for one more victory to clinch, US captain Kathy Rinaldi has a decision to make.

Can Stephens, under the current conditions, take care of Sasnovich? Or does she substitute in Shelby Rogers or Alison Riske?

Both are solid; neither, obviously, have Stephens’s resumé.

Doubles decider?

And, in the case of a fifth and Cup-deciding doubles rubber, what happens then?

The U.S. are sorely missing the injured Bethanie Mattek-Sands, recovering from a serious knee injury suffered at Wimbledon. She’s one of the best doubles players in the world. 

Belarus
Vandeweghe, the highest-ranked American in both singles and doubles, will have a huge say on the outcome of the Fed Cup final (Screenshot: FedCup stream)

Vandeweghe has the best doubles ranking and the most big-event experience in doubles. She has a little experience with Riske, more with Rogers, with whom she played at Indian Wells and the US Open this year and won a $50,000 on grass back in 2015.

For Belarus, the options aren’t that great.

The two other team members, 25-year-old Lidziya Marozava and 19-year-old Vera Lapko, are ranked No. 69 (a career high) and No. 102 in doubles, respectively. 

But they have never played together.

Marozava last played doubles in Fed Cup in 2013, but with Sasnovich.

How different would this tie look with a fit and match tough Victoria Azarenka playing for Belarus? It seemed, when the former No. 1 returned to action during the grass-court season this summer, that this is where we would be, five months later.

But because of her well-documented custody issues, it didn’t work out that way.

(Screenshots from the ITF’s Fed Cup streaming service)

Stephens and Keys usher in new era

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NEW YORK – When history looks back on the 2017 US Open women’s singles final, it won’t be very kind to the actual tennis that was played.

But no one inside Arthur Ashe Stadium is likely to feel they were shortchanged.

Everything else from the moment Madison Keys’ final forehand went into the net, and her friend Sloane Stephens won the US Open, was pitch-perfect on every possible level.

It will go down as of a fine testament to perseverance through adversity, to sportsmanship, to a mother’s love an dedication, to friendship, to grace and poise under pressure – and, oh yes, to American tennis.

And, to African-Americans in tennis.

Stephens won her first Grand Slam title in just a few ticks over an hour, beating Keys 6-3, 6-0 and completing a comeback that had her outside the top 900 in the world just five weeks ago.

Her first reaction was disbelief. And then, the million-dollar, megawatt smile appeared. But there was no over-the-top celebrating, conscious as she was that her great triumph was simultaneously her good friend’s defeat.

A roller coaster women’s event

The 24-year-old was the last woman standing at the end of a US Open that, on the women’s side, was a roller coaster ride of emotions. Many top seeds went out early. The deck was being reshuffled every day.

And in the end, the last four women standing were all American, at America’s Slam.

There was 37-year-old Venus Williams, the sentimental favourite. Coco Vandeweghe, the brash one. And then there were Stephens and Keys, two players who – were it not for Venus and sister Serena – might never have dreamed they could be standing there on the final Saturday on the biggest stage in tennis.

Stephens, ranked No. 83 coming in, was the only unseeded player of the four. 

Foes briefly, friends always

The two finalists are friends; afterwards, Stephens called Keys her “best friend in tennis.”

She felt for her friend. And she knew that the 22-year-old Keys, her right thigh tightly wrapped, was not 100 per cent physically.

Stephens

When it was over, they both arrived at the net with their arms outstretched, ready to celebrate and commiserate in the same long, lengthy embrace. Keys was in tears, and Stephens was close to tears herself trying to console her friend at what was the watershed moment of her own career. 

I think at the end of a Slam, whoever is still on the court is physically going to be feeling something. But I definitely think my play today came down to nerves and all of that, and I just don’t think I handled the occasion perfectly,” Keys said. “I don’t think I was moving perfectly, but at the same time, I’m not going to take anything away from Sloane. She played really well. I don’t think I played great. I think that’s kind of a combination for a disaster for me.”

Not five minutes later, Stephens crossed the net and went over to sit with Keys to await the trophy ceremony. In no time, she had the disconsolate Keys laughing.

Stephens

“To play her here, I wouldn’t have wanted to play anyone else. I told her I wish there could be a draw, I wish we could have both won. If it were the other way around, she would have done the same for me,” Stephens said during the trophy presentation. “I’m going to support her no matter what and she’s going to support me no matter what. That’s what real friendship is.”

The “village” of Sloane Stephens

When Stephens made her way up to the player’s box, there was a long hug for Kamau Murray.

Stephens has had a few coaches in her career. And none ever seemed to fit quite right. From Nick Saviano to Thomas Hogstedt and even Paul Annacone for a brief period, there was never quite the right connection that would get the best out of a supremely talented player, but one seemed to lack the inner drive to maximize it.

Murray has been in the picture for two years, through Stephens’ 11-month absence because of a foot surgery. It seems he was able to help light the fire, stoke the belief. Being out of the game nearly a year also will give a player rather a different perspective on things.

And then, there was one final hug for mother Sybil Smith.

Stephens
Stephens is outwardly steely, so the emotional moment with her mother – the culmination of a long journey together – was as meaningful as they come.

It was then that the tears began to flow.

“We’ve been on such a journey together. My mom is incredible. When I was 11 years old my mom took me to a tennis academy and one of the director there told my mom I’d be lucky to play Division II tennis and get a scholarship,” Stephens said. “So, parents: never give up on your kids if they want to do something. Always encourage them … If someone ever tells you your kid’s not going to be good, push them to the side. Because your kid could be me one day.”

Good matchup for Stephens

Stephens’ poise in her first major final belied the nerves she felt beforehand, the nerves Keys felt beforehand. Really, the biggest thing to come out of Stephens’ summer run was her outward calm under pressure as she piled up some impressive wins.

The match against Keys was always going to be Keys’ power against the combination of qualies Stephens brings to the court: speed, consistency, the ability to build points and to know when to up the power gauge and rip one.

When she was told in her press conference just how consistent she had been, she was as shocked as she was when she saw the size of the $3.7 million check she was handed on court.

“I made six unforced errors in the whole match? Shut the front door. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. Oh, my God. That’s a stat,” she said. “I was nervous, and before the match, I was super nervous. Once I got out there, I felt a lot better. So that was good. I just tried to stay calm and keep my composure and run every ball down. That was it. Super simple.”

Beyond tennis, an epochal moment

That the two finalists are African-American – in Keys’ case, on her father’s side – was just part of the story during that trophy ceremony.

USTA president and CEO Katrina Adams presented the trophies. A woman, and an African-American.

Stephens
“Girl, did you see that check that lady handed me? Like, yes,”

Thasunda Duckett, the CEO of Consumer Banking at JP Morgan Chase, presented the winner’s cheque for $3.7 million to Stephens. She, too, a woman and African-American.

StephensOn so many levels, this was an epochal moment. And especially so with the heavy promotion of the upcoming “Battle of the Sexes” movie over the weekend.

The personal journey of the groundbreaking Billie Jean King took place nearly 45 years ago.

The accomplished women standing there for this trophy ceremony embodied the coming to fruition of so many things King has worked so hard for her entire life.

Not just on the tennis court, but off the court as well.

Fairness. Equality. Opportunity.

Watch out, 2018

For Stephens, it now begins. As the American champion of the American Grand Slam, a beautiful woman with a great back story and a Hollywood smile, her life is going to change.

“This is a whole new level guys. Seriously,” Stephens said during a post-match interview with ESPN.

Stephens
Catastrophe narrowly avoided.

She almost dropped the trophy. She joked about being totally worried about the “boob sweat” factor, knowing that the her photo with the trophy will be blown up and hung up in a lot of places.

Does she want another one?

“Of course. Girl, did you see that check that lady handed me? Like, yes,” Stephens said, eliciting a big laugh. “Man, if that doesn’t make you want to play tennis, I don’t know what will. Man.”

For Keys, two years younger, it’s another sort of beginning. 

She has reached her first major final. Who doubts that in the very short term, she will be holding up the big trophy?

And, in case you missed it, 13-year-old CoCo Gauff and Amanda Anisimova, who turned 16 last week, will play the junior girls’ final Sunday. They’re Americans as well.  

Keys, Stephens win all-American day

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NEW YORK – Whatever happened, there was going to be an all-American women’s singles final Saturday at the US Open.

What was left to be determined Thursday was who the participants would be.

Among the embarrassment of American riches in the final four, only two could advance to the final day.

It was going to be either Venus Williams or Sloane Stephens. And it was going to be either Madison Keys or Coco Vandeweghe.

In the end, it was the two youngest – Stephens, 24 and Madison Keys, 22.

Both of them pulled off bravado performances of very different kinds in the semifinals.

First to get to the finish line was Stephens, who defeated Venus Williams 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 victory that had a little bit of everything.

By the third set, when both were playing well at the same time and giving it everything they had, it was nerve-wracking and dramatic and in doubt until the very end.

“I just wasn’t playing well. I just wasn’t playing well. Those are moments where you have to dig deep and figure out how to get the ball on the court and have a big game. I can’t be tentative and try to figure out how to put that ball in,” Williams said of that first set. “But I figured out a lot, but she played great defense. I haven’t played her in a long time. Clearly she’s seen me play many, many times. I haven’t seen her play as much.”

No solace for Venus

It didn’t matter what the question was, Williams wasn’t having much of it during her press conference. She wasn’t the least bit interested in talking about tributes, or about what a superb season she’s having, or any of that. She showed up to win, and she didn’t get the job done.

Keys
Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens, 13 years apart but neck-and-neck at the end to try to get to the US Open women’s singles final.

Williams was the sentimental choice who obviously won’t have that many more opportunities to win another major. But the 37-year-old ran out of legs in the end.

She made a lot of errors, but she didn’t have a lot of options. Whenever the rallies went past a certain length, Stephens won most of them. “Yeah, it was definitely well competed. In the end, she ended up, you know, winning more points than I did. That’s what it adds up to,” she said. 

A month ago, unthinkable

Stephens’  sub-900 ranking just over a month ago has been well-documented. And she needed to use a protected ranking just to get into the US Open, It will be a first Grand Slam singles final.  

It also will be the first for Keys, who crushed Coco Vandweghe 6-1, 6-2 in the nightcap.

“I think it’s amazing. I definitely never envisioned it happening this way, but I couldn’t think of a better person to have this first experience with,” Keys said.

Keys
Venus ran out of gas, though not out of will, by the end of the third set against Sloane Stephens Thursday.

After Williams came back with a roar in the second set, Stephens just tried to stay positive.

“I wasn’t making that many mistakes in the first set. Venus made a lot of errors. I think in the second set, obviously playing Venus, she’s an amazing competitor and she’s been here many times before. She wasn’t going to just give it to me. I think she really stepped up her game in the second set. I mean, you don’t expect anything else from multi-Grand Slam champion. She’s been here before,” Stephens said. “I tried just not to get too down on myself. I knew obviously in the third set I would have to fight my tail off and get my racket on every ball.”

All Keys, from first to last

If the first semifinal was dramatic, the second was one-way traffic – for Keys.

Madison Keys, despite a “something” in her right leg, was pretty sprightly after reaching the US Open women’s singles final Thursday.

The 22-year-old put up a performance of such quality and bravura over Coco Vandeweghe, there wasn’t a single solitary thing her countrywoman could do to stop her.

Even a medical timeout to have her right upper leg wrapped at 6-1, 4-1 didn’t interrupt Keys’ flow. All it did was take a match that would have lasted less than an hour and nudge it over the one-hour mark.

“None of it had anything to do with the occasion. It was more Madison played an unbelievable match. I didn’t really have much to do with anything out there,” Vandeweghe said. 

Vandeweghe was, needless to say, quite upset.

“She was playing a great first set. I thought at some point she might start running a little bit colder than what she was doing. But I mean, it’s really not over until the last point. I was fighting as hard as I could for as long as I could, but she stayed hot the whole time,” Vandeweghe added. “It’s a little bit frustrating right now how I’m feeling of that it wasn’t so much of my say-so. I don’t feel that way very often in my tennis, so I think it’s a little bit of an opportunity lost for me.”

Keys knew she couldn’t have done it much better.

“I played really, really well. It was kind of one of those days where I came out and I was kind of in a zone. And I just kind of forced myself to stay there. I knew I was going to have to play really well in order to beat her. And, you know, I feel like once things started going, it just kind of fell into place. Luckily I was able to close it out the way that I did,” she said. “

Venus, Stephens fly flag in double QF win

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NEW YORK – Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens did their part.

You’re up, Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys.

The 37-year-old Williams and the 24-year-old Stephens both survived third-set tiebreak wins by near-identical scores Tuesday at the US Open.

The fact that both advanced to the women’s singles semifinals, and will play each other, guarantees there will be at least one American woman in Saturday’s final.

In the day session, Stephens continued her wondrous month of winning with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4) victory over No. 16 seed Anastasija Sevastova. It is a run that has taken her from outside the top 900 in July to just outside the top 30 with her effort here.

She’s already almost all the way back to where she was before a foot injury suffered last summer required surgery in January. 

“A month ago, before I started winning a lot of matches, I was really worried, about my protected ranking, not having enough  tournaments, not being able to play,” Stephens said during her on-court interview. “Once I realized my life is good, I play tennis, I have fun every day, that relieved a lot of stress. I was able to play loose, play my game and – Bam! Semifinals.”

Stephens calm, cool and eager

StephensThe tennis during her win over Sevastova of Latvia wasn’t necessarily the best. But it was very good at times.

And the drama was topnotch as Stephens looked to be running out of energy in the middle of the second set.

But she fought. Calm-looking on the outside, there was nothing of the pre-absence Stephens who sometimes could look as though she wasn’t as invested in the outcome as maybe she should have been.

She was down a break in the third set – very nearly, two breaks. Stephens got that back, and then went down a break again.

The American kept running, even when her legs were probably telling her to stop. She fought as she never used to fight. And she won.

“Yeah, it’s incredible, amazing. Like I said before, if someone would have told me when I started at Wimbledon that I’d be in the semifinals or making, well, three semifinals back-to-back, I would have said they’re crazy. Just happy to be playing really well and happy that my foot is good and I don’t have any pain and my body is holding up,” she said. 

Venus v Kvitova: perseverance personified

Noisy Arthur Ashe Stadium was one-way traffic for Stephens’ match against Sevastova.

For the first night match, Williams had to face off against Petra Kvitova, already a popular player and one whose emotional and near-miraculous comeback from a horrific home invasion has struck a chord with tennis fans.

Still, this is America’s Slam. And Venus, at 37, perhaps has never been more appreciated or revered as she has thrived through some personal trials of her own.

Stephens

The tennis was superb, as it has so often been when these two power players have met before. Both women were on the attack – and both were fighting on defense with everything they had. Most of the points were short, and the velocity was breathtaking.

Up a set but down 0-3 in the second, the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium was closed because of some expected thunderstorms. All that did was ensure the place would be even noisier by the time the players were deep into the third set.

By the end of it, Williams had several chances to break Kvitova and close it out at 5-6 in the third. She had an open court for her forehand, but she missed it in the net. She had a very makeable return on a second serve, but sent it sailing long.

So the momentum coming into the deciding tiebreaker was not with Williams.

Champion rises at key moment

But like a champion, Williams regained it with the snap of a finger and played an absolutely brilliant decider to win 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (2). She lost her visor in the middle of it. No matter. She was called for a foot fault on match point. No matter.

“Our last few matches, I mean, if you can imagine the quality of this match was high, I would say the others were even higher. A lot of times in those matches I just felt a little unlucky. Like she would hit these amazing shots out of nowhere, and all I could do was say, ‘well done’. I never really did anything wrong in those matches,” Williams said. “Sometimes you have opportunities and sometimes you take them and you don’t But it’s not like you get opportunity after opportunity after opportunity in these sorts of matches. You have to take the ones you have. I was happy to have a little more luck today, actually.”

Arthur Ashe Stadium opened 20 years ago, and that was Williams’ first US Open, as a 17-year-old. She made the final, losing to Martina Hingis. Williams won the single title in 2000 and 2001, but hasn’t come close again since making the final in 2002 – 15 years ago. She has reached the semis only twice since then.

Reaching the Australian Open final earlier this year was already quite a feat. Williams has won more matches at Grand Slam tournaments this year than any other player.

But winning in New York, at 37? Off the charts. 

Can she win two more?

“I think she can. I hope so, actually,” Kvitova said, smiling.

“Sport is, you know, a little microcosm of life, and it shows the human spirit, just being out there on the court, fighting against all odds. If you’re down, you keep going. Great champions came back from injuries or circumstances they could never have planned for,” Williams said. “You never know whose life you’ll touch just by being your best.”

Two more Americans Wednesday

Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe, the two Americans in the second set of quarterfinals Thursday, will have a tough act to follow after what Williams and Stephens did on Tursday.

StephensBut four Americans in the semifinals?

The younger folks might not remember. But for Williams, when she was coming up in the game, it was situation normal.

Perhaps, if you stick around long enough, everything good comes around again.

“There was a time in tennis, when all my rivals were American. (Jennifer) Capriati and (Lindsay) Davenport and Monica Seles. So I love to see these young Americans coming up playing big,” Williams said during her on-court interview after the match. “I would love to have that again – top four, top five playing in the semifinals.

“That would be huge.”

Stephens fooled by Shapovalovalikes

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In a thoroughly random twist of the tennis tale, American Sloane Stephens is a big fan of this week’s breakout star, Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

And after she bowed out to Caroline Wozniacki in the Rogers Cup semifinals Saturday, she told this story, which took place last winter.

” I thought I saw him at a restaurant in Toronto like maybe eight months ago. And I can’t even tell you guys.

“I was with my boyfriend (Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore) and a couple of friends, and I had just seen him on TV probably like two days before that playing the Davis Cup. And I was like, ‘Man, I really love this kid. He’s so good.’

“And I saw someone that looked identical to him at a restaurant and I was like, ‘Oh, man. Like, we got to send him a drink or something. And then I was like, ‘but he’s 17 or something.’ So I was like, maybe not.

“So we’ll send his parents, like, a bottle of wine. So we did and, yeah, they enjoyed it. They were like, you know, whatever. Everything is cool. Yeah, it must be him because it looks like the mom on TV, you know, all this stuff. And I looked it up and he lives in Toronto. So I was like, okay, this makes sense. It’s totally him.

Shapovalovalikes
The real Shapovalovs, not the imposters.

“And then I started Googling pictures of him and the hair and stuff. I was like, ‘Maybe it’s not him.’ Basically, we ended up sending them vodka and all this stuff.”And then, an hour after the meal, I had someone, like, go into the bathroom with the kid – well, the person I thought was Denis – and it wasn’t him. And I was so disappointed because I was like, ‘Oh, my God. I thought it was him.’ And everyone was just like, ‘You’re an idiot.’

“But I love him and I’m a huge fan. So, you know, go Canadian tennis.”

GREAT story.

So, some lucky, random family in Toronto got plied with legal beverages by Sloane Stephens and Jozy Altidore. And they might not even, to this day, even have a clue.

Which takes nothing away from the fact that it was a thoroughly restaurant-quality move by Stephens.

Bouchard-Stephens reach DC dubs final

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WASHINGTON – The first-time team makes the final.

Genie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens, who share an agent in John Tobias but have known each other half their lives, teamed up for the first time at the Citi Open and are one match away from the title.

They upset the No. 3 seeds Mariana Duque-Mariño and María Irigoyen in the first round. And in Friday’s semifinal, they toppled the top seeds, Sania Mirza and Monica Niculescu, in an improbable 1-6, 7-5, 10-8 victory before a full house on Grandstand 2 court in Washington, D.C.

Earlier in the day, the pair had played their quarterfinal match, postponed by the rain on Thursday evening.

Their opponents, Nigina Abduraimova and Patricia Maria Tig, retired after the first game of the second set because of an arm injury to Tig.

Then the two, and entourage, went off to the practice court while they waited for their opponents to be available for the semifinal.

Highlights only

Here were some of their best moments (we left out most of the awful ones, most of which took place in the first set).

The pair rushed out to a 7-2 lead in the match tiebreak, and very nearly coughed it up before going on to win it 10-8.

Some pics:

They will play No. 2 seeds Shuko Aoyama of Japan and Renata Voracova of the Czech Republic in the final, Saturday at 1 p.m.

Double win for Eugenie Bouchard in D.C.

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WASHINGTON – It had been awhile since Genie Bouchard won a tennis match.

More than two months, in fact. But on Thursday, she won two.

The 23-year-old Canadian overcame an early break in the first set against Christina Mchale to win 7-6 (6), 6-0, and advance to the second round of the Citi Open.

Later in the day, in the company of American Sloane Stephens, she posted her second win, a 2-6, 6-3, 10-6 victory over No. 3 seeds Mariana Duque-Mariño of Colombia and María Irigoyen of Argentina.

A very good day, for a player who really needed it.

Here’s what the singles win looked like (with a little video at the end).

“I have to say that I’m happier about the win in doubles, because I don’t play doubles often – although I plan to play more in the future – and I haven’t won too many doubles matches in the past. So it was a big win for me,” Bouchard said.

The Canadian looked sluggish at the beginning of the singles match, not surprising given the heat. The umpire told Bouchard and Mchale at the beginning of the second set that if it went to a third, they would have a 10-minute break beforehand. She didn’t want it to get that far.

“I felt a bit slow. It was really, really hot. I had to think about moving more than normal, for it to be normal. And I was a bit nervous, because I haven’t played a match in the month. In the first round, I think everyone has that – where you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen,” Bouchard said. 

“When I was down 4-2, I realized she was dominating the rallies a little bit. I let my shots go a lot more, and it really turned the match around,” she added. “It was so hot, it hurt your feet. It wasn’t even like I felt my feet were on fire; they actually hurt.”

Winless since May

Bouchard came into the French Open after suffering a nasty sprained ankle the previous week in Nürnberg. The three-set win in the first round against Risa Ozaki was a struggle, and the ankle didn’t pull up well for her second-round match against Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.

That went quickly – in the other direction. Bouchard then lost in three sets to Francesca Schiavone on grass in Mallorca, and to Barbora Strycova in three sets at Eastbourne.

At Wimbledon, after winning the first set 6-1, she went down in three to No. 25 seed Carla Suárez Navarro of Spain. 

That was a month ago – a long time to wait to get back on a winning track.

The doubles match was played before packed house on Court 2. It’s a small court, and a lot of the doubles matches at the Citi Open are played there. When the better-known singles players are on the court, it gets pretty packed.

But if Bouchard’s partner Sloane Stephens snarkily remarked on Monday about playing the match on “Court 25”, it wasn’t nearly as bad as what Bouchard’s compatriot Bianca Andreescu had to deal with.

Andreescu played on Court 3, normally a practice court, with very little room on the sides and behind the baseline. It’s completely surrounded by chain-link fencing, with no stands for the fans to watch. And it’s right next to a couple of portable toilets.

In comparison, Court 2 was paradise. And it was standing-room only with a long lineup to get in.

Bouchard and Stevens faced two very good doubles players in Duque-Mariño and Irigoyen.

After a slow start, they prevailed 2-6, 6-3, 10-6 to move on to the quarterfinals. On Thursday, they will face Nigina Abduraimova of Uzbekistan and Patricia Maria Tig of Romania. So that’s certainly winnable.

Matchup of former top-10s

In singles, Bouchard will play Andrea Petkovic of Germany.

Petkovic, a former top-10 player who turns 30 the day of the US Open women’s singles final, is really struggling. She finished the 2014 season ranked No. 14, but was down to No. 24 by the end of 2015.

She was ranked No. 56 at the end of last season but this week, has fallen out of the top 100 for the first time she she first broke into it, in June, 2013.

Petkovic has only two wins since early April at the WTA Tour level And one of those came in the first round here against Kurumi Nara of Japan.

But against Bouchard, she’s 4-1. The Canadian’s only victory came in that dream 2014 Wimbledon, where she defeated Petkovic in the third round on her way to the final.

Their last meeting came in Beijing in 2015. That was Bouchard’s first tournament back after suffering a concussion in the women’s locker room at the US Open.

She began feeling symptoms again on the court against Petkovic, and retired early in the second set. She didn’t play again the rest of the year.

Bouchard and Stephens team up

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Canadian Genie Bouchard and American Sloane Stephens, both of whom have tough first-round singles matches at the Citi Open, are teaming up for doubles.

What’s surprising is that it’s the first time it’s ever happened.

The careers of the 23-year-old Bouchard and the 24-year-old Stephens have so many areas of commonality.

And at the moment, they have the same agent, John Tobias.

StephensBouchard and Stephens have known each other probably half their lives.

Barely teenagers, both worked with Nick Saviano at his Florida academy where we’re told they got along well, but weren’t close friends by any stretch.

Stephens was born and raised nearby; Bouchard transplanted down from Canada.

Both broke through at a young age at the Australian Open.

Stephens reached the semi-finals in 2013 as the No. 25 seed and broke into the top 20 as a result.

A year later, Bouchard reached the semifinals as the No. 30 seed, leaped into the top 20 as a result, and went on from there to a big-time season.

After spreading their wings beyond Saviano’s academy, both returned to be coached by him.

Stephens

Stephens

And, both have been coached by Thomas Hogstedt (Stephens briefly, Bouchard both part of 2016 and all this season so far).

Stephens Stephens

Dramatic encounters

And they have met, on several dramatic occasions. 

The first time was five years ago at the Citi Open, when Stephens was ranked No. 50 and Bouchard (with a WTA ranking of No. 294 and a wild card into the event) was just coming off her junior Wimbledon win. Stephens won, 6-4, 6-4.

Fast forward four years. They played a tense one at Indian Wells last year, as both were struggling. Bouchard won that one, 7-5, 7-5

Stephens

They met again a few months later, in the first round of the Summer Olympics in Rio. By then, Stephens was already dealingwith the stress fracture in her foot.

She lost in the first round in D.C., the first round in Montreal, and 6-3, 6-3 to Bouchard at the Games. She didn’t play for the rest of the season.

Stephens

Stephens is returning from foot surgery. Her first tournament of the year was at Wimbledon. And she didn’t get much draw luck in D.C.; the wild card (current real ranking: No. 926) drew another wild card – No. 1 seed Simona Halep. It couldn’t have been much worse.

Bouchard, who has struggled to win matches since a great effort in Madrid in early May, will play No. 8 seed Christina Mchale Tuesday night.

On Monday, they practiced together. 

Here’s what it looked like.

And some video.

The women’s doubles draw is shockingly weak in D.C. this week. In fact, they didn’t even fill out the 16-team draw. The top seeds, Sania Mirza and Monica Niculescu, have a first-round bye.

Stephens
A little hype in Charleston a year ago.

But Stephens and Bouchard didn’t luck out; they drew a pretty tough pair in No. 3 seeds Mariana Duque-Mariño and María Irigoyen. They’ll play Wednesday.

The big day is Tuesday, though, as both try to get through in singles.

Who knows, maybe a little girl-power alliance between two struggling players might add a little positive karma to the thing.