Around The Corner – Rogers Cup Gives Canada The Tennis Spotlight

For a land known more for its on-ice accomplishments than on-court, Canada boasts one of the oldest tennis tournaments in the history of the game. Third behind Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in terms of longevity, The Rogers Cup seems to get better year after year.

A quality field once again descends upon Toronto this summer led by world number one Rafael Nadal along with the always dangerous Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. All are former champions here in Canada and possess an almost-equal chance of hoisting the trophy again in 2010.

The tournament benefits from an excellent window in the ATP World Tour schedule that has been void of any major tennis competition since Wimbledon wrapped-up in early July. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer have all spent the past few weeks resting from match-play so it should be quite intriguing to see how they respond in their return to the court.

A change in surface should also provide some interesting results as the clay and grass court swings are now behind us. Once known more for his play on the dirt, Nadal has truly morphed into a master on every playing field as he mentioned on Friday at the tournament draw ceremony held atop the CN Tower.

Rogers Cup

Rogers Cup

“Sure I think I am a better player or more complete player now than in 2005 on every surface,” the Spaniard admitted. “If I play well I’m going to have the chance to have good results in every surface. If I play bad, on clay maybe I still have any chance, but on the rest of the surfaces I don’t have a chance to play at the top level. Yes I am more complete, but if I am not feeling at my best…it is going to be impossible because every match is difficult and the level between players is very close.”

That narrowing talent level between players has perhaps never been more distinguished than it is now. Joining the top four as legitimate threats this week are Andy Roddick, Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic.

Meanwhile, Canada will have a visible presence in the draw with the foursome of Frank Dancevic, Pierre-Ludovic Duclos, Peter Polansky and Milos Raonic all benefiting from wildcards.

Of the four, Dancevic has experienced the most success since turning pro as was most evident with his quarter-final run at the event in Montreal in 2007. That year he defeated Juan Martin Del Potro, Fernando Verdasco and took a set off Rafael Nadal before being defeated 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Health issues have side-tracked Dancevic’s progress, which peaked at 65th in the world in the fall of 2007. Recovering from back surgery kept him off the tour for the first six months of this year but since then he has reached the quarter-finals in Newport and made the semi-finals of the challenger event in Granby. A tough first round match against Stanislas Wawrinka looms but it is challenge Dancevic is equipped to handle.

While Canada has some limitations that may hinder the development of a strong contingent of players inside the top one hundred in the rankings, its fans will be out in full force to support the boys. The lack of suitable year-round outdoor weather, distractions from other sports such as hockey and lacrosse and the absence of a real big-gun to motivate youngsters might be part of the issue thwarting our own emergence on the world scene.

John McEnroe joked with me this past spring that Canada would have a top-ten player if tennis was played on ice. While I couldn’t help but chuckle at this slight jab at our tennis pride, I feel like the potential to realize tangible achievements is certainly on the horizon in our country.

A positive result from any of the four Canadians here in Toronto might just be the confidence boost that is needed for one of them to take that next step and it could also encourage the next Rafa Nadal to pick up a racquet within the boundaries of the true, north, strong and free.