Photo: Tennis Canada
There are two Canadians in the WTA Top 100: Bianca Andreescu and rising star Leylah Annie Fernandez, the current World No.70, who was awarded a main draw wild card for the National Bank Open presented by Rogers in Montréal.
In a videoconference on Sunday, Fernandez said how happy she is to be back in Montréal, on the courts where it all began. Still, she’s keeping a cool head.
“My first-round match will be hard. Even if I don’t know who I’ll be playing yet, she’ll have already played two matches on these courts, and she’ll be ready. I’ll have to play my game and expect her to play her best tennis.”
Leylah will be making her very first appearance in the main draw. In 2018, her run came to a halt in the second round of the qualifying event. This time, she has every intention of seizing the opportunity: “It’ll be exciting to have the support of Quebecers and Montrealers, since I grew up here. I hope things will go well and I’ll be able to put on a good show for them. And I hope to play until Sunday!”
In March 2021, the 18-year-old won her first WTA title in Monterrey, Mexico. She followed up the feat with a 5-9 record. So far this season, she is 15-13, including the Olympics and Billie Jean King Cup. When asked how she feels things have been going in 2021, Fernandez—who sets the bar very, very high—unsurprisingly expressed her dissatisfaction.
“I’m never satisfied with my progress. Of course, there are things I could do better, but I put the negatives aside and take things one match at a time.”
Leylah confirmed her participation in the doubles draw, but not with Simona Halep, who was her partner in Toronto in 2019. This year, she’ll be teaming up with fellow Canadian Rebecca Marino.
Rafa puts his best foot forward
It goes without saying that Rafael Nadal is a contender in Canada—a title he’s won five times. After a quicker exit than anticipated in Washington last week, he hopes to be 100% healthy and have the foot injury that’s plagued him since 2005 under control in Toronto.
“It’s been a couple of tough months for me. Some days, my foot bothers me. I’m not at my peak yet, but I’ve been practicing better than I played in Washington. Of course, I’m coming here to try to win but, at the same time, I’m trying to keep the positive feelings.”
Today, his great rival and great friend Roger Federer celebrates his 40th birthday. Sure enough, he was asked the inevitable question: does he see himself still playing at 40? He answered with a smile: “I don’t know. When I was 25, I didn’t see myself playing after 30. Then, at 30, I didn’t believe I’d reach 35. And here I am. I always say the same thing: it depends on my body and the injuries.”
How do the rankings rank?
In the list of seeded players in the men’s event, Rafa is sandwiched between two young guns: World No.2 Daniil Medvedev of Russia and World No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. In their videoconferences, they were each asked about the rankings. Does Medvedev have his eye on No.1? Is Tsitsipas aiming for the Top 3? Both had some interesting things to say.
“Ranking, for me, is a goal, but it’s not the first thing on my mind,” said Medvedev. “I know the rankings come with results. If you lose in the fourth round in Wimbledon or if you win Wimbledon, you get the points or not. Same for the Masters. I just want to play well and win tournaments. And if I do something amazing, then I may become No.1.”
As for 22-year-old Tsitsipas, his goal is to keep getting better: “I wake every single day with a goal to get better in the sport I chose. I’m very happy to get to play this sport, and I’m very happy I get to inspire people doing what I do. Being there in the rankings is the indication that I’ve done well so far. My purpose is self-improvement and to try to become a better person through tennis.”
Monfils in Montréal
The weeks since her wedding to fellow tennis star Gaël Monfils have been intense for Elina Svitolina Monfils. After their happy event, she travelled to her Olympic event, at which she netted the bronze medal.
She then mustered up enough energy for her bronze medal doubles battle, which she also won. Her solid 8-7 record since early April puts her in a great headspace ahead of the National Bank Open.
“Coming back in the second set and the third set to win that match is very special for me, and I know how much it means for Ukraine” she said. “I fought with my whole heart to bring the medal to my country. I take a lot of confidence out of that performance.”
Though Sabalenka, Andreescu, Svitolina, Pliskova and Muguruza are the seeds, we should definitely be keeping an eye on Simona Halep of Romania, whose love affair with Montréal is sustained by two Canadian titles.
The World No.10, who’s been nursing a calf injury for the past few months, hasn’t played since her first match in Rome in mid-May. This week, she is seeded sixth.
In 2018, Halep doubled down on the crowns in Montréal, winning in singles and doubles. Her triumph over Sloane Stephens (7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4) was so spectacular that it was named Top Match of 2018 by the WTA.
Her secret weapon may have been the energy she drew from her Romanian fans, who made her feel like she was playing in her native Constanta as hai, Simona! (go, Simona!) boomed in the stadium.
“For obvious reasons, I love playing in Canada and especially in Montréal,” she said. “I like the surface here. People are nice to me, and I always feel at home. I love the atmosphere and that helps me play my best tennis.”
Vasek Pospisil is a certified veteran at the National Bank Open—a tournament he’s competed in since 2008, when he was just 18 years old. In 13 events, he’s gotten past the second round only once: in 2013 in Montréal, he fought his way into the semis and went head-to-head against Milos Raonic.
It was an unforgettable run, but Vasek doesn’t live in the past. Year after year, he returns to the courts with the drive to do well in front of his Canadian fans.
This season, he’s won only 5 of his 14 matches. In Toronto, he hopes to get things back on track: “I haven’t had the most stable year with my team and training and a lot of things and distractions off the court, professionally and personally. I’m really treating this week as getting back to the basics of training hard and getting my team together again. COVID-19 has been tough for everyone, obviously. Last week, I feel I played good tennis, for sure. I just need a little bit of momentum and a couple of matches under my belt. Hopefully, that can be here.”
In his opening round, Pospisil faces a qualifier.
Schnur shines in the qualies
Ontarians Brayden Schnur and Peter Polansky were the two Canadians left in the qualifying event in Toronto, but only Schnur survived. And thrived.
The No.250 overcame No.113 Daniel Elahi Galan of Colombia in two tight sets (7-6 (7), 6-4). The turning point came in the first-set tiebreaker. Down 2-6, Schnur fought off five set points to finally gain and convert one for himself. He is the only Canadian—man or woman—to break into the main draw.
As for No.246 Peter Polansky, he got off to a great start in his match against No.80 James Duckworth, but the Brit managed to claw his way back and win in three (4-6, 6-1, 6-2).
One is 21. The other is 40.
The other also happens to be a lot more famous.
On August 8, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Roger Federer celebrate their birthdays.
Two months ago, on June 16, Félix managed to do what virtually every pro player dreams of:
- Face Federer.
- Face Federer on grass (deadly!).
- Hope to win.
In Halle, where Roger has hoisted the winner’s trophy ten—yes, TEN—times, the young Canadian stunned the Maestro.
On Sunday, Félix spent time some time on the court and the rest of the day with his friends and family. He’s scheduled to appear at the tournament by videoconference on Monday.
In the meantime, the No.10, No.12, No.14 and No.25 all sent him their best wishes.