For a month, fans of men's tennis have subsisted on a sad diet of Viktor Troicki’s needle panic, Marin Cilic’s glucose overdose, and Roger Federer’s new-racquet act. It’s been a meager few weeks, but today the men will finally move on—minus those three players—in Montreal. A new season, with more and hopefully happier story lines, commences this week.
Here’s a look at the first Masters draw of 2013's second U.S. hard-court season. The one major name that’s missing is Federer's. It’s a sign of the times, I guess, that even without him the tournament will still feature the world’s Top 4 players. All of them are making their post-Wimbledon debuts.
The last time we saw Novak Djokovic, he was getting run out of London by the local hero. The two-time defending Rogers Cup champ will likely be happy to return to his favorite surface, hard courts, and the city where he won his first Masters event, back in 2007. Will the Wimbledon defeat sow a seed of doubt in the world No. 1? Or will another loss at a major make him more determined to reassert his position at the top of the sport? Or could both happen at once? Djokovic will begin against Florian Mayer and is scheduled to face his slumping countryman Janko Tipsarevic in the round of 16.
Richard Gasquet, the No. 7 seed and runner-up to Djokovic last year in Toronto, is on the other side of this quarter. He’ll open against Martin Klizan.
Also here: No. 9 seed Kei Nishikori
In our last sighting of Rafael Nadal, he was literally limping off court, a first-round loser at Wimbledon. According to early signs in Montreal, though, five weeks away seem to have done the trick. After some speculation about his hard-court schedule, he arrived in Canada late last week, and he arrived sans knee tape. Nadal, a winner in Montreal way back in 2005, will open against either Xavier Malisse or Jesse Levine. He may not like running on asphalt, but he seems ready to give it a shot through the U.S. Open.
No. 8 Stan Wawrinka and No. 10 Tommy Haas lead the way on the opposite side. Wawrinka is making his Open Series debut, but Haas, who is playing his fourth event since Wimbledon, has had little rest. We know now that he can still bring his best tennis at 35, but how long can he keep that tennis up?
Sleeper: Jerzy Janowicz. The Polish Rifle begins against Julien Benneteau, and is scheduled to play Nadal in the round of 16. The two have never faced each other.
First-round match to watch: Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Benoit Paire—great one-hander against great two-hander. If Paire wins, he’ll play his BFF, Wawrinka.
David Ferrer, perhaps against his will, is seeded ahead of Nadal at No. 3. The tour’s resident workhorse has also taken a few weeks to rest after his own Wimbledon disappointment, a straight-set loss to Juan Martin del Potro. Ferrer will probably by happy to put that behind him and get back to the grind; he starts against either Michael Llodra or Alex Bogomolov, Jr.
Ferrer is the third seed, but in the other players' minds, this quarter must still be the place to be. No. 5 Tomas Berdych is on the other side; naturally, he might play Kevin Anderson in his first match. The two mirror-image giants have already faced off five times this season and nine times in the last two years. Is this a sick inside ATP joke? If so, it's getting old for all concerned.
Also here: John Isner. The Atlanta champ and D.C. runner-up opens with Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, and is near Berdych in the draw. Isner hasn't been at his best at Masters events in the past, but he did reach the semis in Toronto in 2012.
Andy Murray is the only one of the top seeds who makes the jump to North America with significant momentum. The last we saw of him he was rolling around Centre Court in a joyous daze. In 2011 and 2012, it took some time for him to make the transition out of his Wimbledon hangover period and into the heat of the hard-court season. Both years he went out early in Canada.
Still, you would expect Murray, who now holds both the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles, to respond differently, and more confidently, this time—he must feel like the No. 1 ranking is within his reach. But his draw won’t make it easy for him. Murray may start against Grigor Dimitrov, possibly play Fognini or Gulbis after that, and then get Juan Martin del Potro in the quarters.
Speaking of the big Argentine, after his convincing run through D.C. last week, he’s pretty much everyone’s dark horse for the U.S. Open title at the moment. What we might want to ask first is: Can he win his first career Masters title? That would certainly appear within reach in Montreal or Cincy. Delpo, runner-up in Canada in 2009, will open against Dodig or Zemlja. A quarterfinal match against Murray would have implications.
Man who could use some home cooking: Milos Raonic. The struggling Canadian will start against Jeremy Chardy.
Semifinalist: Del Potro
Semifinals: Djokovic d. Nadal; del Potro d. Berdych
Final: Djokovic d. del Potro