July 18, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Andreescu shocked by crafty Vondrousova in Rome

ROME – It must have been a long, long day for Bianca Andreescu, scheduled fifth on the Grand Stand Arena court Friday on a day with an 11 a.m. start, which began with compatriot Félix Auger-Aliassime’s three hour, 17-minute loss to Aussie Alexei Popyrin.

But when she finally took the court against Marketa Vondrousova about 9 p.m., it got much worse.

The 22-year-old Canadian’s first experience with the Czech lefty’s court craft left her scrambling for solutions, on the way to a resounding 6-0, 6-1 defeat in her opening match at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

It was done in less than an hour. And the defeat leaves her woefully short of match play heading into Roland Garros.

Here’s what it looked like.

A sunny day had turned into a chilly evening. And the throngs of fans who teeming all over the Foro Italico site all day long had taken their leave. Which meant that Andreescu’s team, a few scattered Canadian supporters and perhaps two dozen other people stood out in the large, empty arena.

Even the lone statue around which the entire Grand Stand structure had to be custom-fitted looked lonely.

Too Much Vondrousova

It took 55 minutes for Vondrousova, who is almost exactly a year older than Andreescu and the Roland Garros finalist the year the Canadian had her massive breakthrough in 2019, to dismiss Andreescu, seeded No. 24 and with a first-round bye.

Vondrousova was ranked as high as No. 14 after that Roland Garros effort. That she is down to No. 70 after missing six months in 2022 due to injury and falling out of the top 100.

But she has slowly crawled her way back. And her craft is well known, especially on clay and slower hard-court surfaces.

It might, at times, have felt to Andreescu as though she was playing herself. Especially as she tried (mostly in vain) to track down drop shots and likely never felt as though she was able to dictate. Except she was playing someone who is far more comfortable on the surface, and more accomplished on it.

The telling ignominy was when the Canadian’s racquet slipped out of her hand during a point. It was lying on the court as she, weaponless, had to watch a lobbed ball go by her as Vondrousova broke her serve once again.

Her racquet having slipped out of her hand, Andreescu watches helplessly as a ball bounces harmlessly by for a break of serve.

Right then, you got the sense that it really wasn’t her day. And worse, that there was nothing she could do about it.

It wasn’t as though Andreescu didn’t try. You could almost see the wheels turning, hoping to land upon a solution – something that would sidetrack Vondrousova from her seemingly effortless domination of the match.

But there was nothing on this day. Literally nothing. It was actually a little shocking to witness.

And Vondrousova was on a mission; on the rare occasion when she actually missed a ball, she was extremely annoyed at herself.

Vondrousova basically couldn’t miss, for the 55 minutes it took to beat Andreescu

Unseeded in Paris

Andreescu made the quarterfinals in Rome a year ago,

Ranked No. 90 at the time, she upset No. 10 seed Emma Raducanu in the first round (then the round of 64, before this year’s expansion) on an injury retirement. Then she defeated Nuria Parrizas Diaz and Petra Martic, both solid on the clay, before eventual champion Iga Swiatek defeated her 7-6 (2), 6-0.

The early loss may drop her just out of the top 40. And that means she will head into Roland Garros unseeded, at the mercy of the draw gods to not face a top-10 player from the jump.

On the plus side, she looked recovered from the ankle injury suffered in Miami – a setback for her, just when it seemed she was about to get on a roll again.

She, like her compatriot Leylah Fernandez (and Auger-Aliassime, as well) was one-and-done at both of the WTA/Masters 1000 tournaments bookmarked in the leadup to Paris.

It’s a tough year for that to happen; the expansion to 96-player draws and two-week schedules mean that a whole month is dedicated to just two tournaments. If you’re ousted early, as they have been, you get … two matches in a month. And all of them need more matches.

The new format (even if it’s been in place on the Indian Wells – Miami swing forever) has to be tough at this time of the year. Especially when you’re a seeded player. You might have been in Rome for as long as a week to 10 days, waiting to finally get on court. And then, you finally do, and it doesn’t go your way.

In the balance between playing too much and not playing enough, it’s definitely on the latter end. But there aren’t a lot of solutions to it – and no WTA tournaments to compete in during Rome’s second week.

Andreescu isn’t entered in anything before Roland Garros. We’ll see if that changes.

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