Victoria Mboko prepares to hit a return.

Photo : Mike McIntyre

By Mike McIntyre (@McIntyreTennis), co-host of Match Point Canada, the official podcast of Tennis Canada.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year if you’re a tennis fan in Canada! The National Bank Open presented by Rogers is once again ready to rock Sobeys Stadium and for the first time since 2019 it will do so at full capacity.

The importance of having Canada’s premiere tennis event back at full strength cannot be understated. As tournament director Karl Hale told me recently, “It’s really important for the growth of our sport. Over 80% of our revenue comes from this event for our sport in Canada. This is where fans get inspired to see the best athletes in the world, so it’s really important for Canadian tennis on all of those levels – community tennis, but also globally we do over 150 million viewers worldwide, so it’s the largest one-week tournament in the world which many people don’t realize.”

This year the best players from the WTA descend upon Toronto looking to take their hard-court games to the next level and we’re fortunate enough to have an incredibly talented group vying to hoist the trophy come Sunday August 14th. That group is led by newly entrenched World No. 1 Iga Świątek, who this year has separated herself from the pack by winning a second career Major title at Roland Garros as well as going on a 37-match win streak that lasted from February in Dubai until a third round defeat at Wimbledon earlier this summer.

Win, Lose or Draw 

Members of the media and tournament officials took to the highest point in Toronto on Friday for the highly anticipated reveal of the 2022 National Bank Open singles draw at the top of the CN Tower. In attendance was the aforementioned Iga Świątek who helped with the proceedings sitting alongside Leylah Annie Fernandez. After the top sixteen seeds were evenly dispersed in the draw it was time to see where everyone else would slot-in.

First and foremost, where did our Canadians land?

Canadian hopes will be carried by WTA No. 14 Fernandez who surprised the tennis world last summer with her incredible run to the finals of the US Open. A foot fracture has sidelined the young Canadian star since reaching the quarterfinals of the French Open in May, but Fernandez stated that she is ready to go here in Toronto having just received the green light from her doctor this past week.

Belinda Bencic. Photo : Mike McIntyre

Fernandez has drawn a yet to be named qualifier in a best-case-scenario for her as she returns from injury. A potential third round match against Świątek was revealed while the two players sat just a few feet from one another at the ceremony, prompting Fernandez to playfully say “Hi!” as she looked over her shoulder at Świątek and smiled.

As for our 2019 champion, Bianca Andreescu has drawn World No. 12 Daria Kasatkina in the opening round. Andreescu will be hoping to rely on good vibes from her last appearance in Toronto where she toppled Kasatkina in the second round 5-7, 6-2, 7-5.

The inspiring Rebecca Marino, who at the age of thirty one is playing like she has entered a time-warp, had a great run in Washington DC this past week at the Citi Open where she knocked-off Venus Williams in the opening round before falling in the quarterfinals. Marino has drawn Qinwen Zheng in her opener in Toronto. Carol Zhao and Katherine Sebov are the final two Canadian wildcard entries into the main draw and will be looking to take advantage of this great opportunity while playing in front of supportive fans. They will face rising talent Amanda Anisimova and Yulia Putintseva respectively in their openers.

The Williams sisters should prove to be challenging opponents despite a lack of play over the past twelve months. Both sisters will kick off their campaigns on the first day of the event, with Serena playing a qualifier in the daytime session on Monday and big sis Venus later that evening against Jil Teichmann. Don’t miss out on your chance to catch them for probably the final time here in Toronto!

Marina Stakusic. Photo : Mike McIntyre

Other enticing first round encounters include 2015 champion Belinda Bencic against two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka (the winner could face Serena!). Fellow Americans (and also Major title holders) Sloane Stephens and Sofia Kenin will go head-to-head in their first match. Meanwhile, 2021 Omnium Banque National winner in Montreal Camila Giorgi will have to begin her title defence against US Open winner Emma Raducanu – who happens to be born in Toronto though she represents Great Britain in international competition.

The bottom line is that we have one of the hottest draws the WTA has seen in a long time and perhaps this is the reward for having to wait three years to see the best female tennis players in the world return to us here in Toronto!

Around the Grounds

On Friday at Sobeys Stadium, many National Bank Open presented by Rogers participants were in full swing on the practice courts preparing for the start of the qualifying tournament and main draw action. Serena and Venus Williams, who touched down earlier in the day in Toronto, were greeted by Karl Hale and by late afternoon were already out hitting with each other to prepare for their anticipated return to Canadian soil.

Bianca Jolie Fernandez. Photo : Mike McIntyre

2015 champion Belinda Bencic was having an intense practice set with World No. 2 Anett Kontaveit on the Grandstand while young Canadian hopeful Victoria Mboko, who won a 25K pro tournament in Saskatoon recently, was preparing for her qualifying debut on Saturday.

Meanwhile Bianca Jolie Fernandez, Leylah Annie’s younger sister, fell in the finals of a tough pre-qualifying tournament for young Canadian talents 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Marina Stakusic, who has now advanced to the actual qualifying draw this weekend. While she doesn’t quite hit as hard as her big sis, Bianca Jolie has the same dogged determination on the court and seems poised for future success with her commitment to following in Leylah Annie’s footsteps.

From the Archives

Eugenie Bouchard (left). Photo : Mike McIntyre

I’m pleased to be writing daily for Tennis Canada throughout the tournament and in place of my unofficial mentor in tennis writing, the legendary Tom Tebbutt. Tom always ended his tournament articles with a throwback picture to previous National Bank Open’s and as a tribute to him I’ll be continuing that practice. Here’s a shot of mine from 2015 in Toronto of the Next Gen version of the Genie Army who were on-hand that year to support Genie Bouchard at the draw ceremony. Genie is nearing closer to a return to action and we look forward to seeing her healthy and back on court real soon!