cn tower

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.

“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.

Rogers Cup Draw Doesn’t Disappoint

For the second year in a row, the Rogers Cup draw ceremony was held atop Canada’s highest man-made peak. The CN Tower played host on Friday to the number one player in the world as Rafael Nadal filled a decisive role in slotting players into their respective starting positions.

I must admit it was certainly the most impressive location I’ve ever been to for this type of gathering and I tried to ignore my fear of heights as I shot straight up 1700 meters in an elevator above the city of Toronto.

Rafa arrived right on time at 4pm sharp to a healthy round of applause from tournament officials, local VIP’s and members of the media. He seemed to be in quite a good mood, but then again wouldn’t you if you had just won the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back and also watched your country win the World Cup?

After a quick hello from tournament director Karl Hale and a brief generic intro from Rafa himself, the big moment of determining who will play who had arrived.

Nadal and number two seed Novak Djokovic were immediately placed on opposite sides of the draw. Then came the time where third seed Roger Federer and fourth seed Andy Murray were placed as tournament organizers anxiously crossed their fingers for the potential of a Nadal/Federer final. Djokovic might be second in the world now, but let’s be honest – we all want a Nadal vs Federer hard court final, right?

ATP official Tony Cho told Rafa he could pass the pressure of selecting a name to Karl Hale, but the Spaniard seemed to relish the opportunity to select his own eventual fate. Things worked out exactly as many had hoped with Murray ending up in the top half with Nadal and Federer ending up in the bottom half with Djokovic. Thank you tennis Gods!

Some of the more interesting first round matches include Gael Monfils the 15th seed against Fernando Gonzalez. David Ferrer the 10th seed has the misfortune of facing a suddenly resurgent David Nalbandian. Meanwhile, Gilles Simon will face 12th seeded Mikhail Youzhny which should also be a good one.

The top eight seeds in the tournament receive a first round bye, meaning they will not play their first matches until Tuesday and Wednesday.

The four Canadian wildcards in the draw received a mixed offering for the opening round. Canada’s best hope, Frank Dancevic always seems to draw tough opponents in his home tournament and this year is no different as he will face Stanislas Wawrinka. Should he get past him he will have the honor of playing against Nadal in the second round.

Pierre-Ludovic Duclos was fortunate to receive a qualifier as his first opponent. The plus side is that whoever he faces will have a lower ranking but on the negative side of things they will have two qualifying matches already under their belt.

Roger Federer’s practice partner in Canada, Peter Polansky, gets 13th seeded Jurgen Melzer for his first match, while 19 year old Milos Raonic will meet Victor Hanescu.

Looking at both halves of the draw is seems to me that the top portion is the stronger battlefield. Nadal will have to get through the likes of Wawrinka, Querrey, Roddick and Murray just to make it to the finals. Others like Robin Soderling, David Nalbandian and Marin Cilic also lurk in the top half.

In the bottom half, Federer has a nice quarter where he could face Wimbledon nemesis in the final eight. Before that however he has a relatively stress-free opening couple of matches. Novak Djokovic should be untroubled advancing to the semi-finals with a struggling Nikolay Davydenko and Jurgen Melzer has his only major threats.

After a month long layoff from any serious tennis it should be a great week of tennis here in Toronto. Stay tuned to Tennis Grandstand as we will be keeping you up to date daily from the Rogers Cup.

Photos by Mike McIntyre.

Players Hit Practice Courts At Rogers Cup

The pros are getting ready for the Rogers Cup in Toronto with several of the big names having already had their first practice sessions at the Rexall Center.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic both hit yesterday while Roger Federer appeared on Center Court today to hit with Canadian Peter Polansky.

While Nadal and Djokovic have decided to partner up for the doubles, there has been no word on whether Federer too will play in both draws this coming week. Federer last played doubles in Canada in 2008 with fellow Swiss player Stan Warinka. The two paired up again a month later to win the gold medal at the Olympics in Beijing. I wonder if the duo will unite again this year, or will Federer bring in Swiss pal and doubles specialist Yves Allegro? Maybe he will surprise us all and take his own big-time partner like an Andy Murray or Roddick?

In other news, Lletyon Hewitt has announced on his personal website that he is withdrawing from the Rogers Cup with a calf injury he sustained earlier this week in Washington. I wonder if Toronto has seen the last of the 29 year old Hewitt? He will be 31 the next time the city hosts the tournament.

Stay tuned to Tennis Grandstand for all Rogers Cup updates. We will be present at the world famous CN Tower at 4pm ET for the official draw ceremony with Rafael Nadal. You can also follow me on Twitter for timely updates as well.