|||||Tennis Canada: Pascal Rathée

Montreal tennis fans are among the most enthusiastic and excitable in the tennis world.

On Friday in a ceremony at Stade IGA, the draw was done for the 2019 Coupe Rogers and the result was plenty of fascinating first-round encounters, particularly for the Canadian players.

Photo by: Pascal Rathée

The inimitable Eugene Lapierre, the tournament director, has a flair for the dramatic and before the draw he spoke about how he views a tennis tournament as being like theatre. He described how it’s a 10-day event and said that the draw on Friday is the opening day – the day when all the roles are assigned.

If that’s true then the Canadian actors better be ready from the raising of the main-draw curtain on Monday because there are some challenging match-ups ahead.

Milos Raonic, the top-ranking Canadian at No. 20, will face No. 28 Taylor Fritz, the fast-improving, 21-year-old American who reached the final (Alex de Minaur) of the ATP 250 in Atlanta last week and is in the semi-finals of the Los Cabos, Mexico, ATP 250 this week. It will be a first meeting for the two as Raonic plays in his 10th Rogers Cup with an overall record of 11-9 – highlighted by 2013 when he was runner-up to Rafael Nadal in Montreal.

The winner of Raonic, who had a back issue in a 6-3, 6-4 loss to Peter Gojowcyzk on Thursday in Washington, and Fritz would play 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round.

The fourth-seeded Greek was runner-up in Toronto a year ago.

Félix Auger-Aliassime, now ranked No. 22, is making his debut in the Coupe Rogers in Montreal after getting to the second round in Toronto a year ago with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 18-ranked Lucas Pouille before losing a heartbreaker – 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(7) to No. 68 Daniil Medvedev. This time the 18-year-old Montrealer, who turns 19 next Thursday, is matched against Vasek Pospisil in the first round – that’s a repeat of the first round at Wimbledon where Auger-Aliassime beat his 29-year-old compatriot 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.
Since Wimbledon, Auger-Aliassime played in Washington this week where he had a good win over big-serving American seven-footer Reilly Opelka before a nervy performance on Thursday in a 6-3, 6-4 loss to Marin Cilic.

As for Pospisil, he lost in the second round of the National Bank Challenger in Granby, Que., two weeks ago to eventual champion Ernesto Escobedo while hitting one-handed backhands because of a left wrist injury. He’s back to hitting his regular two-handed backhand and should provide a test for Auger-Aliassime, who happens to be his Coupe Rogers doubles partner. The winner will face either No. 9 seed Kevin Anderson or Pouille.

The Auger-Aliassime – Pospisil match is already slotted for Tuesday afternoon and it appears likely the other prodigy of Canadian tennis, Denis Shapovalov, will play Monday night against No. 38-ranked Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The 28-year-old Frenchman defeated Shapovalov 7-5, 7-6(4) in the quarter-finals of the ATP 250 event in Montpelier, France, in February but the 20-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., had a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 win in their first meeting at a Challenger event in Canberra, Australia in 2017.

Photo by: Pascal Rathée

Shapovalov is, of course, returning to the scene of his fabulous breakthrough in 2017 when he beat both Juan Martin del Potro and Nadal on his way to semi-finals where he lost to eventual champion Alexander Zverev.

“I definitely occasionally go back to that video,” Shapovalov said Friday in Montreal about the unforgettable third-round 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) upset of Nadal. “When I kind of need a little inspiration, motivation and self belief, just kind of getting back to telling yourself ‘yeah, you can play at this level and beat these guys.’ I definitely try to look back at those videos and look at the way I was. I was so fearless and confident going up against a beast like Rafa – sometimes I try to take myself back there.”

The other two Canadians in the draw are wild cards Brayden Schnur and Peter Polansky. Schnur, 24 and ranked No. 99, has drawn a qualifier for his third appearance in the main draw at the Coupe Rogers. He’s still looking for his first win. Peter Polansky, 31, is near the other end of the spectrum – playing his 12th Coupe Rogers. He has 6-11 record dating back to 2006 when he lost in the first round to current Canadian Davis Cup captain Frank Dancevic. Polansky will face No. 16 seed Gael Monfils in the first round. Two years ago in Montreal, Polansky ousted Pospisil in the first round before losing 6-2, 6-1 to Roger Federer. It will be the first meeting for Polansky and the 32-year-old Frenchman.

Looking at the overall draw, defending champion Nadal could face a tough test in his first match after a bye – with the possibility of playing gritty, speedster Alex de Minaur, 20 and ranked No. 25, if the Australian gets past a qualifier in round one.

The most explosive part of the draw is the very top of the bottom half where No. 21-ranked Stan Wawrinka has drawn Grigor Dimitrov, now ranked a lowly No. 57, in the opening round. Waiting for the winner of that one will be mammoth-hitting Russian Karen Khachanov, the sixth seed.

Among other notable first-rounders are Nick Kyrgios against Kyle Edmund, John Isner facing Jordan Thompson and the Franco-Francais encounter of Benoit Paire vs. Richard Gasquet.

The quarter-final pairings, if all went according to form, would be as follows:

(1) Nadal – (7) Fabio Fognini
(2) Tsitsipas – (5) Kei Nishikori
(6) Khachanov – (3) Zverev
(8) Medvedev – (2) Dominic Thiem

As far as the court speed, Lapierre said, “we consulted with the players. They thought it was a little ‘slick’ the last time so we made it a bit more abrasive, and the bounce is higher. Both Félix and Denis like it.”

It will also likely suit Nadal, who is going for his fifth Rogers Cup title. After losing 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 to Lleyton Hewitt in his first appearance in 2004 in Toronto, the Majorcan, then just 19, came back the following year in Montreal and defeated – in order – Carlos Moya, Ricardo Mello, Sébastien Grosjean, Mariano Puerta, Paul-Henri Mathieu and Andre Agassi to win the title. He followed that up with wins in 2008, 2013 and 2018.

Photo by: Pascal Rathée

With this year’s event in Montreal in 2019, the 33-year-old Spaniard has now surpassed his fellow Big-Three members in Rogers Cup appearances – he has 13, Roger Federer has 12 and Novak Djokovic has 11.

The Canadian Masters 1000 has been Nadal’s most successful hard-court tournament – his four titles in Montreal and Toronto compare with three at Indian Wells, none in Miami and just one in Cincinnati.

Nadal, in Montreal with co-coach Francisco Roig, will hope to be playing Sunday, August 11 at 4 p.m. in his fifth Rogers Cup final – a match that he has never lost.