None of our lives are the same as two years ago when the Rogers Cup events – now the newly-minted National Bank Open presented by Rogers – were played in Montreal and Toronto.
Denis Shapovalov was 20 years old at the time, unseeded and ranked No. 32, and a guy who was in his home country in Montreal. Fast forward to August, 2021 and he’s back again and playing in his hometown after an extended absence.
“It’s been a while for me since I’ve been back to Toronto, to just see my family and all my friends I haven’t been able to see in a year and a half,” he said Saturday. “I really haven’t had too much time alone the last two weeks. Just been trying to catch up with everyone that I’ve missed the last couple of years. Obviously after this week, I’m not sure of the next time I’ll be back here again, with the tour and everything that’s going on. I just tried to make the most of it – walked my dogs a lot.”
He’s now in the strict (COVID-19) bubble, as are his male fellow players in Toronto (and women in Montreal), basically living the ‘hotel – transport – tournament site – transport – hotel’ daily routine until the event is over for them.
Shapovalov, whose best result at home was his memorable semi-final as an 18-year-old in Montreal in 2017, gets a bye as the fifth seed this year and then will play a qualifier/lucky loser or No. 45-ranked Sebastian Korda in a Wednesday night feature match. Looking further ahead, he could face No. 4 seed Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals and top seed Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals.
Asked about an unlikely 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 loss to No. 249-ranked qualifier Vit Kopriva of the Czech Republic at the clay-court event in Gstaad, Switzerland, last month, Shapovalov replied, “I feel really good coming from Wimbledon (a high-quality semi-final against eventual champion Novak Djokovic). I don’t feel I was fully ready for Gstaad.”
The draw for the Toronto tournament was done on Saturday the old-fashioned way (nothing was computer-generated) with tournament referee Tony Cho and tournament director Karl Hale handling the duties using blue chips numbered in accordance with the seeds, direct-entry players, and qualifiers/lucky losers.
The other seeded Canadian in the main draw, No. 9 Félix Auger-Aliassime, also has a bye and then will play the winner of one of those qualifier/lucky losers and No. 44-ranked Dusan Lajovic in the second round. He has potential match-ups against opponents such as No. 6 seed Casper Ruud and No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on his path to a semi-final berth.
Vasek Pospisil, playing in his tenth consecutive home Masters 1000 event (and 13th in a row if qualifying is counted), has drawn a qualifier/lucky loser for an opener and then could face 10th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut, whom he beat in five sets at the 2020 US Open in the third round.
Rafael Nadal, a five-time winner in Canada and the two-time defending champion, gets a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed and then could face a tantalizing rematch with No. 50-ranked Lloyd Harris who upset him in Washington on Thursday night – 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 – in a thriller.
Deserving of the category of connoisseur first-round match-ups would be red-hot Cam Norrie against Olympic silver medalist Karen Khachanov, up-and-comers Ugo Humbert and Lorenzo Sonego going head-to-head, and the concussive confrontation of massive servers Nick Kyrgios and Reilly Opelka.
Two of the four Canadians in the first day of qualifying survived into the second round. Peter Polansky defeated No. 57-ranked ranked Dominik Koepfer 6-3, 6-4 and will now face No. 80-ranked James Duckworth for a spot in the main draw. It would be the 33-year-old’s 13th main draw (6-12) and 14th overall appearance at his home tournament. Polansky currently ranks No. 246.
Also making the qualifying final round is No. 250-ranked Brayden Schnur – he defeated No. 64 Marcos Giron 6-2, 6-3. Next, the 26-year-old Schnur takes on No. 113 Daniel Elahi Galan of Colombia. Schnur has played the event three times in the qualifying and three times in the main draw over his career and is still looking for a first main-draw victory.
Two other Canadians – Steven Diez and Liam Draxl – were beaten in Saturday’s opening round of qualifying.
The 2021 National Bank Open will be the first time in history that Hawk-Eye Live is used at Canada’s premier event. It will be in effect on Centre Court and the three other competition courts at both the men’s and women’s National Bank Opens. That means there will be no lines-persons working the tournaments. But there will be what are being referred to as ‘match assistants’ at each court for various responsibilities such as accompanying players who take a bathroom break.
Television coverage for the tournaments, starting on Monday, will be on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.
This is the 131st edition of the Canadian championships and, after Bianca Andreescu won the women’s title in 2019, tennis fans in Toronto will be hoping that it might be possible for a Canadian man to follow in her footsteps.
“I have to be honest,” Hale said, “I’m a Canadian and the best event we ever had was Bianca winning two years ago – so that would be exciting to see again.”
There will be about 5,000 spectators permitted on site for each session in Toronto – but that’s only for Centre Court. In order to abide by strict health and safety guidelines to prevent contact between players and the public, there will be no access to the outside courts.
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.
- half true
- three quarters true
Answer in Monday’s blog.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
The years go by – here’s an ad in the Metro for the 2013 tournament in Montreal.