The favourites come through on a busy day in Montréal
by Ed Toombs
Thursday, Aug. 5, 1999
There were a lot of high-profile matches today at the du Maurier Open, with all third round matches scheduled as well as three second-rounders postponed by yesterday's rain. Keeping up with the action was a challenge, but we always try.
Patrick Rafter (1) def. Jiri Novak, 6-3, 6-4
Previous head to head: Tied 1-1
After a second-round breeze over Alex O'Brien, top seed Patrick Rafter figured to have a tougher test against Czech Jiri Novak. A solid player ranked 41 with an excellent return of serve, Novak indeed gave the Aussie a tough test. There was not an awful lot separating them, except for break point efficiency: Rafter converted all three of his break points, while Novak was 0 for 6.
Rafter played well enough to win, but seemed only partly pleased with his performance. "Most times I was just trying to get the ball back," admitted Pat. "The conditions were very quick and Jiri is a very good player. He had a lot of chances and didn't take all the chances he had, and I was pretty consistent with the way I took mine."
Rafter's next opponent is Germany's Nicolas Kiefer... and Pat had better be ready. Kiefer has beaten Rafter twice already this year.
Nicolas Kiefer (9) def. Tommy Haas (8), 6-3, 7-6 (7-4)
Previous head to head: Kiefer leads 1-0
This matchup between the young German rivals would pack a stadium in Deutschland. But in Canada, it draws a crowd of only about 50 connoisseurs. It must be said that the entertaining Agassi-Chang match was on centre court at the same time, and both Americans are immensely popular here. I should not act too supercilious, since I didn't make way out to this match until late in the second set.
From the little bit of the match I saw, Kiefer was playing a patient match, sending a lot of looping balls to Haas' more erratic backhand. It was a smart strategy, as this is the side that gives way in Tommy's game, and Nicolas knows his compatriot's game well. Many points were ending on errors by an overly impatient Haas, perhaps tired from playing his second match of the day.
When I arrived Kiefer had just broken Haas on a double fault, to take a 5-4 lead and serve for the match. But this time it was Kiefer's turn to show nerves, falling behind 0-40. Tommy needed four break points, but finally did the job when Kiefer sent a looping forehand long. The set was level, and stayed on serve until the tie-break.
The tide turned the way of Nicolas at 3-4 of the tie-break, with Haas serving. Haas sent a heavy forehand down the line, but it landed just wide. Haas protested the call mildly, but it might have been wishful thinking on his part. Kiefer had the "mini-break" and kept it, converting on his first match point with a service winner out wide to wrap up a solid win, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4). And another chance to ruin Rafter's day.
Thomas Johansson (11) def. Sébastien Lareau, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-4
Previous head to head: Johansson leads 1-0
High drama at the Jarry Tennis Centre in this wild and wooly match!
The Montréal crowd had yet another chance to acclaim local boy Lareau, who thrilled the city's faithful with his upset win over Krajicek on Tuesday. In Johansson, Lareau was facing a different type of opponent from his adversaries in the first two rounds, serve-volleyers Gimelstob and Krajicek. The Swede has a big serve, but rarely follows it to the net. I thought Lareau might have problems with the style change, especially since the Canadian is a splendid returner who likes opponents who give him a target at the net. In the early going, my instinct was correct. Johansson was making Lareau play a lot of long points, which he didn't have to do in the first two matches and which he doesn't like to do at the best of times.
Both looked nervous at the beginning. The first set was close, but not high-quality. Lareau broke Johansson in game 11 to gain a chance to serve for the set at 6-5. The Canadian played poorly (forehand error, double fault, netted backhand approach) to fall behind 0-40. Johansson failed to covert the first two beak points with errors of his own, but finally forced a tie-break with a big forehand return. A despondent Lareau said after the match that his inability to close out the first set was the turning point of the match. Lareau also took the early lead in the tie-break, but double faulted again at 4-2 to let Johansson back in. Johansson came up with the goods at 5-4, winning two points off Lareau's serve with outstanding passing shots to take the first set tie-break 7-4.
The Swede had a letdown at the beginning of the second set, and Lareau raced to a 4-1 lead with some fine serve-volley tennis. Johansson stormed back to make it 4-4, but Lareau held and then broke to take the second set, 6-4. The atmosphere in the stadium was a little strange up to this point. Many of the fans had left before this match, as it was the last match in the day session, and even though the remaining fans were supporting Lareau fervently, it was odd to see the local hero playing before half-filled stands. But as the match wore on the evening ticket-holders were allowed in the standing room areas along the top of the stadium, the atmosphere heated up as evening settled in and the third set got under way.
A determined Johansson started the deciding set like a lion, breaking Lareau in the third game with an astonishing array of blistering returns and passing shots. It looked as though Lareau was out of gas and about to crumble. But late in the set Lareau gained energy from the crowd and seemed determined to mount a comeback, while Johansson was the one showing signs of nerves. With Johansson up 4-3 and serving at 40-30, the Swede's cross-court forehand passing shot appeared to land wide and was called out, but chair umpire Steve Ullrich overruled, and the point gave Johansson a 5-3 lead. Sébastien was furious and pleaded his case with Ullrich, but to no avail. The overrule and Ullrich's officiating in general were much discussed after the match. Johansson admitted his shot was "very very close, but in the end the calls went almost 50-50." Lareau was still seething about the overrule after the match, but admitted that his poor play in the clutch and Johansson's timely winners, not the officiating, decided the match. "Johansson made some great shots and I was making horrible errors off both sides, that was the problem."
So, Johansson finds himself at 5-3, serving for the match. He looked nervous. Lareau started strong with a backhand volley, the Johansson followed with a double fault and a wide passing shot, and it was suddenly 0-40, and Lareau was a point away from getting back on serve. The crowd was helping Lareau as best they could, cheering with every missed serve and error by the Swede, sometimes exaggeratedly and unfairly. At this point Lareau chose a poor time to dump a forehand into the net, and Johansson -- who said after the match when asked what he was feeling answered honestly, "it was so tough at the end that I didn't actually know what I was doing" -- probably sensed that Lareau was just as tight as he was. He suddenly turned from shaky to rock solid, and with some solid serving and counterpunching, won four straight points, setting up a match point. A tough serve into Lareau's body did the trick, and the match was won. Johansson happily lobbed the ball into the crowd that had been cheering his mistakes moments earlier, while Lareau reflected on a winnable match that he didn't win.
Johansson's quarterfinal opponent will be Courier, who edged Ferreira in another three set nail-biter today (see Chris Gerby's report). The likeable Swede thinks he has a good chance to win. "Jim and I always have tough matches with lots of rallies from the baseline. The conditions here are really really fast.... and I like that!" As for Lareau, he and Alex O'Brien lost their late night doubles match to Bjorkman/Rafter, so he will likely fly to Cincinnati and attempt to qualify for next week's Super Nine tourney there.
Yevgeny Kafelnikov (3) def. Kevin Ullyett (Q), 6-4, 7-6 (7-5)
Previous head to head: First career meeting
We haven't said much about Kafelnikov this week, but he is still around. The third seed took out Kevin Ullyett, a qualifier ranked only 243, to advance to the quarterfinals and a meeting with Todd Martin.
"Kafel" might have been expected to waltz to victory here, given the defference in the players' rankings. But Ullyett can play: the doubles specialist is hardly a regular in singles events, but reached the final of the only event he played this year, on grass just before Wimbledon.
Yevgeny got off to a 5-1 start, but went into a walkabout, let Ullyett gain confidence, and found himself in a tighter match than it should have been. But he survived, and will play Todd Martin is the quarterfinals tomorrow.
Andre puts in some work
Second seed and crowd favourite Agassi was given a tougher match by Richey Reneberg in the afternoon, losing the first set before coming back to win, 6-7, 0-6, 6-3, a match postponed because of last night's rain. In evening's third rounder Andre defeated old rival Michael Chang, 6-2, 7-5. Chang played pretty well and made Agassi work hard for his points, and Andre admitted that he was feeling the fatigue of his long day toward the end. But he finished it in two sets, which was probably a good thing for him after 3 hours and 15 minutes on court. Andre now plays the French racquet artiste Fabrice Santoro in the quarterfinals.
A little doubles:
Leander Paes & Jared Palmer (1) def. Piet Norval & Kevin Ullyett, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5
I arrived at the match at 2-2 in the first. It was a dandy match,
featuring three very solid doubles players and one great one. The great one, of course, being the current doubles number one, India's Leander Paes. Here without his regular partner Mahesh Bhupathi, Paes found a solid replacement in 8th-ranked Jared Palmer of the United States: Palmer's regular partner, Paul Haarhuis, is not here either. Their opponents, Norval/Ullyett, are a very respectable duo ranked 15th in the team doubles rankings.
They definitely had the minor league line judges at work in the first
set. Norval was furious at a Palmer volley in the fifth game that was
called in when the South Africans had a chance to break. Norval approached
the chair screaming, "That freakin' ball was not on the freakin' line."
He sounded like an R rated movie dubbed for network TV! In the next game
it was Leander's turn to vent at the chair umpire on a PN serve that appeared long but was called in. LP angrily appealed for an overrule from the chair umpire: "The ball was almost straight at me! You're not even
thinking about what you're seeing!" Anyway, the highlight of the first
set was an unbelievable Paes backhand from mid court -- it bounced and
Leander crouched, caught it at head height close to his body, and ripped
a sort of backhand semi-overhead that split the South Africans down the
middle! It was an extraordinary shot. The small crowd on Court Two went wild and one gentleman
yelled out, "That's why he's number one!". All this happened in the eighth
game, and the one where Paes/Palmer got thee only break in the set. They served it out on
Palmer's serve, with Paes nailing an awesome stretch backhand volley down the
line on set point.
The second set went less well for the top seeds, as the South African duo broke Palmer's derve in game 2 Paes' in game eight, to level the match. Ullyett was
dynamite in this set, as he hit winner after winner on the return.
The third and deciding set stayed on serve until 4-4, when Norval's serve was broken.
Palmer the main man in this game. At deuce he hit a crisp backhand
volley winner and then sealed the break with a great low return that
forced a volley error from Norval. At 5-4 Palmer served it out for the
match. On the second match point, Palmer's backhand volley just skimmed beyond Norval's reach, and the Paes/Palmer tandem had won a dandy match, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5. Norval was furious
as he walked to his chair, I suppose this was because it was his serve that was broken in the third: he whacked his racquet three times against a metal fence post.
My "man of the match" award is shared between Paes and Palmer: Leander for his outstanding first set and Jared for a very solid third. Adams/De Jager up next in the quarterfinals for the top seeds....