Rally: North of the Border Edition
Today and tomorrow I'm Rallying with Kamakshi Tandon, editor of Tennis Journal, who is reporting from the Rogers Cup women's event in Toronto this week.
You're in Toronto for the week, which makes me wonder: Do you enjoy a home-town event? I have to say that I prefer all of the other majors over the U.S. Open, mainly because it's played in my hometown. It feels a little—OK, a lot—more like work taking the 7 train to Queens every day than it does walking around Paris.
How are the crowds there so far? It's easy to tell the difference between Montreal and Toronto on TV from the fan noise. Montreal always has more energy, it seems; maybe it's the French influence, or the more intimate stadium, or both. The men make $1.1 million more at this combined-for-TV event, which makes sense. Unlike at the majors, the prize money here comes from the tours, and the ATP is the richer organization. Of course, in this case, men and women both play two-out-of-three...anyway, I don't want to go too far down the equal-pay road today. The story of the moment is a happier one: Canada's own Vasek Pospisil, currently ranked No. 71, has upset John Isner and Tomas Berdych this week to reach the quarters of a Masters event. That's a shocker.
So I'll stay with the game itself for now, and ask: What are you looking forward to most in the next month? I feel like Wimble-geddon has helped level the fields on both side. I don't think there's a favorite right now between Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal in any of the upcoming events, which will make it interesting to see who can develop some momentum. I'm most interested in Murray right now. I wonder how getting closer to the top will affect him. I've never thought of him as a No. 1 kind of guy, but we may have to start thinking about it fairly soon.
As for the women, Wimbledon may have done a little too much leveling. Sharapova and Azarenka still don't seem to have recovered. It's too bad we didn't get to see the debut of Jimbova in Toronto. (Or should it be Jimpova?) But this week I'm curious to see, among other things, Bartoli's reaction to success; Serena's reaction to defeat; Radwanska vs. Sloane; and the rise to dominance of Dominika Cibulkova.
How about you?
It's probably easier to compare when it's the majors. But I do, I really like my hometown event, and if I had to describe why in one word it would be 'comfortable.' I can drive back and forth without having to arrange transport, there's no packing involved, the working conditions are great if you're a regular tennis journalist, and having been there for so long and been a volunteer when I was younger, I kind of know how the whole place works. I know the hidden entrances, the secret stashes, where to watch on various courts.
Part of it is probably just having such a long association with the event, which means there's a lot of nostalgia and memories when returning each year. . I remember the old site, and the move to the new one, and when you were here a couple of years ago I probably regaled you with tales of what an adventure the tournament can be, especially in the women's years—floods, plagues, blackouts, pullouts... sometimes all in the same year.
I just remembered the other day that it's been ten years since the Great Blackout on the east coast, which happened during the tournament and produced one of my most surreal tennis-watching experiences. A lot of people were stuck on site, so they decided to play the match between Nadia Petrova and Justine Henin-Hardenne (as she called then). Everything was so quiet, the grounds almost deserted except for the small crowd watching on court. My brother and I talked our way into a couple of seats in the lower section ('What, are the ticket holders going to show up?' we asked the ushers), and sat and watched in the gathering twilight. The umpire had to use a megaphone to call the score, I think, and there was some hastily arranged scoreboard to replace the normal electronic one. That was a particularly memorable year overall, with Kim Clijsters losing to Lina Krasnoroutskaya and a lot of top players pulling out.
But enough nostalgia. Looking at this year, yes, it's an interesting week as things really get underway on the hard courts. Djokovic, Murray and Nadal have kind of split the first three parts of the year between them, so the next few weeks will now be the tiebreaker to see who's really on top. Another thing to watch is whether Federer will manage to hold on as the "fourth man," or whether someone else will move up and be a threat for the U.S. Open. Murray is already out (he often starts the hardcourts slowly, maybe explained by his comment before the tournament that it's quite painful getting used to the beating the body takes), so maybe a contender can emerge from that half of the draw. It's certainly full of would-be hopefuls—an in-form if tired del Potro, home favorite Milos Raonic, Murray's conqueror Ernests Gulbis. David Ferrer is gone. Berdych is also out, beaten by Pospisil—another Canadian, and giving Raonic a run for crowd support this week. It looks like a big opening for someone.
On the women's side, as you said, Wimbledon seems to have taken its toll with Sharapova and Azarenka out this week with injuries. That makes it all the more interesting to see how Serena does this week—if her stranglehold starts to loosen, and if Sharapova and Azarenka are vulnerable when they come back, the heirarchy that was starting to emerge in the women's game could break apart again. Bartoli (who is still beaming from her Wimbledon win) said this week that she still expects them to stay on top because they're "week in and week out... the toughest competitors," which is a good observation. But they also need to be healthy. Today's lineup is a great one, which makes it all the more ironic that the day will end with a men's exhibition match.
What, you ask? Well, it's funny that you brought up equal prize money earlier, because one big topic here the last couple of days has been the tournament bringing some of the early losers from Montreal—James Blake, Feliciano Lopez and Bernard Tomic, as it turns out—to play exhibition matches in Toronto. The optics, obviously, are that the men need to be brought in to supplement the women.
What do you think of this move? Imagine what an awkward position this put Stacy Allaster in, as the former Toronto tournament director and now head of the WTA Tour.