Big Four becomes Big Two as Roger Federer, Nadal take over Montreal

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Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have combined to win all but one of the Masters and Grand Slams in 2017. (AP)

The tennis world has been pleased, by and large, with the Roger and Rafa renaissance of 2017. But have things gone a little too far in Montreal? It’s starting to look like Federer and Nadal may be the only two players left standing by the end of the season. The latest trend in men’s tennis is to take the second half of the year off entirely; since Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka have shut their seasons down due to injury, and while Andy Murray hasn’t gone that far, he has withdrawn from the Rogers Cup.

That leaves you know who as the top two seeds. Nadal and Federer have won every major and Masters event except one so far in 2017; can anyone stop them from winning another? Let’s take a look at the draw.

*****

First Quarter

Nadal is the No. 1 seed, and he’s closing in on the No. 1 ranking as well. Still, it’s never easy to know how he’ll do during the U.S. hard-court season. He’s won the Rogers Cup three times, two of them in Montreal, but in his other seven attempts he’s failed to reach the final. Will we see the Nadal of 2017, who has been nearly as good as ever, or will we see the Nadal of 2015 and 2016, who struggled to close out matches, and who made a surprise reappearance against Gilles Muller at Wimbledon last month? We may find out quickly: Rafa could open against Borna Coric, who has beaten him in two of their three meetings.

Also in this quarter: Milos Raonic. It’s been a down year for the Canadian, but he has been to the final in Montreal.

First-round clash of the giants: Juan Martin del Potro vs. John Isner

Returning: David Goffin, who missed Wimbledon after sliding into a tarp at the French Open

Semifinalist: Nadal

*****

Second Quarter

Alexander Zverev is the only player other than Nadal or Federer to win a Masters event this year, in Rome. The German, who won the Citi Open on Sunday, is playing as well as ever, and would seem to be primed to take advantage of the absences of Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka. But will he be a little weary, mentally if not physically? It’s tough to find a soft spot in a Masters draw. In his first two matches, Zverev could face Richard Gasquet and Nick Kyrgios. Zverev is 2-0 against Gasquet, but 0-2 against Kyrgios. Much will depend, as it often does, on Kyrgios’ health and mindset.

Also in this quarter: 2014 Rogers Cup champ Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Semifinalist: Zverev

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Third Quarter

Opportunity knocks in this section. The top-line withdraws from Montreal have left Dominic Thiem as the No. 3 seed, and pushed Grigor Dimitrov all the way up to No. 7. Neither of them have been past the quarterfinals in Canada; Thiem, in fact, has won just one match there in three trips. This would seem to be their chance to change that. Dimitrov could start against Mischa Zverev, while Thiem could open with Diego Schwartzman.

Also here: Tomas Berdych. Like Dimitrov and Thiem, Berdych has never made the semis in Canada, but did his deep run at Wimbledon portend better things for the second half of 2017?

Semifinalist: Berdych

*****

Fourth Quarter

Many Federer observers were surprised when he decided to play Montreal, and for good reason: He’s been to Canada just once since 2011. And for someone who values his rest, this means he’ll be playing the Canada-Cincinnati double before heading for New York for two weeks.

Those questions will come later. Federer will be fresh in Montreal, and we’ve seen what he can do when he’s feeling rested in 2017. He’ll open against one of two Canadians, either Vasek Pospisil or Peter Polansky; after that he’s slated to play Jack Sock and then Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals.

First-round match to watch: Gael Monfils vs. Steve Johnson

Semifinalist: Federer

*****

Semifinals: Zverev d. Nadal; Federer d. Berdych

Final: Federer d. Zverev


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