Though the day wasn't as filled with blue skies like the previous day it still was a great day of tennis on the courts of Uniprix Stadium. On the second day of qualifications (lose one your out!) the crop had been trimmed down from 28 to 14. The 7 matches happening on this day would decide which players would continue on to the main draw portion of the tournament that started on Monday.
I arrived right at noon and went directly to the Centre Court where a match between Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador and Julien Benneteau of France was taking place. These are two veterans (Lapentti is 32 and Benneteau is 27) who have been around the block a time or two. Both players were in their Wimbledon best in white from head to toe. Previous to my arrival, Benneteau had jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first set. But by the time I had settled into my seat Lapentti had knotted it up at 5-5. After watching Nicolas Lapentti play the day previous and on Sunday I have decided to dub him "Mr. Slow Starter" as it definitely seems to take him a while to get into the match. From the 7th game onwards Lapentti took over for a period breaking Benneteau twice.
Now we had ourselves a game rather than merely a hitting partner for Benneteau. Each man held their next serve to bring us to a rather unexpected tiebreaker. The two exchanged breaks until Lapentti went up by one at 8-7 and then Benneteau double-faulted to hand his opponent the match.
The first set was a total back and forth game with each player going through their patches of poor play. Benneteau had to think it was his, but then fell apart. I wonder how that is going to affect his confidence and Lapentti's. The crowd really fell in behind Lapentti while he was making his comeback and were firmly behind him.
Going in to the 2nd set I was thinking about how lucky we were that the weather seemed to be holding out so far, especially considering how much rain we had received so far this summer. The morning was beautiful, but clouds started rolling in during the early portion of the afternoon. This, without the beating sun, actually made it perfect weather for the players.
After each player started the 2nd set holding their serves fairly easily it all started coming undone for Lapentti in the 5th game. Benneteau broke Lapentti to go up 3-2 and each player held serve with Benneteau serving to tie the match up at 1-1. Despite the crowd's urging on Lapentti with plenty of "Go, Nico" and even the occasional "I love you, Nicolas" he still fell in the 2nd set 6-4.
In the 3rd and deciding set Lapentti tried to change up the game a little by coming to net occasionally (both players are baseliners), but Benneteau was still holding his serve quite easily. He once again breaks Lapentti in the 5th game to go ahead 3-2. You really were thinking that Lapentti had to try something new to put some pressure on Benneteau's serve, but he didn't seem to have it in him. Benneteau seals the win with another break to go up 5-2. Finishing with an ace, Benneteau takes the match 6-7, 6-4, 6-2.
Next up was a match I was looking forward to seeing former World No. 1 player Juan-Carlos Ferrero of Spain take on 24-year-old Ivan Dodig of Croatia. I was excitedly awaiting this match as Ferrero is one of the few players I have not seen in action live. The Spanish flags in the crowd indicated that I was not the only one looking forward to seeing Ferrero play. It might be one of our last opportunities as Ferrero has hinted that this might be his last season on tour.
Dodig is an up-and-coming player having the best year of his young career so far. The veteran Ferrero has 12 titles with 4 beings Masters and this year he made the quarter-finals of Wimbledon.
Maybe so he would not blend in with the linespeople and ball kids Ferrero changed from the red shirt he was wearing on Saturday to a white one on day 2. The beginning of the match was a little more difficult to follow as the scoreboard and serve speed displays were not working, but they kicked in a couple of games in.
Dodig has a big 1st serve while Ferrero is more of a tactician – always moving his opponent around the court with his variety of shots and beautiful angles. Even though both men held their serves to begin the 1st set you could tell very early on that Ferrero had clearly superior groundstrokes. He was forcing Dodig to play way behind the baseline and Ferrero was just going to wait out Dodig's big serve hoping for a dip in 1st serve percentage.
Ferrero finally broke Dodig in the 5th game to go up 3-2. Because of the quality of Ferrero's groundstrokes Dodig kept trying to force the issue, but committed many unforced errors.
At 2:30 there were some tiny raindrops that fell out of the overcast sky, but they stopped quickly. Each man held their serve easily for the next couple of games and at 5-4 Ferrero was serving for the 1st set. He serves on average 20-30 km/h slower than Dodig, but his placement is so good he was still able to cause Dodig all kinds of problems defending it. Ferrero holds serve and wins the 1st set 6-4.
At the start of the 2nd set with Dodig up 1-0 on serve and Ferrero serving and up 30-0, Dodig suddenly retires. Ferrero is off to the main draw after two relatively easy matches.
Because of the premature end to the Ferrero/Dodig match there was some time before the next one on Centre Court, so I took the opportunity to walk around. There were big crowds watching Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and the giant, Ivo Karlovic preactice. Overall there was another big crowd today after yesterday's which reportedly reached 16,000.
The final match on Centre Court featured young Canadian Milos Raonic vs. Michael Llodra of France. Raonic is Canada's future in men's tennis. Only 18-years-old, just 8 months into his professional career and had already defeated the 76th ranked player yesterday. He would be up against the tour veteran Llodra who had his best year in singles in 2008 and ended the year in World Top 50.
Llodra won the toss and chose to serve first. The crowd from the get go was firmly behind Raonic urging him on and shouting encouragements. He holds serve easily. It is now Raonic's turn. The first thing you notice about him is how tall he is. With his height when he comes to the net, which admittedly is not that often, it is hard to lob over him. He does move well for a tall man. Once he starts playing what you notice is the velocity of his serves. He was regularly over 210 km/h and topping off at 225 km/h. More impressive was the fact that he seem able to spot his serves even at those high speeds. Early on, especially, in the match the crowd would murmur every serve this young guy made.
Once again in the magical 5th game there is a break and lo and behold it's Raonic who draws first blood. He is ahead 3-2. The next service games were held by both (they are both good servers, so getting breaks is difficult) and so Raonic wins 6-4.
In the 2nd set Raonic has his first real problems on his serves and is broken by Llodra the first time he serves. Llodra leads 2-0. Showing some poise and maturity, Raonic breaks right back the next game and has it back on serve 1-2. They continue holding serve and everything going along swimmingly until the 7th game when Llodra is forced to call out the trainer and ask for a medical time out. The trainer works on his left leg and seems to be massaging the hip area. We'll see how the time out and injury affects both Llodra and Raonic.
They both again serve well and hold their serves, so we are off to a tiebreak. Llodra serves first. After 3 breaks Raonic finds himself up 6-3. He serves out to win the tiebreak 7-3 and the set 7-6. Raonic the underdog has once again defeated a higher ranked player than himself. He is obviously ecstatic and throws his racket up in the air and applauds the crowd. We have a new tennis hero! Raonic is off to the main draw!
It will be great for Canadian tennis and local fans to have several Canadians to root for once the 1st round starts on Monday with Raonic, Frederic Niemeyer, Frank Dancevic, Peter Polansky, and Bruno Agostinelli. Orcasound will be back on Tuesday evening to watch and report on what promises to be an exciting line up.