Day Five: Rafter and Kiefer Duke It Out Again
by Christopher Gerby
Thomas Johansson vs. Jim Courier
Thomas Johansson, #22 player in the world and this week's
#11 seed, got a relatively kind draw in Montreal, at least on paper --
he advanced to the quarterfinals without facing a seed. However, his
win over Sebastien Lareau on Thursday was far from easy and his
quarterfinal opponent, Jim Courier, isn't your average floater either.
Courier announced his semifinal intentions by opening the match with a
convincing love hold. These quick courts have been working to the
Swede's advantage, though, and he quickly snared a hold of his own.
Courier then played a wretched game, ending a love break with a double
fault and two unforced errors. He didn't waste too much time getting
back on serve, though, breaking Johansson for 3-3. After an ace and a
nice drop volley helped him win Game 7, Courier appeared to have the
momentum. Thomas held for 4-4, though, and got a break point when Courier
badly shanked a 30-30 forehand. Courier then netted a backhand to fall
behind 4-5. Johansson got into some trouble trying to serve it out,
but Courier bricked a swinging volley for 30-30 and a Johansson ace
brought up set point. Courier countered with a drop shot, but Thomas
skillfully ran it down and pushed a backhand winner up the line to
claim a 6-4 win of the opening set.
Courier's been in bigger trouble than this before and
he still appeared to be striking the ball pretty confidently. The
first four games of the second game went with serve, Jim extending his
surprising lead over Johansson in the ace department. Another
exchange of holds made it 3-3, both players sprinkling in some errors
but generally looking solid off the ground. Johansson then jumped out
to a 0-40 lead against Courier's serve. However, the 24-year-old
chipped a backhand into the net and Courier drilled a pair of
forehand winners for deuce. It was a fine comeback, but Jim's good
fortune didn't last -- he sent a forehand wide and netted another
swing volley. The American tossed his racquet to his chair, now down a
break at 3-4. Never one to throw in the towel, though, Courier got to
30-40 in Game 8 and took control of the ensuing rally after Johansson
put in a second serve. Undeterred, Johansson kept getting balls back
and finally drilled a backhand winner down the line for deuce. Courier
got another break chance, but uncharacteristically followed it with
three errors in a row for 3-5. Courier tenaciously stormed through a
love hold to 4-5, but he was still down and nearly out.
The pressure was on Johansson, but he hammered an ace for
30-0. After missing a forehand for 30-15, he guided a backhand winner
down the line for a 40-15 lead and double match point. Unhappy about
the non-call on the Johansson serve which started that rally, Courier
had some words with chair umpire Norm Chryst. Jim then muttered an
expletive to a linesman, who ran all the way across the court to
inform Chryst. Courier was then hit with a code violation (a warning
for "unsportsmanlike conduct") and flipped out, pleading his case to
Chryst and then charging right back over to the linesman. When all
was finally said and done, Johansson netted a backhand to keep the
match alive at 40-30. He looked a little tentative on his second
match point, but Courier bailed him out by smacking one last forehand
into the net, finishing the 6-4, 6-4 bout in an even 90 minutes.
It goes down as a very good win for Johansson, extending
his career record against Courier to 3-1. Afterwards, I asked him if
-- following a long match yesterday -- he was relieved to come through
this one in straight sets. "Yeah, I was very relieved. When I went
into the court today, I was a little bit tired, after the match
yesterday. That match yesterday took a lot of strength out of me. I
think I played very solid today. Maybe I was not serving as well as I
did yesterday, but I played solid from the baseline and tried to keep
the ball away from his forehand." The press actually kept Johansson
around for quite a while, perhaps assuming that Courier would be
making his customarily late arrival in the interview room.
Jim finally did come in and was in relatively good humor.
He explained the code violation incident. "I go over and tell the guy
who's making the line calls that he should take his sunglasses off
because it's pitch black out there. You know, I maybe muttered
something, you know, telling him he's a f***in' idiot under my breath.
So he jumps out like a tattle-tale, like he's in elementary school,
runs over and tells the umpire. That'll get him far in life. So,
basically, he just proved my theory that he is a f***in' idiot." I
asked Jim a follow-up a question: "I know Agassi had that same
problem in San Jose, but was this the first time you've ever been
ratted out like that?" Courier finished a sip of water and replied,
"I think it is the first time anyone -- nicely put -- ratted me out.
It's just kinda sad, isn't it?"
4 Hour-Plus Rain Delay:
In the words of a song which played on the Stade du Maurier
sound system this afternoon, "the sun doesn't shine every day." Ain't
that the truth. Fans who watched the Courier-Johansson match had to wait
a full four and a half hours before Andre Agassi and Fabrice Santoro
finally took the court for their quarterfinal match. A pretty major
rainstorm was to blame -- it took an impressive court-drying effort
just to get the Agassi match started at the time it did. Not a fun afternoon
for the fans and it couldn't have been very enjoyable for the players.
Particularly annoyed had to be Santoro and Patrick Rafter who, in
addition to their singles matches, were slated to play doubles against
one another on Friday.
Patrick Rafter vs. Nicolas Kiefer
Rising young German star Nicolas Kiefer knows a thing or
two about beating Patrick Rafter on a hard court. Kiefer essentially
ruined Rafter's spring campaign, topping the Aussie at Indian Wells
and the Lipton. The Indian Wells match was among the very best I've
seen all season, so their third meeting was likely to be a barn burner.
The early stages were serve-dominated, both players winning their
share of easy points on the path to 3-3. Just like he had earlier
this year, though, Kiefer really started to get on Rafter's serve and
make his life difficult. The Agassi play-alike took a 4-3 lead,
breaking the #1 seed at 30 on a winning backhand return. Kiefer
smacked an ace to hold for 5-3. Nicolas then hit three terrific returns
in a love break, clinching a 6-3 set when a desperate looking Rafter
made a poor drop shot attempt from too far back, plopping it in the
The first four games of the second set went with serve,
but Patrick was looking frustrated, once slamming his racquet after
floating a return long. The fifth game of the set featured some of
the highest quality tennis of the week. Rafter came over his backhand,
ripping a winner for 15-30...but Kiefer responded with a backhand
volley winner for 30-30. Rafter got to 30-40 with a winning volley of
his own...but Kiefer fought off the break point by with a nicely
angled forehand volley. Rafter was not to be denied -- he snapped off
a big backhand overhead (a shot he hits better than anyone else in
the sport) to take the advantage and then broke for 3-2, a big return
forcing Kiefer to miss a volley. A series of holds took the second set
score to 5-4, Rafter still clinging to a tenuous lead. Tenuous because
Kiefer was still hitting big returns and passing shots, forcing Rafter
into volleys that even he found too difficult to pull off. He got to
break point four times in that 10th game, finally breaking for 5-5
with a winning forehand return. Both players went to their towels,
settling in for what was sure to be a tense conclusion to the set.
Rafter bounced his racquet again in the 11th game, waiting
one point to get a replacement (probably so he could avoid a "racquet
abuse" code violation). Frustrated though he was, Pat got to 30-40 on a
Kiefer error. Rafter hit a defensive lob just long on break point,
though, and lost another break chance a couple points later. Kiefer is
prone to becoming discouraged and folding when the going gets tough,
but he was giving no quarter tonight. He held for 6-5 and sprinted
back out to the court after the changeover, perhaps trying to do a
little "look at how fresh and confident I am" psych job on Rafter. It
didn't work -- Rafter held at love, forcing a tiebreak. This is where
the two-time U.S. Open champion figured to take over, but instead he
fell behind 5 points to 1, missing a backhand half-volley and an easy
forehand volley along the way. Kiefer netted a return for 5-2 and
next tried a drop shot, only to see Rafter run it down and send a
winning reply up the line. When Kiefer erred on a defensive lob, the
'breaker was back on serve at 5-4. Rafter kept his roll going with a
service winner and a flawless forehand volley, pumping his fist after
the latter. Just a matter of moments after being on the brink of
elimination, Patrick Rafter had arrived at set point. Kiefer sent a
backhand long and the crowd erupted. Second set to the fan favorite,
7 points to 5 in the tiebreak.
As the third set got underway, Kiefer's fondness for his
towel was becoming ridiculous. Whether it was a stalling tactic or a
legitimate need to dry his hands after virtually every point, it
earned him a time violation in the opening game of the third set.
Kiefer didn't even appear to notice -- he broke serve right there and
then held for a 2-0 lead. The holds continued to 3-2, when Kiefer took
a bathroom break. As it had for Mark Knowles yesterday, the delay
seemed to hurt the player who opted for it -- Kiefer was broken at 15
when he returned, knotting the set at 3-all. Rafter trailed 0-30 in
the following game, but stormed through the next four points, holding
with an ace. The set's eighth game featured a downright indescribable
all-court rally, finally ending when Kiefer knocked off a volley
winner for 30-15. The next rally was also a long, spectacular one --
Rafter won it and raising his arms to thunderous applause. Kiefer
held serve, however. They exchanged holds again for 5-5, the tension
mounting as the temperature fell. Game 11 was dramatically poised at
30-30, but Rafter closed it out with two winners (a volley and a serve).
The fans realized that the changeover at 6-5 would be the last
of the match and gave the players a big ovation as they left their
chairs, many shouting "Rafter!" and some countering with "Kiefer!"
Both players were worthy of some shouted support -- this really had
developed into one of those matches neither player deserved to lose.
Kiefer served the match into a tiebreak, surviving one deuce. Here's a
point-by-point recap of the third set 'breaker...
Kiefer raised his arms and repeatedly pumped his fists.
After being jeered by much
- Rafter serves first, but nets a forehand. 1-0 KIEFER
- Kiefer service winner. 2-0 KIEFER
- Ill-advised drop shot into the net by Kiefer. 2-1 KIEFER
- Kiefer goes to the drop shot again! Rafter runs it down, but
pushes a backhand into the net. 3-1 KIEFER
- Backhand volley winner by a resilient Rafter. 3-2 KIEFER
- Rafter knocks the racquet out of Kiefer's hand with a great
cross-court forehand pass. 3-3
- Kiefer serves an ace and wanders back in search of his towel
again, drawing some boos from the crowd. 4-3 KIEFER
- Lunging forehand volley winner by Rafter. Kiefer goes for the
towel again! 4-4
- Rafter shockingly dumps an easy forehand volley in the net,
giving Nicolas a chance to serve it out. 5-4 KIEFER
- Ugly backhand return into the net by Rafter. 6-4 KIEFER
- Match-winning ace by Kiefer. 7-4 KIEFER
of the crowd, Kiefer now basked in their
polite applause, relishing his 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 elimination of the world's
#2 player. He slowly turned to all four sides of the court, applauding
with his racquet, and then smacked a ball clear out of the stadium.
Kiefer is now one win away from his first Super Nine final...and he
has won both of his previous encounters with semifinal opponent Thomas
Johansson. The German seemed very pleased as he strode into the
interview room, a candy bar (probably the healthy variety) in hand.
"You mind if I take a bite of this sometimes, because I'm hungry?" The
#9 seed speaks in somewhat broken English, but is fluent enough to get his
points across. Asked for the secret to beating Patrick Rafter, Nicolas
grinned and said, "I won't tell you. I keep it in my mind."
Rafter did not make an appearance in the interview room
-- he was on his way out to Court 1 for his doubles quarterfinal. It
was nearly midnight when Rafter and Jonas Bjorkman finished off their
6-4, 6-4 win over Olivier Delatire and Fabrice Santoro, but there
were still a few reporters hoping to get a few words with Pat. An ATP
Tour rep led four of us into the training room for a brief, intimate
chat with the Aussie superstar. We were huddled about two feet away
from Rafter, who was wearing nothing but a pair of shorts as his
sore right shoulder was tended to by veteran ATP trainer Bill Norris.
Patrick hinted that the shoulder problem might cause him to miss
a tournament this month, but blamed the singles loss on his own
serving. "It's just not good enough, not consistent enough." I asked
Rafter if, despite tonight's nightmare schedule, he and Bjorkman were
planning to give the doubles a go at the U.S. Open. "No, I'm not
playing. This is my last one, last tournament in doubles. I already
pulled out of next week's doubles with Jonas. No more doubles for me."
E Ferreira/Leach vs. Grabb/Ivanisevic
While Bjorkman and Rafter were toiling on Court 1,
the stadium played host to another doubles quarterfinal. #5 seeds
Ellis Ferreira and Rick Leach -- veterans who have been playing
together for quite a while, with good success -- battled the pick-up
team of Jim Grabb and Goran Ivanisevic. Just telling Ferreira and
Leach apart from the top of the stadium (where the press box is
located) was a bit of a struggle. They're both left-handed white guys
and they were wearing matching outfits tonight. In fact, Grabb's
attire (white shirt, off-white shorts, white shoes) also matched
theirs. Goran, naturally, was the colorful standout, with big patches
of dark blue on his clothes and a backwards-turned cap on his head.
Ferreira and Leach were leading 3-2 when I arrived.
Almost immediately thereafter, they were up 5-4. A tiebreak looked
almost inevitable, but Ivanisevic struggled in the 10th game. A pair
of Ferreira forehand winners got the seeded team to 15-40. Then a
forehand return by Leach snuck under Ivanisevic's racquet, breaking
the big Croatian and completing a 6-4 set. Ferreira held serve to open
the second set. Ivanisevic, despite lousing up the end of the opening
set, served first for his team in the second and did so successfully.
12 games had already been completed in just 28 minutes, which goes to
show how much success these guys were having in their return games.
Leach got to 2-1 without dropping a point -- it was his team's
fourth conseuctive love hold. Grabb double faulted at 30-30 in the
next game and Ferreira (no relation to Wayne) immediately capitalized
with a winning forehand pass down the line. Ellis was definitely
establishing himself as the star of the match.
A frustrated Grabb smacked a ball into the stands
midway through the set's fifth game, picking up a "ball abuse" code
violation for his trouble. Ferreira held for a 4-1 lead and the
trailing team threw their towels down in disgust during the changeover
which followed. Ivanisevic played a great service game, though -- a
love hold on an ace and three service winners made it 2-4. Leach was
then pushed to deuce, but Grabb missed a forehand return and
cried out in despair. On game point, an Ivanisevic return clipped
the tape and Ferreira pounced on it, ripping a backhand winner for a
5-2 lead. It was still just one break, though. Grabb opened Game 8
with an ace and made an exaggerated fist pump, either being sarcastic
or trying to fire up the small crowd (or maybe just trying to stay
warm in the chilly night air). Jim held for 3-5 and hit a winning
volley early in Leach's service game, taking an early 0-30 lead.
Grabb was still in a major funk on his returns, however. He missed
another at 30-30, bringing us to match point. Ferreira hit a good
serve there and put away an easy overhead smash to end a 6-4, 6-3
victory. Foiled by their inability to break serve, Grabb and
Ivanisevic were bounced from the tournament in a brisk 48 minutes.
Next up for Ferreira and Leach is a Saturday night
semifinal showdown with Byron Black and Wayne Ferreira. I'm pleased
(or at least amused) to report that the woman with the long, blond,
braided hair was back on Friday, vociferously supporting Byron and
Wayne. They once again did her proud, scratching out a 7-6, 7-6
quarterfinal win over Robbie Koenig (who had a cool red-and-gold brace
on his knee) and Andrei Olhovskiy.