Eugene Lapierre, the Montreal tournament director, may have best described the tennis year so far when he said during the Rogers Cup draw ceremony on Friday that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have found the “fountain of youth.”
It’s hard not to agree with Lapierre because Nadal (7,095) and Federer (6,545) have roughly double the number of points of the No. 3 player in this year’s ATP Race – Dominic Thiem with 3,345.
The 31-year-old Nadal, Roland Garros champion, is the top seed for the Rogers Cup, while the 35-year-old Federer, winner at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, is seeded No. 2.
Nadal arrived in Montreal on Thursday and had two practice sessions Friday on the centre court at STADE IGA – the first with No. 30-ranked Karen Khachanov of Russia and the second with coach Francisco Roig, the usual substitute when Uncle Toni or Carlos Moya is not travelling with him.
Federer hits town Saturday but is already present in a mural near where the golf carts, which transport players to the practice courts or to matches, are parked.
Nadal and Federer are the top seeds at a tournament for the first time since Monte Carlo in 2011.
In the absence of a Canadian who can make it to the championship match, Montreal fans would dearly love to see the fourth Nadal-Federer match-up of 2017, with Federer having prevailed at the first three – Australian Open final, Indian Wells round-of-16 and Miami final.
Nadal starts out against the winner of Borna Coric and a qualifier and then would likely play the winner of the marquee first-rounder between John Isner and Juan Martin del Potro. Although 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov could have something to say about that because he would meet either Isner or del Potro if he gets past a qualifier in his opening match.
Shapovalov (above on Thursday), currently ranked No. 134, made his Rogers Cup debut last year in Toronto defeating Nick Kyrgios in the first round before bowing out to Grigor Dimitrov.
It appears Federer will not play another match as a 35-year-old. Word has it that he won’t start at the Rogers Cup until Wednesday, probably in the afternoon – the day after his 36th birthday. Waiting for him after a bye will definitely be a Canadian. He’s drawn against the winner of first-rounder between No. 72-ranked Vasek Pospisil and No. 115 Peter Polansky.
Brayden Schnur, ranked No. 194, makes his second appearance in the main draw of the Rogers Cup and will play unseeded Richard Gasquet. In 2014 as a qualifier, Schnur lost to No. 51 Andreas Seppi in the first round.
The top-ranked Canadian, No. 6 seed Milos Raonic, is playing in his eighth Rogers Cup on the fourth anniversary of his best finish – a loss in the 2013 final to Nadal in a bid to become the first Canadian winner since Bob Bedard in 1958.
The No. 10-ranked Raonic, who had a disappointing 7-5, 6-4 loss in the Washington quarter-finals to Jack Sock on Friday, has a first-round bye before playing the winner of Adrian Mannarino of France and volatile, big-hitting Russian Danill Medvedev. In the third round Raonic is slated to meet No. 9 seed David Goffin with Nadal possibly waiting in the quarter-finals.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (above with Lapierre), ranked No. 12 but seeded eighth, was the player talking part in Friday’s draw ceremony. Champion in Toronto two years ago, the affable Frenchman got a laugh during an interview session afterward when he said he has been drawn, after a bye, to play one of the last two men to beat him – Sam Querrey by a 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(5), 1-6, 7-5 score at Wimbledon in the third round or Gilles Muller, 6-4, 6-4 the third round at Queen’s Club.
The younger generation of ATP players is represented by 23-year-old Thiem, the third seed, 20-year-old Sascha Zverev, the No. 4 seed, as well as 22-year-old Nick Kyrgios, Shapovalov and 19-year-old American Frances Tiafoe, pictured above.
There are six Canadians in the Rogers Cup qualifying, including No. 267-ranked Filip Peliwo, above with Tennis Canada coach Frédéric Niemeyer. Others in action when qualifying begins Saturday morning will be Frank Dancevic, Philip Bester, Ben Sigouin, Samuel Monette, Pavel Krainik and Kelsey Stevenson.
Friday was part of family, free-admittance weekend for fans in Montreal and among those on site were this group of youngsters from the Mount Royal Tennis Club.
ROGERS CUP – TORONTO
The Rogers Cup in Toronto may have lost Maria Sharapova with her left forearm injury, but the top-eight players on the entry list are the top-eight seeds in the tournament – led by No. 1 seed Karolina Pliskova and No. 2 Simona Halep with reigning US Open champion Angelique Kerber at No. 3 and reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza at No. 4.
As for the Canadians in the main draw, Genie Bouchard will start out against a qualifier and then play Kerber in the second round if she advances. Francoise Abanda (far right above) will face the always-tough, No. 41-ranked Lucie Safarova and Bianca Andreescu has been drawn against big-hitting, No. 42-ranked Timea Babos of Hungary.
Andreescu, 17, reached the quarter-finals of Washington this week with her first two WTA tour victories and should have strong support in the crowd as a resident of nearby Mississauga, Ont.
One of the best players of recent weeks, No. 51-ranked Donna Vekic, won the pre-Wimbledon tournament on grass in Nottingham and played one of the best matches at Wimbledon – losing a three-set thriller 7-6(4), 4-6, 10-8 to Johanna Konta. Carson Branstine, 16, of Montreal and Orange County, California, won a play-off to get a Rogers Cup qualifying spot but now has a difficult tasking of taking on the aforementioned 21-year-old Vekic on Saturday.
Among main-draw woman of interest are American power players Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys, fast-rising 18-year-old CiCi Bellis of the U.S., promising 19-year-old Ana Konjuh of Croatia and, of course, the Roland Garros champion, 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia who’s emerging as the most likely future No. 1 on the women’s tour – and a very serious challenger for the 2017 Rogers Cup.
MONTREAL POST CARD
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal houses a fine collection of Quebec, Canadian and international artworks.
Above are a pair of more modern sculptures and a young couple having a look at them this past Thursday.