The National Bank Open, formerly Rogers Cup

Cox: Tuesday night was ‘a heckuva historic thing’

August 7, 2019

When you think about it, it’s a heckuva thing. A heckuva historic thing.

Two Canadian women commanding centre court at our national tennis tournament, one of the elite pro competitions in the world. Not a satellite event, not playing on a side court. Centre court at a Premier WTA event. Hammering the ball back and forth for more than two hours, providing considerable entertainment for the assembled thousands at the Sobeys Stadium and all those eyeballs on national television.

Not just participating in such a marquee event at home, but delivering quality while up against the expectations and pressures of being on native soil, all the while setting the tone for the next generation to come.
Yes, a heckuva thing.

“It was really cool to play a fellow Canadian in Canada in front of a full house,” said Eugenie Bouchard, who knows a little something about what full houses for tennis look like around the world.

If you know your Canadian tennis history, this has not always been something that could, or would, happen at the Rogers Cup or the other names by which the event was once known.

If Canada had one strong female, or one strong male, we considered ourselves lucky. But on Tuesday, we had Bouchard taking on Bianca Andreescu in Toronto just hours after Felix Auger-Aliassime and Vasek Pospisil put on a rousing show in Montreal, and Auger-Aliassime will do it again Wednesday night against another countryman, Milos Raonic.

Bouchard, obviously, isn’t quite as formidable a player as she once was, but she put up stiff competition for the much higher-ranked Andreescu on Tuesday night. It wasn’t quite as stirring a spirited slugfest as that between Maria Sharapova and Anett Kontaveit the night before, but the customers were divided almost equally between the two Canucks which created a heightened atmosphere on a sticky summer night.

They exchanged Instagram messages before the match, and hugged at the net when it was over.

“I’m so happy (Andreescu’s) back,” said Bouchard.

Bouchard actually won the first set before Andreescu, in her first match since the French Open, stormed back to win the next two sets with superior power and an ability to construct points that gives her real possibilities on the women’s tour if she can stay healthy.

Bouchard was steady out of the gate but gradually become overwhelmed by Andreescu’s game. Still, she held her serve at 5-3 in the third set to at least force Andreescu to serve out the match, a good test for any player trying to shake off the rust.

Andreescu did hold, and comfortably, and looked like the match gave her enough opportunities to utilize all her weapons that she should be ready to take on Daria Kasatkina of Russia on Wednesday afternoon.

It was a really good match,” she said. “(Bouchard) put up a really good fight.”

It was a good performance for Andreescu on a day when Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens both were beaten, as well as world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia. Barty could lose that top ranking as early as Wednesday if Simona Halep can win her first round match, continuing what has really been a topsy-turvy year on the WTA tour.

Bouchard, meanwhile, suffered her ninth straight defeat on tour, and fell to 6-13 on what has been a dismal season. She didn’t seem despondent after what seemed to be an improved performance against a good player, and suggested working with new coach Jorge Todero is starting to pay dividends.

“I feel like I’ve matured,” she said. “I can put things in perspective a lot more.

“To be able to play tennis for a living is an unbelievable thing, and losing a match is really nothing in the grand scheme of things. I’m just enjoying it a lot more. I just have to trust the process, as (Todero) says.”

Aside from the pre-match storylines of Andreescu coming back from injury and Bouchard looking to re-capture the magic that once made her a top 10 player, the match showed the contrasting styles of the two players.

Bouchard hits the ball, but Andreescu plays the ball, creating openings with a series of often very different shots. She can hit over the ball, slice it, flip in the odd moonball (she hates it when you call it that!) execute drop shots and volley, giving her a terrific selection of options that others on tour simply don’t have.

And the shoulder? All good, so far.

“I would say 12 out of 10, really,” she said. “I haven’t felt this strong in a while. I had a really good, I guess, mini-pre-season where I was able to focus on my physique and other aspects of my game.

“I think I really improved a lot of things.”

Kasatkina beat Angelique Kerber in three sets on Monday and should provide Andreescu with a stiff test. There are no more Canadian mountains for Andreescu to climb in this year’s Rogers Cup, but still plenty of obstacles ahead.