Canadian Eugenie Bouchard looked like she didn't want to be playing when her third round match began against Romanian Simona Halep. She had a sour look on her face, one that her coach, Nick Saviano, sought to wipe away.
"If you want to be great, you have to fight for every point," he told her after Halep did a beat down on the Australian Open semi-finalist, 6-2, in the first set. He told her to get her head out of her ass and into the court by moving her feet, showing more intensity and exploding up to the ball in her serve.
Well, Saviano said everything except the "head out of the ass" part. That's what I was shouting at the TV set as I watched.
The pep talk worked. Bouchard tightened up her game. She made just 7 unforced errors compared to 12 for Halep, and took control of the second set, 6-1.
But all the pep talks in the world -- and Saviano gave several -- couldn't get Bouchard a round closer to claiming her first tour title. Halep, who's collected seven in the last nine months, oozed confidence and calm. She rallied from a break down in the third to win the last three games and the match, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4.
"I was a little nervous in the second set, and she's a very fast girl," she told Tennis Channel. "I fought for every point."
Sounds like she overheard Saviano's tips for Eugenie.
"I play well now with difficult tennis," Halep said of her recent success. She hit the top 20 last August, and the top 10 in January.
I found some Tennis Hate advice from Halep. She told TennisWorldUSA.org you have to "take pleasure from the game."
I’ve had those experiences when I can’t move my body or hit the ball, and that’s because I’m too stressed. Just try to enjoy it, and don’t think about the results. If you’re more relaxed on court, you can play your best tennis. So try to have fun, and just focus on playing the next point. That way, you’ll be able to take pleasure from your tennis.
I wouldn't have thought to use pleasure and tennis in the same sentence.
Neither would Rafael Nadal, perhaps, after the world number one and defending champion fell 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) to Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine. Dolgo beat Nadal even though he had more errors (49) than winners (36) and got just 40 percent of his first serves in. Nadal's first service percentage was 63. Go figure.
"Today was an accident," Nadal said.
Earlier this year, he beat Dolgopolov in straight sets to win the title in Rio. He picked up his 62nd ATP tour title in Doha. This, and his loss to Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open final, were his only defeats this season.
He smiled away questions about his back, which seized up in Melbourne.
“Forget about the back. I don't want to talk about the back anymore because my back is fine. The bad feelings were with my forehand and backhand," he said.
Dolgopolov, meanwhile, had Nadal at 5-2 in the third and was serving for the match when a 500-pound gorilla climbed onto his back. Tennis Hate strangled his whiplike service motion. He couldn't get a first serve in. He lost the game at love. Nadal stormed through three games in a row to tie it at 5-5. Both held serve to bring it to a tiebreak. Nadal got the early lead at 5-2, but hit balls long, including a gimme volley at net, and Dolgopolov had match point on his racquet.
He thought he won it with an ace, but an electronic review showed it a smidge wide. I wondered about that invisible gorilla. Was it tugging on Alex' ponytail? Wrapping a fat old paw around his serving shoulder? Fogging up Dolgo's focus with his banana breath?
Dolgopolov elbowed the beast away and won with a flourish, snapping one of his signature flat backhands crosscourt for a winner that zoomed just out of the reach of the ever-efforting Nadal. Dolgo shook his head in disbelief. It was his first-ever win against Rafa.
"I think I found some smallpoints, in the middle of the point," he told Tennis Channel. In previous matches, he said, Nadal pushed him off the court. "I just tried to turn off my head and go for the shots...find a good shot to risk and go for it."
He gets Italian Fabio Fognini in the fourth round. Simona Halep faces qualifier Casey Dellaqua of Australia, who won in a walkover of Lauren Davis. The American got food poisoning and withdrew.