Good Morning Canada: Tuesday
Each day this week, Peter Bodo will review action from the Rogers Cup tournaments in Canada and preview upcoming matches. These "Good Morning Canada" posts will be published around 10 am EST, and we encourage you to discuss the day's play—along with Pete's thoughts—in the comment section below.
Yesterday: It would ordinarily be disrespectful to focus on the fate of the American players on the first day of the de facto Canadian Open, the Rogers Cup—especially with 10 Canucks in the two draws. But as there was just one Canadian women on Monday's schedule (Carol Zhao), and only two men, diplomacy isn’t obligatory. And in all fairness, the American women have been creating quite a narrative on the circuit this year, particularly at the majors. So they deserve a little attention at this premier event.
The quartet of American women in action in Toronto yesterday represented the largest block by any nation, and the results were dead even, 2-2. The losers were Alison Riske and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who fell in straight sets to (respectively) Kiki Bertens and Yanina Wickmayer. Riske is a 23-year-old from Pittsburgh, ranked just inside the comfort zone of direct acceptance into Grand Slams at No. 93. Mattek-Sands, battling back from injury, is up over a hundred ranking places from her ranking at the beginning of the year, at No. 54.
In recent events, the superbly combative Mattek-Sands had specialized in toughing out three-set wars of attrition: Since Charleston, she was 6-1 in three-setters until Monday. Before Charleston, she was 2-4 in matches that went the distance. Her early struggles could be partly attributed to developing match toughness after time off for injury, but she’s also an optimistic, hard-working pro who just burns to improve. So she does. It’s not rocket science.
On the others side, No. 14 seed Sloane Stephens was a winner. She kept the lid on a simmering match and stopped Kristina Mladenovic before she could do serious damage, 6-2, 7-6 (5). You could almost hear a collective gasp of “phew!” rise skyward from the USTA Player Development staff when Stephens won the tiebreaker.
No. 37 Varvara Lepchenko also earned a much-needed win, having previously lost in the first round in three of her last four events, including Wimbledon. She probably wiped away a lot of karma as she crushed Ayumi Morita of Japan, 6-3, 6-1.
In Montreal, the men’s division of the selfsame Rogers Cup is the Coupe Rogers, enriched by two extra letters that make it sound like the name of a custom sports car rather than a tennis tournament. The most notable results yesterday were wins by Dennis Istomin and Florian Mayer.
Istomin, No. 66, often seems like the “forgotten” Russian, but that’s because while he was born in Russia and currently lives in Russia, he plays for Uzbekistan. Istomin knocked off Janko Tipsarevic, who’s been struggling to stay in the Top 20 despite having been ranked as high as No. 8 barely a year ago (he’s presently No. 19). This loss will be even more damaging, for he was a semifinalist in Canada last year.
Tipsarevic did a good job building on his great leap out of the pack in the fall of 2011, but you can almost hear his fingernails screeching on a weekly basis as he slides down the face of the rankings cliff. It’s a pity, because a confident and focused Tipsarevic is a bold, entertaining ball striker.
Perhaps the bigger loss, though, was the one absorbed by No. 41 Bernard Tomic, the mercurial and controversial 20-year-old from Australia. But hats off to his conqueror, No. 50 Florian Mayer. The German has been playing well—so well that he had Roger Federer on the ropes in Hamburg quarterfinals a few weeks ago, only to release his grip and allow the Swiss to wriggle free with a 7-5 in-the-third win. As second prizes go, Tomic isn’t all that bad.
Today: The moment you’ve all been waiting for is upon us. In Montreal, Rafael Nadal opens his campaign to add a fourth Masters 1000 doubles title to his collection. He’s playing with Pablo Andujar in a re-enactment of the Spanish Civil War, facing David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez across the net.
Does anyone else find it strange that Nadal is first on—in doubles—and thus forced to win five matches on consecutive days on hard courts if he hopes to win the 25th Masters singles title (in addition to that elusive fourth in doubles)? And hasn’t anyone in the loop on this heard of rain?
Conspiracy theorists may see the heavy hand of Uncle Toni Nadal at work here, lobbying tournament officials to give Nadal a doubles match in which to test his knees before he begins his singles campaign. And the promoters, not being insane, may have acceded to that request. But that misses the really intriguing question, which is, why is Nadal playing doubles in the first place? Perhaps he feels his knees need the workout.
The bottom line is that we’ll have to wait yet another day to see Rafa in action in singles. The same holds true for Andy Murray. The only member of the elite quartet that dominates the game in action today will be top-seeded Novak Djokovic (Roger Federer is sitting out this tournament). You know the old saying: From he to whom much is given, much is expected. But still—who would have figured, four or five years ago, that Djokovic would emerge as the tour’s go-to guy, and a pro who delivers as reliably as UPS?
Back to the Rogers Cup for a moment: In Toronto, we’ll see three Canadian women in action; unfortunately, two of them must play each other: No. 104 Sharon Fichman takes on No. 155 Stephanie Dubois. That may sound like a raw deal for the girls, but think of it this way: Each of them could go to sleep last night thinking, “Hey, life’s not too bad. I got a Canadian in the first round!” while her countrymen might have mused, “Hey, we’re guaranteed a Canadian in the second round!”
That may sound cruel, but for a long time it was a very understandable reaction. It may not be that way for long. Although the boom of two years ago seems to have lost a lot of steam, 19-year-old Eugenie Bouchard is a talent, and Canada has a few other gifted youngsters in the pipeline. Bouchard is already No. 62, and in 2012 became the first Canadian of either gender to win a Grand Slam singles title—Wimbledon juniors. She plays Alisa Kleybanova, who’s still trying to come back from a bout of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma; this is just her fifth tournament (and second tour-level event) since May 2011.
In addition to those three women, Canada is sending out an impressive male contingent today in Montreal. Vasek Pospisil is second on Center Court, followed by Milos Raonic. Frank Dancevic and Filip Peliwo are also on the schedule. Jesse Levine, a recent convert to Canadianism, won yesterday, while Peter Polansky lost in three sets to No. 9 Kei Nishikori.
That’s an impressive number of male players, even if—alas!—all the men but for Raonic and Polansky are wild card entries. And when you count the women, all but one of whom are wild cards, seven of the 10 Canadian players in the dual-city Rogers Cup are wild cards.
I think we have a World TeamTennis franchise in the making here: Les Caractère de Remplacement de Montreal. Okay, so it doesn’t have quite the same ring as The Toronto Wild Cards. Take your pick, though; such are the perils and glories of living in a bilingual nation.