Greetings from Cincinnati!
In this morning’s scene setter, one of those matches where you wish they’d both win, a brief taste of the glamorous life on tour, and some picks for the coming day’s play.
Stan Wawrinka against Grigor Dimitrov was the first match up on Center Court yesterday. I watched the early part of the match through the press room window (we’re four storeys up from ground level). The play looked pretty high quality from the get go: both players tried to get court position closer to the baseline whenever possible, in contrast to yesterday’s Murray-Gasquet encounter. The pace of play felt about one and a half times faster. There wasn’t much to choose between the two in the first set, until Wawrinka faltered just before what had seemed like a likely tiebreak: two forehand errors from deuce handed the set to Dimitrov.This was the second time in a week that Wawrinka and Dimitrov had met in a first round at a M1000: Stan had won that match in straights. Dimitrov was looking to snap a four match losing streak to Wawrinka, but his hopes began to fade in set 2 after he hit three double faults in the fifth game and was broken.
Stan broke early in set 3, added an insurance break and served for the match at 5-2. Which is where we began to enter a Tennis Twilight Zone. From 40-15 up (a game score etched on Swiss fans’ hearts) Wawrinka let the first opportunity to serve out the match slip away. “That’s why it’s helpful to have an insurance break in your pocket,” I thought, only to see Dimitrov level the score at 5-5. Wawrinka lifted his level to get another break: Dimitrov saw and raised, claiming his third break in a row to stay alive with a superb hustling volley pick up.
So the match was decided by a final set tiebreak: Wawrinka established a 4-0 lead (two minibreaks up), only for Dimitrov to win both minibreaks back to reset the score at 3-4 on serve. Sadly for the Bulgarian fans in the crowd, Wawrinka was able to hit a drive to Dimitrov’s backhand and put away the floating slice and reestablish the minibreak lead, and Stan closed the match out at 7-4 with a T ace. It had been a high quality tiebreak: by my count there were 7 winners, one forced error and only three unforced errors.
I talked yesterday about Gasquet’s counsel that players needed to proceed step by step, game by game, match by match, tournament by tournament. Grigor Dimitrov is doing this: when hope seemed lost on four occasions he scrapped like a good ‘un and … lost the match. Can he take positives from the loss? Sure, but it’s another first round loss. Tennis can be very cruel.
Wawrinka could be compatriot Roger Federer’s next opponent if Stan can get past qualifier Andriy Rublev this afternoon. After a fairly straightforward straight sets win yesterday evening (apart from a one hour rain delay for a brief thunderstorm), Federer was asked if he sometimes felt guilty handing out defeats to upcoming opponents:
Q. I asked Novak this earlier, and I’m wondering, given how much winning you have done over the past two decades, when you think about that and you think about all of your peers, who, as a result of how good you have been, have not won big tournaments, do you ever think about that and feel, like, a sense of guilt about it?
ROGER FEDERER: Not really. I don’t know. Everybody tries their best, you know. You know, in the juniors maybe I felt bad sometimes, you know, just because I did. Don’t know why.
Afterwards, I guess it’s part of the business. You want everybody to do well, and that’s why I’m generally happy when somebody does well, because like you said, not everybody can attain, you know, whatever it is, but what you can attain is the best of yourself.
I think probably if you ask a lot of the guys on the tour, they’d say, like, I probably did much better than I expected, because the dream is, of course, to, you know, to be top 100, top 10, World No. 1, winning tournaments and all that stuff, but, you know, to be able to make a living from what you wanted to do, I think that’s the cool bit.
That’s when sometimes it gets a bit rough. All of a sudden you achieve your dream and you have been told you’re terrible because you didn’t win so-and-so. You’re, like, Okay, you know what? Get lost. I don’t care what you say.
And that’s the truth, you know. You’ve got to do what you can do best and make yourself proud, your family, your country, whatever it is. And in tennis, very quickly, take another sport, but if you’re No. 100 best player or athlete or whatever of your sport, you’re a champ, and in tennis you say, Oh, he’s just 100, and I disagree with that.
I wanted to know about how Federer assessed his opponent during the match:
Q. Your opponent today had a very strong forehand. He won a number of free points with it. What else did he do to make the match really competitive?
ROGER FEDERER: Conditions are fast. We barely had any rallies in the first set. It was just bang-bang tennis. And like you said, he had a good forehand. He hides is well with the grip. And because I have never played him before, it’s hard to see the release happening.
You know, I think he actually can play very well on the faster hard court. He moves well, can take the ball early. He has the option to go back but maybe here it’s just a tad too fast.
So, no, I liked what I saw. I think he’s going to have a good career, you know. He’s a good fighter. I saw especially a good fight from him against Rafa at the French Open. And even though he was down two sets to Love and a break and you think, well, you know, it’s over, he kept believing and kept fighting. This is a quality I respect a lot, you know, in a player. That’s why I knew it was going to be tough maybe today.
The glamorous life: I tried a new breakfast place today, and found that I was seated 15 feet from Borna Coric and his coach. Coric lost a tough one yesterday 7-5 in the third to Reilly Opelka, and a quick check on the draw told me he was out of the tournament (Coric didn’t enter the doubles at Cincinnati). I thought I’d leave him in peace for the rest of his meal, though one person on Twitter said I should have started talking loudly about hitting an aggressive forehand…
A packed order of play again today. Simona Halep, Ashleigh Barty and Maria Sharapova are due up on Center, and we have an all Japan ATP clash first up on Grandstand, followed by Struff-Tsitsipas. Stadium 3 will feature De Minaur vs Opelka with Wawrinka-Rublev and Keys-Kasatkina among other highlights.
Enjoy today’s tennis!