The men's exhibition in Toronto seems like a mistake to me. It may raise money and give the fans there a little more entertainment, but as you say, it makes it look as if the women's event needs a few good men—or even just a few average men like Blake and Tomic—to succeed. That can only undermine the rationale for equal pay, don't you think?
That said, the Montreal event has been the more compelling tournament so far, for good and bad reasons. I have to ask you off the bat: Did you think Milos Raonic should have conceded the point to del Potro last night? As I wrote yesterday, I thought he should have, but at the same time I think in general, in that situation, you can't always expect a player to know whether his shot was still in play or not when he touched the net. That's a judgment for the chair umpire. Does the incident make you think differently about your fellow Canadian?
There was also a lesser controversy later, when Novak Djokovic immediately donned a wig and broke into a choreographed dance after his win over Dennis Istomin. I like Novak's entertainer side, but I have to say the act felt tired to me last night, and he should waited until Istomin was off the court to go into it. I think Djokovic realized that as well; he made sure to give Istomin a big hand as he left, and he waited until Richard Gasquet had hurried away tonight before he danced again.
What's the news in Toronto? It seems like injury issues have caught up with the WTA again. Sharapova and Azarenka are out, and it's unfortunate that both Marion Bartoli and Laura Robson have had to withdraw in Canada after their good runs at Wimbledon. I liked the way Petra Kvitova was looking this week; naturally, she imploded today. Now it's Sorana Cirstea, who is in the semifinals, who's the surprise story. She's always had the game, for extremely short periods of time. But I'm thinking we'll see Serena holding the trophy on Sunday.
First things first...wow, an all-Canadian semifinal in Montreal. I did mention Milos Raonic when talking about a big opportunity for someone in the lower half of the draw, but I wasn't quite expecting Vasek Pospisil to be the other one to come through.
Though he hadn't exactly been expecting it either—after today's match, Pospisil said if someone had told him before the tournament that he would be in the semifinals, he would "definitely think they lost their minds a little."
But he's there and now it's the Montreal crowds, which always get excited about home players, that can lose their minds over this semifinal match. Psychologically, it's a fascinating one—Raonic, the anointed one, unexpectedly challenged on home turf by a less heralded compatriot. And with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal facing off in the other semi, you can't ask for much more.
Did the net-touching incident change my perception of Raonic? Overall, I think it was a wash. If he had denied touching the net, that would have been a weak move. You're expected to call net or ball touches on yourself.
But he didn't deny it, at least, and as you said, the issue wasn't if he touched the net—it was if the ball was in play when it happened. That's largely for the umpire to call, so it's more akin to a line call in that respect. When you see a bad call, do you give the point to your opponent or do you "play the call"?
Opinion is split on that front— it's been argued that one is unfair to the opponent, and the other is disrespectful to the umpire. To the degree that Raonic basically declared that he "plays the call," he's entitled to take that stand, even if it's not the most "sporting" option. As long as he's consistent about it, of course, and doesn't expect opponents to give him calls...
Del Potro clearly didn't agree, but that's understandable, too—he, like Djokovic, seems to belong to the give-and-get school of thought.
As for Djokovic dancing after his match—you know I don't think much of post-match dancing in general. But while these routines do get a bit tired for those watching every week on TV, it's worth remembering tournaments are also a like a traveling show which takes places in front of a new crowd every week. You've got to repeat the show at each performance. And especially with evening crowds, there's pressure to give them something memorable when the match is less than outstanding.
That's where the thinking behind the exhibitions in Toronto comes in, I guess. Attendance has been a struggle—the stadium has no top deck this year. Asking $25 bucks for parking that is miles from the stadium probably doesn't help, the numbers do show that fewer people turn up in the women's years, particularly recently. The exos were started two years ago when a seniors event was held during the later rounds, and this year expended to current ATP players as well. Bringing in the early losers from the men's event probably wasn't the best PR move, and it feels like the WTA's lack of position on it undermines it further.
But I think part of the reason for using ATP players is that Tennis Canada is trying to introduce the concept of a split (I call it 'siamese') event, where half the men's and women's draws play in Toronto and half in Montreal, with one player going across to the other city for the final. That effectively gives both cities (half a) mixed event each.
It's got some challenges, but I like the idea and think it's worth trying. One of the things that really showed me the value of mixed events was Rome. When it had men's and women's events in consecutive weeks, reports were that almost no one showed up for the women's event, even with the Italian women doing so well. But when I went last year to what is now a combined event, I saw a lot of people watching women's matches—and the stands were packed for Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone even with some pretty interesting men's matches going on.
It would be interesting to see if overall attendance improved with two joint events—in other words, if the sum of two parts is greater than each whole.
Meanwhile, things have been shaping up quite nicely here, even though Kvitova flamed out this afternoon and blamed lack of sleep (perhaps only semi-seriously). Her conqueror Cristea, as you say, has been the big surprise of the week, taking out Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic and now Kvitova—though not without a little help from her opponents. Long known as talented but erratic, she says she's finally learned to be consistent—let's see.
But you're right, it's Serena holding down the fort, as usual—she's one of three in Slams, but has been rock-solid at the smaller tournaments this season. That's certainly something you wouldn't have expected to be able to say 10 years ago.