Just got back from day one of the qualifying draw at the Rogers Cup and it was a great day to be a tennis fan. It has been almost a year now since I’ve been able to catch some live tennis action and it was a nice way to ease back into things and get reacquainted with the game up close. Of course, having a press pass for the first time doesn’t hurt either!
I arrived on site around 9:30am local time and found my way from the parking lot to the actual venue. A short ten minute hike later and I was drenched in sweat on this humid July day but ready to begin my exploring of the site and all that the media access would allow me. Putting on the press pass for the first time was like wearing a badge of honor, and it also elicited a few curious looks from fans trying to figure out who I was and why I was fortunate enough to be wearing such a large pass around my neck. Seriously, this thing is huge!
I caught parts of a few different qualifying matches today, mostly the ones with the more familiar names. There were not a lot of well known players in the qualifying draw and I was somewhat surprised given that this is a Masters Series event. I suppose that due to the compressed schedule, many players that would otherwise be here by now are still in Europe playing in one of the three current tournaments over there. I’d be very impressed if the names, Andrey Golubev, Farrukh Dustov and Alexandre Kudryavtsev ring a bell with any of you out there, because I can honestly say I’ve never heard of them before. And these are some of the round one winners from today!
I checked out one time Grand Slam winner Thomas Johansson who won the Rogers Cup back in 1999. He was taking on local Canadian hope Philip Bester. This match went the distance with Johansson’s experience proving to be too much for the young Bester. Prior to the match I noticed Johansson having an animated discussion with ATP liaison Thomas Schrader about the ranking cutoff used to make the main tournament draw. Johansson is the number one seed in the qualifying draw and I got the impression that he was not impressed to have to go through this pre-tournament process.
I felt bad for players who did not enjoy the privilege of playing on center court today. Just outside the grounds and relatively close to the Grandstand Court and other practice courts was some sort of Reggae festival that had rhythmic music blaring all morning long. A fan on the Grandstand watching Arnaud Clement march to victory against Illia Marchenko stood up between games and yelled at the umpire to, “turn off that damn music and show the players the respect they deserve.” The umpire addressed the crowd after this comment and explained that the neighboring festival was a nuisance that we would all have to put up with.
After leaving that match I moved on to the practice courts. It is always interesting to see who hits with who on the tour. I’m not sure how much thought goes into the practice combinations, but I always enjoy seeing these pairings up close. Mikhail Youzhny was playing a practice set against Paul Henri Mathieu. I was not keeping score, but it seemed to me that Mathieu was getting the best of the Russian on this day. Fortunately still lots of time to work out the kinks. These two were hitting quite hard and the contrast between some of the qualies and these higher ranked pros was obvious.
I noticed another practice court nearby to be packed with fans and it turned out to be recent Wimbledon champ Rafael Nadal was there hitting with Tommy Robredo. After a quick break Nadal took off his shirt and all of the women in the crowd were cheering and whistling right on cue! Nadal did not seem fazed by the attention, however Robredo turned to the crowd and teased them by lifting up his shirt to see what kind of reaction he might get. Everyone got a good laugh out of his light hearted gesture.
The draw ceremony took place promptly at 2pm just outside of Center Court and brought in quite a large gathering of fans and media alike. On hand to help with the draw were Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, and Canadian Frank Dancevic. It was really interesting to see how such a ceremony was conducted and to analyze potential matchups on the spot as they were being announced. They began by placing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s names on opposite ends of the large draw sheet. Then they randomly put the number three and four seeds, Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko into the draw. I had always thought that the number one and four seeds were together, and two and three ended up on the other side, but that is not the case. Although fortunately for Federer, that is exactly how it worked out and he won’t have to see either Djokovic or Nadal until a potential final encounter.
After this, the 5th through 8th seeds were randomly picked and placed into the appropriate slots that received first round bye’s. I prefer when the top seeds have to play from the get-go, but in recent years in Canada this is how they have operated. After the remaining seeds were placed, they allowed fans to come up on stage to select the rest of the players from a big silver cup one by one. Both players participating in the draw ceremony cringed slightly when they realized what they were up against. Gonzalez didn’t seem to mind drawing Julien Benneteau of France in the first round, but did not seem thrilled when he saw that he was in Federer’s section of the draw with a potential third round matchup looming. Dancevic for his part also looked sullen when the name of Mario Ancic was called for his opening match, with the winner to face Djokovic.
Still there is plenty of time left for the players to adjust their practice routine according to who they will face in a few days. For now, everybody is in the hunt and anything can happen. I will be back with more updates from Toronto in the coming days.