Jonathan Newman and James Rogers are the hosts of The Body Serve Tennis Podcast. In the The Body Serve Diary, Jonathan and James write conversationally about the various happenings in the wild world of tennis.
JONATHAN: Today was a frustrating day of rain delays. The first major weather problem started yesterday, but it bled into Thursday, with the tournament desperate to finish second and third round matches. The day began shortly after 3pm with Halep up 4-3 in the third set against Tomljanovic, a match suspended the night before owing to rain. Halep, scheduled second on in the night session, wasted no time in taking the third 6-3. Good thing too, as shortly after she completed the win, the rain returned to interrupt play again. We were on Court 10 for Shapovalov and Raonic, the battle of the old and new guard of Canadian tennis. Once match started for the day, Shapovalov managed to play only three points on serve before they were ushered off the court again.
It was a bit of revenge for the oft-injured Raonic, who lost in straight sets to Shapovalov in Madrid earlier this year. Raonic saved set point on Shapovalov’s serve in the first set tiebreak before going on to win 7-6 6-4. Raonic regains the top Canadian ranking on Monday after Shapovalov was only able to reach the last 16 while trying to defend his semifinal points in Toronto last week. With Raonic having zero points to defend at the U.S. Open, this match could ensure that he will keep Shapovalov at bay in the battle for Canadian supremacy for some time.
JR: That first set was extremely tight. Raonic couldn’t get a backhand over the net. I don’t know how many he missed, but only the slice was working. As usual, the serve got him through; he hit 9 aces in the first set to Denis’ one. Raonic also received medical treatment twice during the first set. But it only came down to two key errors from Shapovalov in the tiebreak, and Milos snatched that set and, with less fanfare, the match.
What else did we see?
JR: The charismatic Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka managed to snatch the match away from Caroline Garcia, who served for it after nearly two and a half hours. We’ve heard from many fans that Sabalenka is an electrifying player to watch: intense, passionate, basically she’s all id. A finalist in Eastbourne this year and a big reason for Belarus’ 2017 Fed Cup runner-up result, Sabalenka retrieves better than most power hitters, and can thwack the ball off both wings.
JN: I liken seeing Sabalenka for the first time to when I saw Muguruza strut through the grounds here in Cincy by herself a few years ago. I had never seen someone walk with such confidence. The difference with Sabalenka is that she is vicious and relentless in pursuit of the kill EVERY SINGLE POINT. It was lots of fun to watch her scowl at her coach after every lost point too.
JR: It’s funny you used those animalistic words to describe Aryna. I just came back from her press conference, and it turns out she is positively bubbly, giggly, and hilarious. She was entertaining the entire room, describing how coach Dmitry Tursunov calms her on court, how she only seems to play 3-set matches, and how she’s a little bit “crazy.”
Over on the Grandstand at the same time, another top 10 seed was in trouble: Sloane Stephens faced off against Elise Mertens after Del Potro got through Hyeon Chung in straight sets. Coming off a quarterfinal in Montreal, Mertens has been steadily building her ranking to her current high of #14. Stephens and Mertens traded breaks throughout the first set. Defense is a weapon for both players; it was tough to get much past Mertens, who was able to draw error after error from Sloane in the first. But, neither player was able to string much more than two points together at a time. And so it went in the tiebreaker, as neither player ever held a lead of more than two points, with Sloane failing to convert three set points.
Stephens unleashed a well of frustration on coach Kamau Murray during their post-first set coaching break. She never managed to regain the form that she showed intermittently in the first set. With Sloane out, three of the four semifinalists from last year’s Cincinnati event are out, with only #1 Simona Halep left. As it stands, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to think Halep could pull off the Canada-Cincinnati double, considering the form she’s in and the composure she showed in taking care of Tomljanovic after some erratic play the night before. This is assuming, of course, that she doesn’t have to play two matches in a day twice (!), which is possible with this disastrous weather we’ve been having.
JN: We had a perfect vantage point to witness some cheeky conversations between Sloane and Kamau in between points. At one point Sloane even turned to Kamau Murray, who was sitting in the first row behind the baseline, to ask if she should challenge. In other instances, Sloane walked in the direction of the towel, eyes locked on Murray as he offered words in her direction. That type of player-coach interaction is certainly extralegal -- and something we’ve seen before from the pair -- but it’s not something that seems to be of much concern to officials, as it hasn’t been nipped in the bud.
The last bit of action for us for the day came with the defending champ taking on Novak Djokovic. Somewhat surprisingly, Dimitrov sped to a 6-2 3-1 lead before Djokovic won the last five games of the second set. Dimitrov seemed game to withstand the Wimbledon champ’s charge, but a violent overhead smash into the net doomed Grigor’s chances of staying alive in the set. Just as the second set was settled, with Djokovic in the clear ascendancy, the rain reappeared once more. Dimitrov had an opportunity to reset and shift the momentum upon resumption, but he lost serve from being up 40-15 at 1-1 in the third to hand Djokovic the break lead in the decider. And that was that for today’s play as mother nature came tumbling down again on the changeover. So, the winner of this match, along with Halep, Federer, Wawrinka, Anderson, Kyrgios, del Potro, Svitolina, and a host of other players, will have to do double duty tomorrow as past of a jam-packed order of play.
Thanks for checking out our latest TBS Diary from Cincinnati. You can also listen to our latest episode of The Body Serve Tennis Podcast below.