Monday’s first session of the 2021 National Bank Open presented by Rogers began with crowds flowing into the Sobeys Stadium in Toronto (above) and Stade IGA in Montreal.
Hopes were high for Canadian successes but ultimately the day ended with Rebecca Marino being the only one of her three other compatriots – Leylah Fernandez, Vasek Pospisil and Brayden Schnur – to get through the first round.
Marino, a modest No. 220 in the somewhat wacky world of pandemic rankings, defeated No. 26 Madison Keys 6-3, 6-3 in Montreal in a night match that followed a 7-5, 7-6(4) Fernandez loss on the Court Central to qualifier Harriet Dart of Great Britain.
In Toronto, Pospisil won the first set on a humid evening in a match that started in 29-degree Celsius heat. He got out of that set but began to struggle with leg cramps in the second and never again found his top tennis in a 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-3 loss to No. 56-ranked Tommy Paul of the U.S., a qualifier.
Schnur, another qualifier, was beaten 6-3, 6-2 by No. 49-ranked Lloyd Harris of South Africa.
Marino, always one of the best servers in women’s tennis, used her big weapon to seize control from the get-go against the 16th-seeded Keys. Combining it with a pile-driving forehand, the 6-foot tall Vancouverite was able to dominate the 26-year-old American from the backcourt and at the net.
Marino won 73 per cent of her first-serve points but more importantly was significantly better on second serve – 55 per cent points won to just 37 per cent for Keys. And the winners/unforced errors ratio was significantly better on her side of the net – 10/17 to 8/29 for Keys.
“It’s electric playing in front of a stadium full of people right now,” Marino said post-match. “To have the home crowd supporting me really pushed me to step on the court and bring my A-game. She’s (Keys) a tough opponent and I was able to squeak it out somehow – big serves and all that. It’s was great.”
This is the 31-year-old’s sixth Canadian Open event, but only her second time in the main draw, and the first time she has won a round. “Playing the Omnium Banque Nationale is such a pleasure to make the second round,” said Marino, who took a mental health break from the sport from 2013 to 2018. “But I feel that my business is not done. I’m all business right here.”
In the second round she faces No. 31-ranked Paula Badosa of Spain, one of the form players of 2021 with a 29/11 match record.
Asked to situate the win over Keys in the arc of her career, one that seems to have greater inspiration since the passing of her father Joe in April 2020, Marino said, “the last one (2010) was the one against (Marion) Bartoli back in chapter one of my career. And to have this in chapter two it feels that all my hard work is paying off. And to do it in Canada is so special. It’s such a wonderful experience.”
Early on in their matches there were warning signs for both Fernandez and Pospisil, the former, possibly because of all the hype about a possible second-round match-up against compatriot Bianca Andreescu weighing on her. She started nervously and quickly fell behind 3-1. As for Pospisil, he snuck out the opening-set tiebreak but then went off the court for more than five minutes, already looking a little weary.
Fernandez actually battled back to lead 5-4 in the first set but Dart re-asserted herself to take three games in a row and finish it off in 50 minutes.
Full credit to the 25-year-old Briton, she was super-aggressive, turning the tables on Fernandez who is usually the one taking it to her opponents.
After a medical time-out to have her left calf heavily taped leading 4-3 in the second set while looking anxious and concerned, Dart lost the first three points back. Fernandez was surging and soon took a 5-4 lead. But the gritty Brit hung in and taking advantage of a lapse by Fernandez at 1-1 – two unforced errors and a double fault – got the 4-1 separation in the tiebreak that she needed to ultimately take it and close out the match.
There now have to be doubts about how fit the world No. 172 will be against Andreescu Tuesday evening.
“I had many opportunities that I didn’t take advantage of,” Fernandez said about playing Dart. “I came on court, I was excited and ready to play. Unfortunately I did not execute my game. Tonight I’ll reflect on my match, talk with my coaches and tomorrow it will be a new day.”
As for Pospisil after the first set, he quickly fell behind in the second, showing discomfort moving and taking a shot of liquids (including Pepsi) trailing 1-4 in an effort to revive.
His troubles carried over into the third set and at 1-all, umpire Ignacio Forcadell got on his walkie-talkie to tournament personnel requesting that Pospisil needed “something for cramping.” Pospisil hung in – going for broke on many shots to compensate for his movement limitations. But Paul finally got the lone service break he needed leading 4-3 and, surviving some nervy moments, won on his fourth match point in the ninth game with a forehand down-the-line winner.
Later, Pospisil conceded that the cramping is an issue that has affected him several times over the years and that it’s an ongoing quest for him to figure out how he can get his body to handle sweltering conditions like the ones on Monday evening.
The fourth Canadian in action was Schnur. He had a bad day at the office on his serve – and his running commentary about his frustration could be easily picked up by the microphones in the crowd-less Grandstand Court. Harris, fresh off an upset of Rafael Nadal last week in Washington, needed an hour and 17 minutes to advance to a second-round rematch Wednesday against Nadal.
Schnur won only 42 per cent of his first-serve points in the opening set and wasn’t much better in the second. And his 1/4 break-point conversion ratio couldn’t compare with Harris’ 4/4.
R.I.P. – Ontario Premier Bill Davis (1971–1984) died at 92 on Sunday. Davis attended the Monday night final of the 1976 Canadian Open between Guillermo Vilas and Wojtek Fibak at York University. He got caught up in the spirit of the occasion, possibly with the help of some liquid refreshment. Whatever the case, his convivial presence at the trophy ceremony added the perfect touch to what was a memorable summer evening of tennis.
Saturday Quiz: As of today – August 7, 2021 – all four of the following players Félix Auger-Aliassime, Jannik Sinner, Sebastian Korda and Jenson Brooksby – are 20 years old.
c) half true
d) three quarters true
The Answer: Auger Aliassime turned 21 on Sunday, so he was 20 on August 7, as was Brooksby. But Jannik Sinner doesn’t turn 20 until next Monday, August 16, and Korda had already turned 21 on July 5th. So ‘c’ – half true is the correct answer.
Monday Quiz: Which of this generation of players has accumulated the most official career prize money (career-high ranking in brackets)?
a) Grigor Dimitrov (3)
b) David Goffin (7)
c) Kei Nishikori (4)
d) Milos Raonic (3)
Answer in Wednesday’s blog.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
There are some recognizable faces here as the players shake hands at the end of the ball hockey game in Toronto in 2016.