There was nary a squeak of shoes on court during Milos Raonic’s last tournament – Wimbledon see above – but the season of high-pitched sounds is now upon us and lasting through the US Open. It’s also a season of cleanly-delineated court dimensions and true bounces on the Deco Turf of events like the upcoming Rogers Cup tournaments in Montreal and Toronto.
Hard courts are neat and tidy in a manner that clay’s messy marks and grass’ well-worn turf cannot rival.
What do the North American hard courts of 2017 have in store for tennis fans?
On the men’s side there has been one noticeable oddity over the past two seasons. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have been the top players in the ATP rankings but their destinies have rarely intersected with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The latter two were question marks entering 2017 – Federer after six months off the tour to rehab a left knee issue and Nadal following a late 2016 season absence with a right wrist problem. But they’re the two who have been dominant so far while Murray and Djokovic have been shadows of their former selves.
Specifically it’s hard to fathom that Federer has not played Murray in 23 months (a win in Cincinnati in 2015) and Djokovic in 18 months (a loss at the 2016 Australian Open) – and Nadal hasn’t faced Murray since a loss in Madrid 14 months ago and has just played Djokovic once in 14 months, a 6-2, 6-4 win in the Madrid semifinals in May.
Federer and Nadal have met three times in 2017 – wins for the Swiss at the Australian Open, in Indian Wells and Miami.
Since Murray (hip) and Djokovic (elbow) both exited Wimbledon and seemed to be determined to take off as much time as necessary to get better – in Djokovic’s case up to three months – it’s impossible to anticipate when either of them might again play against either Federer or Nadal.
There’s no question the old boys – Federer and Nadal – have stepped up on the men’s side, quashing the aspirations of a younger generation, featuring names like Raonic, Nishikori, Dimitrov, Zverev, Thiem and Kyrgios, that was hoping their time had come.
It’s the opposite on the women’s tour where new challengers have arisen in the absence of Serena Williams (pregnant) and Maria Sharapova (suspended and then injured). Jelena Ostapenko (above) was a bolt from the blue at the French Open and even Garbiñe Muguruza, at Wimbledon, was a surprise considering she had not made a single final in the 22 tournaments she played after winning the French Open in June 2016.
The victories by Ostapenko and Muguruza should inspire some of their contemporaries in a way that’s not comparable in the men’s game because Federer and Nadal have not broken the natural order, they have just reasserted it.
It seems likely the 20-year-old Ostapenko will have a better summer than Muguruza. She has shown more grit and hunger than the stylish 23-year-old Spaniard who, at times, can lack inner conviction. That doesn’t ever seem to be a problem for the single-minded Latvian with the fiery temperament.
It’s something that’s done all over the world and something that, this past weekend, had to please Tennis Canada officials.
National tennis associations stage lower-level tournaments to promote the game but even more to give players from their own country a chance to progress up the rankings while competing at home.
The National Bank Challenger in Gatineau, Quebec, last week was a perfect example. Denis Shapovalov (above) won the men’s $75,000 (US) Challenger event with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over Peter Polansky in the final while Aleksandra Wozniak prevailed in the women’s $25,000 (US) ITF Challenger by beating Ellen Perez of Australia 7-6(4), 6-4.
With the win Shapovalov, 18, moved his ranking up to a personal best of No. 130 while Polansky also reached a new high at No. 118. Shapovalov is the youngest player in the Top 200.
His rankings bump was 31 points up from No. 161 but the best news is he only has 96 of his 424 points total coming off the computer before the end of the year. That’s 33 from last year’s Gatineau Challenger, 18 from last year’s Granby Challenger and 45 from last year’s Rogers Cup (beat Nick Kyrgios in the first round). Best of all – he has zero points to defend after Rogers Cup so anything he can do from mid-August until the end of the year will bolster his ranking. Separate but also included in that is this week’s National Bank Challenger in Granby where there are 90 points up for grabs to the winner.
A tip of the cap to Polansky, now aged 29. He first appeared in the rankings as a 16-year-old tied at 1440 on July 5, 2004. Now, 13 years later, has reached his personal best. A solid push and he has an opportunity to make it into the Top 100.
Aleksandra Wozniak, also 29 and ranked No. 317, is a long way from her personal best but her ongoing attempt to regain the form that saw her rank as high as No. 21 in 2009 was rewarded at the Gatineau Challenger with the victory over No. 428 Perez.
It was her first tournament title since winning a $100,000 event in the Bahamas in March 2012, and part of a difficult and ongoing comeback from shoulder surgery in September 2014.
In a June article in the New York Times, David Waldstein wrote about players struggling in the lower ranks of pro tennis including Wozniak during an ITF event in Charlottesville, Virginia, in April.
Waldstein wrote: “This is the third time in my career I’ve had to start from zero,” she (Wozniak) said.
Injuries are a constant threat for athletes, and Wozniak has endured her share of physical ailments. But seven years ago, she also faced a serious emotional malady that cost her time and money.
“April 2010 was the toughest moment of my life,” Wozniak said. “I had been through burnout and depression. I have never talked about it. There was so much pressure that I had built up after reaching 21 in the world.”
After losing in the first round in Charlottesville to 16-year-old Claire Liu, who would go on to be runner-up at the French Open junior event in June and win Wimbledon in July, Wozniak summed up her situation saying, “it’s a grind, for sure. People don’t understand what we go through. It’s lonely out here. But this is my passion. I’m doing what I have to do to play tennis.”
The win in Gatineau was welcome and deserved by a person with one of the sunniest dispositions of all the players on the Canadian tennis scene.
There was more happy news for Wozniak – on Tuesday morning she announced her engagement to boyfriend Jeremy Johns.
Thank you all for your loving messages ❤️I had a beautiful week of victories. I won my 11th career title and we got engaged on july 17th. pic.twitter.com/tzlHRkoFoL
— Aleksandra Wozniak (@alekswozniak87) July 25, 2017
Wozniak and 14 other Canadian players are competing in Granby this week at the National Bank Challenger. The top seed at the women’s $60,000 ITF event is 17-year-old Bianca Andreescu, already with a WTA ranking of No. 156. Others entered include Katherine Sebov, Carol Zhao, Charlotte Robillard-Millette and Carson Branstine.
Shapovalov is seeded No. 4 in a men’s field at the $100,000 ATP Challenger that also includes Steven Diez, Brayden Schnur, Samuel Monette, Philip Bester, Ben Sigouin, Frank Dancevic and Polansky. The latter two, No. 2 seed Polansky and the unseeded Dancevic, a three-time Granby champion (2003, 2006 and 2013), will meet in the first round on Tuesday – the second match after a 6:30 p.m. EDT start.
Past champions of the men’s event include Sébastien Lareau in 1994, 2002 Wimbledon semifinalist Xavier Malisse in 2009 and current doubles specialist Edouard Roger-Vasselin in 2011.
Various men’s matches from Granby are available live-streamed, here.
The most prominent past winners of the women’s title in Granby are Genie Bouchard in 2012 and current world No. 7 Johanna Konta in 2015.
A POSPISIL TAKES THE PLUNGE
Couldn't be more proud of my brother. The first Pospisil bro to take that big step forward. What a day! So excited for Petr and Erica. 👫 pic.twitter.com/uUFCig321i
— Vasek Pospisil (@VasekPospisil) July 25, 2017
Vasek Pospisil’s middle brother Petr was married on the weekend. That means Vasek (third from right), and oldest brother Tom (fourth from right) are the remaining single men in the Pospisil family.
Vasek, currently ranked No. 68, plays his opening match at the Atlanta ATP 250 event on Tuesday against No. 117 Bjorn Fratangelo of the U.S. He could meet No. 2 seed John Isner in the second round.
JEYASEELAN IS A MOM
Sonya Jeyaseelan and husband Daniel Gibbons welcomed their son Xavier Edgar Jeyaseelan-Gibbons on March 30th. The former world No. 48 in singles and No. 40 in doubles had career wins over No. 4 Conchita Martinez (Wimbledon), No. 6 Venus Williams (Amelia Island) and No. 8 Nathalie Tauziat (Australian Open).
Now 41, Jeyaseelan retired in 2004 and lives in Toronto. She is currently on leave from a position teaching at the Granite Club.