Day Four: Another Courier Thriller
by Christopher Gerby
Wayne Ferreira vs. Jim Courier
Singles: Third Round
It's been a good week for Jim Courier. The former #1 player
in the world gutted out another close win over rival Tim Henman
on Tuesday and joked around with a bunch of kids during a special
autograph session on Wednesday. His Thursday itinerary called for a
visit to Wayne's World. South African veteran Wayne Ferreira, after
narrowly escaping his first two matches in third set tiebreaks (see
Ed Toombs's fine reports), was the next obstacle for Courier. They
had squared off 10 times before, with the American winning 8. Their
games are pretty similar -- both players have underrated serves, big
forehands, and two-handed backhands -- and the similar styles made for
similar games early on. They each held serve all the way to 4-4,
neither even facing a break point. Master of the big moment, Courier
held for a 5-4 lead and got to double set point against the Ferreira
serve. Wayne persevered, however, battling back to deuce by skying for
an overhead (maybe white men can jump!) and hauling off on a forehand
winner. Two points later, the set was tied at 5.
After Courier held at love, Ferreira rallied from a 0-30
deficit to force a first set tiebreak. Surprisingly, Courier lost the
first four points, three of them on unforced errors. The last was a
late call, which Jim disputed while leaning on the net. Ferreira then
helped him out with three errors of his own, putting the 'breaker back
on serve at 4-3. Momentum shifted right back to the South African's
side when Courier lost both of his service points on forehand errors.
On triple set point, Ferreira used a big serve to set up a smash,
winning the tiebreak 7-3 and the set 7-6. No stranger to comebacks,
Courier would need one here if he wished to earn a spot in the
The first four games of the second set were routine holds.
Courier finally converted his fifth break point of the match, taking a
3-2 lead when Ferreira netted a forehand. The service holds resumed,
Courier carrying a 5-4 lead into the set's tenth game. I've seen some
pretty pitiful attempts to serve out sets this week, but Courier had
no problem here. The bulldog ended a love hold with an ace and a
service winner, taking the set 6-4.
The first few games of the final
set had their moments (including a great running forehand winner by
Courier, who celebrated by fiercely shaking his racquet), but no break
points. In fact, the American had not faced a break point in the entire
match. That changed in Game 4 of the third set -- Jim had to slug his
way out of a 15-40, finally getting to 2-2 after a quartet of deuces.
Two more service holds made it 3-3. Then it was Ferreira trapped in a
long service game, repeatedly bailing himself out of trouble only to
have Courier push him right back against the wall. Wayne saved two
break points, but finally succumbed by sailing a forehand long.
Courier pumped his fist, confidently striding to his chair with a 4-3
lead in the final set. Just when you thought Courier might be ready to
close out this pitched battle, Ferreira came storming back, getting
three break chances of his own. Courier survived the first two, but
tried to make a forehand too good on the third break point, hitting it
just wide of the sideline.
Ferreira solidified the break, holding for 5-4 with an
ace. He was probably hoping to avoid yet another third set tiebreak,
but Courier pushed the match closer in that direction, holding at 30
for a 5-5 score. Ferreira fell behind 15-30 in the next game, blew a
backhand volley for 15-40, and misfired on an overhead attempt from
back near the baseline, allowing Courier to serve for the match with a
6-5 lead. At 30-30, Ferreira sent Courier out wide with a sharply
angled forehand. Courier tracked it down, but pushed a forehand of his
own wide for 30-40. Courier evaded the break point with a winning
backhand volley, but a perfect service return by Ferreira brought up a
second break opportunity. Courier dodged this one as well, coming
through with a clutch service winner. Ferreira was then just a tad too
long with a forehand pass, so Courier had finally arrived at match
point. After 2 hours and 25 minutes of play, Courier made a great stab
backhand volley which set up a winning forehand volley. Once again
thriving on the pressure of a close match in a big stadium, the
bilingual redhead advanced: 6-7, 6-4, 7-5.
Tommy Haas vs. Andrew Ilie
Singles: Second Round
Originally scheduled for Court Central (in the rained out
Wednesday evening session), the second round match between #8 seed
Tommy Haas and Romanian-born Australian Andrew Ilie ended up on Court
2. I got there just as Haas was breaking Ilie's serve (for at least
the second time) to win the opening set 6-3. Both players had their
usual headwear quirks going, Haas wearing his cap backwards (a la
Ivanisevic and Grosjean) and Ilie sporting a bandana around his hat.
A pattern became clear early in the second set: when either player
put his first serve in, he almost always won the point. Four pretty
quick holds made it 2-2. Ilie got an opening at 0-30, then whipped a
backhand winner down the line. Very psyched about earning a triple
break point against the powerful German, Ilie clenched his fist and
shouted, "Come on!" Haas held his nerve, though, making his first
serve on the next five points and winning all five of those points,
ending the game with a pair of service winners. After coming so close
to a huge break, Ilie lost his own serve, sending a forehand wide on
Tommy's first break point of the set. Ilie dropped his racquet and
grumbled to himself. He's a fiery competitor, but he surely realized
this 6-3, 4-2 would be a difficult hill to climb.
Haas double faulted to open Game 7, but took the next
four points in holding for a 5-2 lead. Ilie held for 3-5 when a Haas
forehand clipped the tape and sailed just long. Haas opened the next
game with a service winner, but a double fault and a backhand error
got him down
15-30. Ilie had a little window of opportunity now and
he came barreling through it, absolutely killing a cross-court
forehand pass to take a 15-40 lead. Haas saved the first break point,
but double faulted on the second. Ilie was right back in the match,
on serve at 4-5. However, Andrew looked nervous in the next game. At
30-30, he sent a forehand long. He did that again on the very next
point -- match point -- giving Tommy Haas a 6-3, 6-4 victory. Ilie
unhappily banged his racquet on the court after shaking hands, knowing
he'd blown his chance to score a big win. Haas marched on to the third
round, stopping first to spend some time with the almost exclusively
female throng of fans waiting patiently to get his autograph and/or
take his picture.
Knowles/Nestor vs. B Black/W Ferreira
Doubles: Second Round
While most of the Canadian fans here at the tournament
were cheering for Sebastien Lareau on Court Central, fellow Canuck
Daniel Nestor quietly strolled out to Court 2 with his doubles
partner, Mark Knowles. Their second round opponents were no
pushovers: Byron Black and Wayne Ferreira won the doubles title in
Los Angeles last week. However, fatigue had to be coming into play for
Ferreira. This would be his third match of the day, following the
long singles match against Courier and the completion of a first round
doubles match which had been interrupted on Wednesday. Would Wayne
have anything left? Did anyone care? Knowles and Nestor can usually
count on a lot of crowd support on this side of the border, but the
atmosphere was almost morgue-like as this match got underway. The
stands were far from empty, but Mark and Daniel had only one truly
vocal supporter. Black and Ferreira, surprisingly, had a rooting
section of the same size. A woman with an Anna Kournikova-ish hairdo
loudly, enthusiastically, unabashedly shouted words of encouragement
to the underdogs for the entire match.
Since righty/lefty combinations have accounted for some of
the top doubles teams of all-time (Fleming/McEnroe, Woodbridge/Woodforde,
Newcombe/Roche), maybe it should
come as no surprise that southpaw
Daniel Nestor has experienced so much success with right-handed
Bahamian Mark Knowles. Nestor was called for a foot fault in the
opening game of this match, but he and Knowles held on for a 1-0 lead.
When Ferreira lost his serve on a double fault and Knowles held serve
at 15, it looked like the #2 seeds might be on their way to an easy
victory. Black and Ferreira started taking care of their service games,
though, and stayed close at 3-5. However, Nestor wasn't about to let
the lead slip away. He ended a love hold with a pair of service winners,
wrapping up a 6-3 set.
After Ferreira held serve to open the second set, Knowles
decided to take a bathroom break, leaping over the same fence he'd
hopped to exit Court 2 on Monday. The break seemed to take Knowles and
Nestor out of their rhythm -- Nestor dropped serve to fall behind 0-2.
When Knowles missed an easy volley in the third game, he was less than
pleased to hear, "Come on, Byron! Woo-hoo!" from the Black/Ferreira
supporter. Knowles even shot a dirty look in the woman's direction.
After Black held for a 3-0 lead in the set, the loud Knowles/Nestor fan
took matters into his own hands, walking down about ten rows to sit
directly behind the Black/Ferreira fan. I don't know if he was trying
to intimdate her or drown her out, but he failed on both counts. She
had plenty to cheer about as Knowles dropped serve for 4-0 and
Ferreira held for 5-0. The Zimbabwean and the South African were both
playing well and utilizing some strategy. They both stayed back on
every Nestor first serve, but kept one partner posted at the net
when it was Knowles serving. It worked well enough to earn them a
second set bagel, as Nestor was broken again.
Black faced a break point in the opening game of the third,
but finally held with an ace. Nestor served again (doubles teams have
that choice at the start of each yet) and was broken for the third
time in a row, losing that game on a bad volley error by Knowles,
who'd looked out of sorts ever since returning from the bathroom.
Ferreira served an ace on his way to a 3-0 lead in the final set.
The #2 seeds had now lost a stunning nine consecutive games. The
streak ran to ten, as Knowles floated a half-volley long on break
point against his serve. He was also the culprit at the end of Game 5,
making a completely apathetic volley error. It was a big 40-30 point,
but there was Knowles standing flat-footed and seemingly not even
paying attention as the ball came to him. The volley barely even
reached the net, putting Knowles and Nestor into a 0-5 hole. The
crowd was virtually silent, except for that one woman I mentioned before,
who was downright ecstatic.
Knowles opened the set's sixth game with another really
awful volley, barely getting a racquet on it. Nestor was still playing
hard, though, and he held serve for 1-5. Knowles finally seemed to wake
up and realize the match was still going on. He knocked off a volley to
earn a 15-40 lead against Ferreira's serve. Black was still making
like the Energizer Bunny at the net, frequently poaching and returning
anything hit near him, and his efforts got Ferreira back to deuce.
Wayne missed a low backhand volley on the third break point, though,
narrowing their lead to 5-2. At deuce in the eighth game, Black
drilled a backhand cross-court return winner to earn the first match
point. Ferreira then hit a nice backhand return of his own at
Knowles, who pushed a backhand volley wide. The winning streak
continues for Byron Black and Wayne Ferreira, victors here by a weird
score of 3-6, 6-0, 6-2. You really have to feel for doubles ace
Daniel Nestor. He was overshadowed by his countryman (Sebastien Lareau,
whose singles match was still going on when Nestor lost here) and
done in by his partner (Mark Knowles, whose unusually bad form
contributed heavily to the eleven consecutive games he and Nestor
lost on Thursday).
W Black/Stolle vs. Grabb/Ivanisevic
Doubles: Second Round
Late Thursday afternoon would have been a frustrating
time for friends and family of the Zimbabwean Blacks, had they
been attending the du Maurier Open. While Byron Black was playing on
Court 2, his brother Wayne was teaming up with Sandon Stolle in a
match against Jim Grabb and Goran Ivanisevic. Cramped little Court 6,
with its very limited seating, wasn't an appropriate venue for a match
featuring four top doubles players, one of whom is among the most
famous players in the sport. Yet there they were, Grabb and Ivanisevic
holding a 6-4, 4-3 lead when I arrived. Black and Stolle have
become one of the best teams in the world this year and were seeded
4th here in Montreal. They certainly are an interesting sight: Wayne
looks short in singles, but he looks REALLY short standing next to
Sandon. There was no "Mutt and Jeff" effect on the other side of the
net: Grabb and Ivanisevic are both quite tall.
Ivanisevic's vaunted serve was tested in the second set's
eighth game, but after being pushed to deuce, he delivered an ace and
a winning touch volley for a 5-3 lead. Stolle held his serve for 4-5,
but the seeded team was still down a break and running out of time.
Grabb pushed a backhand volley down the line for a 40-30 lead and a
match point, but Black/Stolle got to deuce when "Ivo" netted a reflex
volley. A second match point went by the boards when Grabb had to
stretch for a low volley and sent it wide. The 35-year-old looked spry
enough on the next two points, though. He smacked a service winner
and a match-ending overhead smash. The 6-4, 6-4 elimination of
Black and Stolle means #5 seeds Ellis Ferreira and Rick Leach are the
top duo remaining in the bottom half of the doubles draw.
Grabb, Black, and Stolle all left the court in relatively
short order, but Ivanisevic stayed behind...and stayed...and stayed.
He sat alone in his chair, fidgeting with his hat and looking pensive.
Amateur psychologists in the crowd wondered aloud if he'd suddenly
been overcome by some fit of depression. My hunch was that he was
waiting for the crowd of autograph-seekers to thin out a bit.
None of us guessed correctly -- Goran was actually waiting for his hitting
partner to arrive, so he could get in one more practice session under
the setting sun. Ivanisevic worked on nothing but groundstrokes until
the end, when he and the hitting partner put on a little demonstration
of soccer skills. They lined up tennis balls on the court and kicked
them at the fence which separates Court 6 and Court 7. After the last
kick, Ivanisevic showed off his soccer celebration, collapsing to his
knees and raising his arms in triumph. It was a very funny moment,
nice to see from a guy who looked so despondent on Tuesday. In fact,
Goran was happily humming to himself (perhaps some of that Croatian
music he's fond of) as he finally made his way toward the fans,
accomodating many of them with his signature.
Bjorkman/Rafter vs. Lareau/O'Brien
Doubles: Second Round
The final match of the night in Montreal pitted reigning
Australian Open champs Jonas Bjorkman and Patrick Rafter against fan
favorites Sebastien Lareau and Alex O'Brien. I missed the first five
games, while attending Andre Agassi's unenlightening press conference
and waiting in vain for Michael Chang to follow Andre in the
interview room. When I got back, the doubles match was on serve,
Lareau/O'Brien leading 3-2. They almost got a service break at this
point, as Bjorkman served three double faults in a long game,
finally holding for 3-3. Lareau was then pushed to deuce on his serve,
but held for 4-3. Four more service holds, punctuated by sharp serving
and powerful volleys, kept Sebastien and Alex ahead by a 6-5 count.
Rafter double faulted in Game 12, but eventually held with a service
winner, taking the opening set to a tiebreak, which went as follows...
- Backhand service return winner by Rafter. 1-0 BJORKMAN/RAFTER
- Bjorkman ace. 2-0 BJORKMAN/RAFTER
- Long forehand return by Lareau. 3-0 BJORKMAN/RAFTER
- Lareau nets a shoestring volley. 4-0 BJORKMAN/RAFTER
- Rafter flicks a forehand wide. 4-1 BJORKMAN/RAFTER
- Rafter blasts a service winner and an ace. 6-1 BJORKMAN/RAFTER
- Bjorkman misses a running backhand and lightly bangs on a
courtside table with his racquet a few times. 6-2 BJORKMAN/RAFTER
- Rafter squanders set point #2 with a forehand error. 6-3 BJORKMAN/RAFTER
- O'Brien buries a backhand return in the net. 7-3 BJORKMAN/RAFTER
Lareau and O'Brien reached the doubles final here in '97
and have long been a solid team. The '99 season has not been their
best, though, and they turned flat in a hurry after losing that
tiebreak. The Aussie/Swede combo rolled through five straight games
for a 7-6, 5-0 lead. They were both playing well; Lareau and O'Brien
no longer were. Sebastien held serve at love for 1-5, though. Facing
match point against Bjorkman's serve, O'Brien ripped a backhand
winner down the line and gave it the old double fist pump, trying to
at least look fired up. Lareau missed a backhand on the next point,
though, and Bjorkman closed out the match with a service winner. There
will be no Canadian players around for the weekend, as Bjorkman and
Rafter dashed local hopes with a comprehensive 7-6, 6-1 victory.
The #6 seeds are scheduled to face 3rd seeded Frenchmen Olivier
Delaitre and Fabrice Santoro on Friday, but Patrick says he'll "just
pull out" of the doubles event if his match schedule gets out of
"Tell him to think about Niagara Falls":
I missed most of the Patrick Rafter-Jiri Novak singles
match this afternoon because I was waiting for Richey Reneberg to
urinate. It's less sordid than it sounds. A little while after the
Agassi-Reneberg match (a surprisingly tough three set win for Andre),
I checked in the interview room to see if either player was coming in.
I heard that Reneberg was due in four minutes and decided to stick
around. Well, 4 minutes turned into 45. Reneberg was undergoing a
post-match drug test and, for whatever reason, it was taking an
extraordinary amount of time. At least Richey was loquacious when he
show up. I asked him if playing World Team Tennis last
month had a positive effect on his singles game and got the following
answer: "Uh...Yeah, I mean, probably. You know, it's good playing
matches in an environment where you have linesmen and all that and
it's a lot of fun. I enjoy playing Team Tennis and we have a very good
team. You know, yeah, I think it helps. I mean, it helps to be playing
something as opposed to taking three weeks off. I think the team I play
for is, you know, I'm pretty fortunate to play there because our owner
is pretty enthusiastic about it and makes it fun. And, like I say, we
have a very good team. So, yeah, I think it helps. I mean, I've
enjoyed playing Team Tennis the last couple of years."
The guy who beat Reneberg was considerably less
forthcoming in his press conference. Andre Agassi came in that
evening, following his second win of the day (over Michael Chang) and
gave the distinct impression that he was in no mood to chat. Check
out this exchange: Agassi being queried (not by
me) about his next opponent, Fabrice Santoro...
Q: Are you familiar with him?
Agassi: Yeah, I am familiar with him.