Photo Gallery: Halep and Fernandez team up in Toronto

TORONTO – Simona Halep was looking for a doubles partner to get at least a match in before starting her Rogers Cup quest.

A long break after winning Wimbledon (and, it turns out, an ongoing Achilles issue that curtailed her singles run) meant not much practice.

In the process, Halep was able to give a bucket-list moment to young Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez.

The two – who won the French Open juniors 11 years apart – went to the match tiebreak before falling to the top team of Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke.

But they had some great moments. 

Fernandez was able to turn the page on her nervous Rogers Cup stadium court single debut. The 16-year-old was able to manage only one game against qualifier Marie Bouzkova.

(It turns out that Bouzkova later mowed down three Grand Slam champions: Sloane Stephens, Jelena Ostapenko and on Friday, an injured Halep on her way to a semifinal date against Serena Williams. So Fernandez probably feels a little better about it all now).

Here’s what it looked like.

Afterwards, they had a cute press conference.

Out of D.C., Tsonga hoped for – and received – a WC in Montreal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – From the way he looked for much of this week at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is on his way back.

Ranked No. 70 coming into the week, his two victories mean he will jump 10 spots in the rankings, to No. 60 on Monday.

It will be the Frenchman’s highest ranking in a year. And if he keeps it up, he’ll soon get to the point where he won’t need wild cards to get into the big tournaments.

But for now, as concerned the Masters 1000 in Montreal next week, the 34-year-old Frenchman had to hurry up – and wait.

Tsonga said after his win over No. 2 seed Karen Khachanov Tuesday (his first victory over a top-10 players since Oct. 2017) that he had discussed a wild card with the Rogers Cup organizers.

He certainly had the resumé to merit it. Not only did he win the tournament in 2014 (the biggest title of his career, with the 2008 Paris Masters tournament having a smaller draw), but he’s hugely popular in Montreal.

Part of that is the fact that he speaks the language. The other part is that he’s basically popular wherever he goes.

But Tsonga told Tennis.Life the tournament was holding back the final wild card for a “big player”. 

We’ve heard that before. Often, it ends up not happening. And that was indeed the case, as it was announced Thursday evening that Tsonga would be given that final wild card.

The Frenchman was headed to Montreal Thursday night. If the wild card hadn’t come through, he told Tennis.Life he would play the qualifying.

Tsonga

Little qualifying data available

Tsonga hasn’t needed to play qualifying for many years. But the last injury, which required knee surgery, and his slow road back has meant he’s either used his special ranking, or received wild cards for the most part.

He played the qualifying in Miami in March. And although he won the first round against Lukas Rosol, he then lost to Pablo Cuevas.

So it’s probably a blessing that he didn’t have to go through it.

Tsonga’s last appearance in qualifying prior to Miami this year went all the way back to Queen’s Club … in 2007. He won three rounds there, and lost to Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals. He took a wild card into the second week of Wimbledon a few weeks later.

Big-time against Schnur and Khachanov

Tsonga appeared to be moving like vintage Tsonga in his 6-4, 7-6 victory over Canadian qualifier Brayden Schnur in the first round.

And he looked just as good against Khachanov in the second round. That was a match he was particularly pleased to have won.

Against Kyle Edmund Thursday, it was tight. But he wasn’t able to take advantage of his opportunities, with 18 aces and seven break points (he converted only one).

But he wasn’t unhappy with the match overall. Little by little, he’s getting there.

Doubles Andy works on his singles, too (video)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It’s fun for the Murray brothers, and for the fans and tournament, that Andy Murray is playing doubles this week at the Citi Open.

But there’s an extra added bonus to it, as it turns out.

The former No. 1 is on site at a tournament that features a lot of excellent singles players.

And that means: the motherlode of practice partners to help him get to the place where he can think of competing on the singles court again.

Murray was out on the practice courts Sunday with American Denis Kudla, with a lot of fans watching on.

He was sporting his “Man-bra”, or “Bro”, or whatever you want to call that thing and playing singles points.

It was pretty amusing how his demeanour was completely different than it was the previous day when he was practicing doubles.

Murray brothers reunite in D.C.

Murray would get annoyed at himself every time he missed or felt he wasn’t fast enough off the mark.

He was, kind of, “same old Andy”. Which is a welcome sight.

 

Low-key in D.C. for FAA (video)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a week, one of those watershed “firsts” in Félix Auger-Aliassime’s young career will occur.

The 18-year-old will celebrate his 19th at the Rogers Cup, which not only is a Masters 1000 event, but is held in his hometown of Montreal.

To prepare for that tournament by getting some match play on the hard courts, and to keep things on the down low before all the attention he’ll get at home, Auger-Aliassime is at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. this week.

That’s not the only reason, of course. The Citi Open is an ATP 500 event, which offers plenty of ranking points (and prize money).

The young Canadian spent about 10 days in Montreal training after taking a post-Wimbledon break.

On Saturday, he had a practice in the heat of the day, then took to the stadium court at 8 p.m. for a practice that was still going strong when your Tennis.Life chronicler left just after 9:30 p.m.

Peas in a pod

Auger-Aliassime hit with Frances Tiafoe, who is experiencing the same type of thing this week in D.C. Tiafoe is a local. But the advantage he has is that this isn’t his first Citi Open rodeo.

And, of course, there’s Coco Mania, which is sucking up all the early air before the big event begins.

Here they are on court. Auger-Aliassime’s fellow Montrealer Genie Bouchard had the 7-8 p.m. slot just before them, so the two city-twins did run into each other.

 

Murray brothers reunite in D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – If Andy Murray isn’t yet ready to come back in singles, his presence is a huge add to the doubles draws at the tournaments he has played.

Murray and Feliciano Lopez won the doubles at Queen’s Club, in his return to the courts after hip surgery.

And Murray, partnered with Serena Williams, were a big reason the mixed doubles event at Wimbledon turned out to be such a great event.

This week, in Washington, D.C. at the Citi Open, Murray is reuniting on court with big brother Jamie.

They’ll face Nicolas Mahut and Edouard-Roger Vasselin in the first round of a doubles draw that’s just packed with quality and interest.

It will feature the doubles debut of Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas (who drew top seeds (and Wimbledon champions) Cabal and Farah.

There are the Bryan brothers, of course, who have won the Citi Open four times (including three straight years from 2005-2007).

The immortal Leander Paes is teaming up with Jack Sock, who has been out all year and just returned to action at the Atlanta event this week.

Murray

First time since 2013 on the ATP Tour

The Murray brothers last played together at Davis Cup in 2016. They beat Japan in the first round, and then beat Juan Martin del Potro and Leonardo Mayer of Argentina in the semifinals. And they also played together for three ties in 2015.

They also played together at the Rio Olympics that year.

On the ATP Tour, their last joint appearances goes all the way back to Indian Wells in 2013.

Murray just looks so happy to be on court. Three’s a lightness to him that (despite the circumstances) is just great to see.

Here’s what it looked like (videoing through the fence is, well, not ideal. But we did the best we could!)

They practiced with fellow Brit Joe Salisbury and his American partner Rajeev Ram.

Stadium practice for Bouchard with Todero

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Genie Bouchard got an evening practice session in Saturday night, with new coach Jorge Todero and a hitting partner.

She had practiced earlier, in the heat of the day, with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur.

There was a lot of discussion about Bouchard’s serve – with some animated input from Bouchard.

Bouchard last played the Citi Open two years ago. She defeated Christina McHale in the first round, before falling in three sets to Andrea Petkovic. But she and Sloane Stephens were a Cinderella team in the doubles, reaching the final.

In 2016, she lost in the first round to Camila Giorgi. 

Before that, you have to go all the way back to 2013, when the then 19-year-old lost in the first round of singles to Ekaterina Makarova, but reached the doubles final with 2012 Wimbledon junior partner (they won) Taylor Townsend.

Here’s what it looked like on court.

A Montreal meeting in D.C.

Félix Auger-Aliassime followed Bouchard onto the stadium court for a lengthy evening practice with his friend Frances Tiafoe.

Of course, the two crossed paths.

And Bouchard chronicled the moment on her Insta, sitting courtside as Auger-Aliassime began his practice.

More Bouchard shots

Bouchard faces the relentless Lauren Davis in the first round of the singles.

Here are some pics from the practice session.

Pospisil notches first post-surgery win – with one arm

GRANBY, Que. – The big one, of course, is coming up in 10 days at the Rogers Cup in Montreal.

So with a sore left wrist – diagnosed as a bone bruise – Canadian Vasek Pospisil is taking no chances.

The 29-year-old returned to action for the first time since January back surgery in the first round of Wimbledon. There, he had the unfortunate task of having to face friend and countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime in the first round.

Pospisil lost in four sets. But while he appears to be moving well, other physical niggles have popped up, including the knee.

And, last week, while practicing before a planned appearance in the Challenger in Gatineau, Que., the left wrist.

Pospisil withdrew from Gatineau, but took a wild card into this week’s Challenger in Granby, Que., about an hour outside Montreal. 

He faced fellow Canadian Josh Peck armed with … only one arm.

You have to see it to believe it.

Pospisil didn’t hit a single two-handed backhand. Instead, he chipped most of them, and even unleashed the topspin one-handed backhand that until now, has only been showcased on the practice court – or after a point is over.

“It’s sick, isn’t it?” said Canadian Davis Cup captain Frank Dancevic (he meant this in a good way!), who is helping out Pospisil for a few weeks as he makes his comeback.

Peck undoubtedly knew about Pospisil’s situation, as his college (and national training centre) teammate Ben Sigouin was practicing with Pospisil when he hurt the wrist in Gatineau. Still, he aimed primarily for Pospisil’s big forehand. Perhaps, as Pospisil posited, it was because he was running around to try to hit as many forehands as possible, and Peck wanted to open up the court.

But Pospisil was able to dictate play, serve well, and pull out his first win since the back surgery, 6-3, 6-3.

Very laid-back atmosphere

Pospisil  was just sitting on the practice court, getting ready to warm up for his match, when an official came over to tell him that the previous match on the Granby center court had ended prematurely with an injury retirement.

No worries. He said he’d be ready in half an hour, did his warmup, and headed out.

He unleashed a few one-handers there – right next to a random woman (definitely not in tennis attire) who was hitting a few balls on the next court. Granby is – well, it’s a low-key atmosphere.

Pospisil even was signing tennis balls for a group of ball kids just moments before he headed out to play the match.

Solid serving, big forehands

Pospisil got caught a few times on the backhand return, without his two-hander. Peck, 20, is taller than Pospisil and cranked his first serve as high as 213 km/hour. 

What he lacks, of course, is experience. He went through the Montreal-based national training program for several years, before going down to the U.S. where he plays for the University of North Carolina.

He has never played an ATP Tour-level event. And this was only his third career main-draw match even at a Challenger event.

The difference in level and experience was fairly evident. Here’s what it looked like.

Popular Pospisil

After the match, Pospisil was a popular man among the autograph-seeking crowd. He had Dancevic cheering him on. And Frederic Niemeyer, the Tennis Canada coach who was his first coach when he transitioned to the pro tour, came down from Montreal to support him.

Niemeyer is headed to Washington, D.C. Thursday, as he’s currently working with Brayden Schnur (who is in the qualifying there).

Escobedo next for Pospisil

Next up for Pospisil in Granby is a tougher customer in American Ernesto Escobedo.

Escobedo, still just 23, was ranked a career high No. 67 exactly at this time of the season two years ago. He’s down to No. 288 now; while he hasn’t missed any chunks of time because of injury, he has had a lot of smaller things. And his ranking has been on a steep decline since then.

Pospisil

He’s currently being coached by former top-20 American player Jan-Michael Gambill.

Pospisil

Escobedo defeated No. 14 seed Kaichi Uchida 7-5, 6-3 in his first-round match Wednesday.

 

 

Fed and Nadal … then Fed and La Monf’ (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Roger Federer is feeling so good, he scheduled a practice doubleheader Thursday at Indian Wells.

And the first leg, at 10 a.m., was a special treat for the fans – many of whom would rather watch the big guys practice than take in a terrific, actual match in one of the stadiums.

It doesn’t happen that often that Rafael Nadal and Federer practice side by side. But it happened on Thursday.

It was unfortunate for Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime, who was playing his first-round match at 11 a.m. inside the main stadium. Let’s just say that the number of fans just outside around Practice Courts 1 and 2 was exponential compared to those who went inside to watch one of the game’s rising stars.

Nadal was hitting with everyone’s favorite practice partner, Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.

Federer was hitting with a player who took some time to place. It was the Italian Thomas Fabbiano, another undersized player who lost in the first round of qualifying.

Two Goliaths, and two Davids

Fabbiano, age 29 and listed at 5-foot-8, is currently ranked No. 83.

And no, while he and Federer seemed to know each other, we don’t really know how that came about. They probably don’t hang out at the same restaurants.

Like two ships passing in the night

The funniest thing about these meetups on the practice court is that for the most part, the players everyone would like to think are great buddies generally ignore each other. 

That’s true even when they are sitting back to back on the benches during the changeovers. It’s not like they’re gabbing like besties during water breaks.

That would be SO amazing, wouldn’t it? But they’re working. It wasn’t the time for two of the game’s giants to talk about the ousting of their CEO, Chris Kermode.

Even better? That some day, they’ll actually practice together. Obviously their practice pace and methods couldn’t be more opposed. But still, it would be a major occasion.

Or, barring that, play dubs together at Indian Wells or Madrid – or somewhere that’s not an exhibition where the main purpose is drumming up ticket sales.

The “nightcap” with Monfils

At 2 p.m., Federer was back out on the practice court with another unusual practice partner.

It was Gaël Monfils, who is having a great 2018 so far.

Now these two go way back. But we don’t recall ever seeing them practice together. Although surely it must have happened before.

On the next court were Kei Nishikori and Dominic Thiem. 

So it was another nice meeting of top tennis talent in the same area code. 

These are moments that happen regularly on the men’s side at Indian Wells. For the most part, the boys don’t seek refuge on some of the back practice courts (No. 8 and No. 9, notably), where the security cordons off the fans and they try not to let anyone in there.

Serena Williams, sister Venus and Maria Sharapova are fairly notorious for choosing to be back there.

It’s just one reason the men have a higher profile than the women do at a joint event like this one.

But it’s not as though anyone is going to go to the women and say, “Hey, it would be great for the WTA if you guys would practice right up there, front and centre.”

The return to the locker room from those practice courts basically takes all the players right by the big bullpen, where fans wait for autographs. It’s harder to walk right by them and not sign than it is when you leave the courts at the other end of the player’s field and stay wide of the area.

Enjoy the photos and the videos.

Nadal and Fognini hit the IW practice court (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – For a fellow who was undecided about playing Indian Wells, Fabio Fognini has put in plenty of practice time the last few days.

On Tuesday, he had a day session and a brief one in the evening.

Wednesday, he hit the main stadium with Rafael Nadal at 10 a.m., before another session in the afternoon at 1 p.m.

For Nadal, the Acapulco event didn’t quite go as planned, as the No. 1 seed lost a fairly dramatic match to Nick Kyrgios in which he did everything right BUT win.

Kyrgios, of course, went on to win the tournament.

By Friday, Nadal was already in the desert.

Early matchups for Nadal and Fognini

Reports were that Nadal had considered skipping Acapulco entirely because of some issues with his left wrist. So given that, and given he hadn’t played a match since losing to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final, he played fairly well.

There have been reports out there that Nadal might skip Miami and even Madrid (his least favorite clay-court tournament, although it is in his home country) to lighten the load. We’ll see what happens.

Here are some pics from this morning’s practice.

Meanwhile, after his first-round bye, the Mallorcan will play the winner of wild card Jared Donaldson or a qualifier in his Indian Wells opener. The first seed he could meet is No. 25 Diego Schwartzman.

As for Fognini, he gets either Romania’s Marius Copil or a qualifier. Beyond that, he could face Oracle Challenger champion Kyle Edmund or perhaps Frances Tiafoe.

And, after all, Fognini will play doubles with Novak Djokovic.

They drew Canadian Milos Raonic and France’s Jérémy Chardy in the first round. 

Nadal, who has often played doubles in the desert in the past, is passing this year.

Bug killin’ Nadal?

At one point in the practice, it looked as though Nadal committed bug-icide.

GASP!

It’s not quite clear what was going on over there. But we’d like to think that the very large insect was close to expiration with no hope of rallying, after Dr. Nadal examined it closely.

And Nadal merely used his sports drink bottle to put the poor thing out of its misery.

And you thought those bottles were just for arranging.

A first meeting between Federer and Tsitsipas

MELBOURNE, Australia – Stefanos Tsitsipas has played Rafael Nadal – twice in 2018 – and lost to him twice.

He has played Novak Djokovic – once, at the Rogers Cup in Toronto – and defeated him.

But he had never faced Roger Federer, the player he most resembles stylistically. At least not officially, since the Hopman Cup is an exhibition event.

Until Sunday night at the Australian Open.

This will be the premiere for the 20-year-old rising Greek star, and the 37-year-old legend.

“I’m happy I played against him at the Hopman Cup. I think he played really well there. I actually did too. I thought it was really high quality tennis. This is obviously a different type of match, it being best of five, it being a fourth round of a slam, you know, where we know now how we feel on this court,” Federer said.

“I’m happy for him. He’s playing so well, and I’m looking forward to the matchup with him. I think it’s going to be a good one. I like how he mixes up his game and also comes to the net. So will I. I think we will see some athletic attacking tennis being played.”

Third straight top-10 win for Tsitsipas

Two tiebreaks in Perth

When the two met at the Hopman Cup in Perth a few weeks ago, Federer defeated Tsitsipas in two tiebreaks.

But this is a completely different deal. This will be only the second time Tsitsipas has played in the second week of a major. And it is only the second time he has passed the second round. As well, this is the first time Tsitsipas has even won a main-draw match in Australia.

“I learned a lot since my last match with him. I know the patterns that he’s using a bit better now. He’s serving really well, so I’m going to have to utilize his, and take advantage of my returns as much as possible. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be serving well, so, yeah, return games need to be aggressive and pressing a lot,” Tsisipas said.

“Yeah, he’s a legend of our sport. It will be a great day facing him in one of the best arenas, Rod Laver. I’m really excited for that match.”

Tsitsipas dropped a set in each of his first three matches, all against quality opponents: Matteo Berrettini, the veteran Viktor Trocki, and the high-regarded Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Here’s what he looked like on the practice court Saturday, one court over from where Federer arrived to hit – but before a far less reverent crowd.

For Federer, the crowd gathered well ahead of time just to get a glimpse of him walking to the court.

They were watching from up above, in the fan walkway – even from further away, outside Rod Laver Arena. They climbed trees. They stood on garbage cans.

It’s a familiar sight at tournaments.

Maybe someday, Tsitsipas will practice before those kinds of crowds. In Australia, he has gotten a taste of it, with the large and enthusiastic Greek contingent supporting both him and Maria Sakkari.

For now, he’s the aspirant to the throne.