An argument can be made that Montreal has the best pound-for-pound tennis fans in the world. They came out in record numbers last week – setting a new record for a one-week tournament with 216,097 spectators – and were involved and enthusiastic in a way seldom witnessed anywhere on the men’s or women’s tours.
Much of the enthusiasm was because the great Roger Federer was playing – as is visible in the pre-tournament picture above when he (in salmon-coloured top carrying a white bag) walked out for a practice session with American Christian Harrison, behind in blue cap and racquet bag.
Federer was his usual impeccable gentleman self off the court – patiently signing autographs, thoughtfully answering media questions and generally conducting himself in an affable manner that raised the spirits of everyone associated with the event.
On the court he never really found his best vintage tennis but was good enough to get through four opponents before a back injury diminished him in the final against Alexander Zverev.
Denis Shapovalov’s magical run to the semifinals in Montreal began inauspiciously with him having to save four match points in the first round before overcoming No. 64-ranked Rogerio Dutra Silva 4-6, 7-6(8), 6-4.
He followed that up with a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory over Juan Martin del Potro but nothing rivaled his sensational 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) upset of Rafael Nadal in a raucous third-round night match. If Federer was the matinee idol of the 2017 Rogers Cup, Shapovalov was its rock star once he ousted the mighty Spaniard.
His coming out was on the STADE IGA centre court but soon television, social media and conventional media had introduced him to Canadians and a broader tennis public.
There was an interesting comparison with Milos Raonic and his breakthrough at the 2011 Australian Open. Raonic was in the final round of qualifying against Andrej Martin, trailed by a set and a break, was out of sorts before rallying to beat the workmanlike but ultimately outclassed Slovak 4-6, 7-6(0), 6-2. He then went on to reach the round-of-16 in the main draw, including a win over No. 10-ranked Mikhail Youzhny, and make people in the tennis world stand up and take notice.
Much like Raonic at Melbourne Park against Martin, by all rights Shapovalov should have been gone at the first hurdle in Montreal but like Raonic his class eventually showed and he came back to beat Dutra Silva.
His run to the semifinals where he played well in a 6-4, 7-5 loss to eventual champion Alexander Zverev caught the imagination of Coupe Rogers fans and tennis followers across Canada.
Among the most proud was his coach Martin Laurendeau – and the emotion of the moment of victory against Nadal is obvious in the expression on his face in the picture above off television. But discussing the importance of Shapovalov’s Rogers Cup success he erred on the side of caution in his comments.
“It’s been an exceptional week but the reality is there’s still lots of tennis to be played this year,” Laurendeau said. “It’s tough to produce weeks like that every week, unless he becomes a top-10 player before the end of the year. But at least it’s a reference for him to know at what kind of level he’s capable of playing. We all saw it and it will be good for him to have it as a reference – to know he can beat top-10 players, he can beat top-50, top-30 players. It’ll help him keep working hard to improve his game.”
Ultimately Shapovalov, in a cautionary move after five matches at the ATP level (the most he had ever previously played was two) at Rogers Cup, withdrew from this week’s Odlum Brown VanOpen Challenger event in Vancouver but did suggest in a video message that western Canadian tennis fans could see him in Davis Cup when Canada faces India the weekend of September 15-17 in Edmonton.
The Rogers Cup final on Sunday was certainly something of an anti-climax. Federer, looking for his first title in Montreal after winning in Toronto in 2004 and 2006, never seemed like his best self. He hit a lot of balls into the net and did un-Federer-like things such as repeatedly trying backhand drop shots that fell short.
Many suspected something was wrong and that was confirmed Monday with his withdrawal from the Cincinnati ATP Masters 1000 with a back problem.
But Zverev was nonetheless a deserving winner – extending his win streak of matches to 10 in a row – five in winning the Washington ATP 500 two weeks ago and five in Montreal.
He’s the clear leader of the next generation of players and probably actually is a now a player with a legitimate shot at winning the upcoming US Open. The 20-year-old was a gracious winner after both the semifinal with Shapovalov and the final against Federer. As much as Montreal fans and those watching from outside would like to have seen a more competitive final, there’s little doubt they were at least given a good look at a future great player in the making.
SVITOLINA TOPS IN T.O.
Elina Svitolina won her fifth WTA title of 2017 when she defeated Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-0 in the final of Rogers Cup in Toronto on Sunday.
It was the ninth title of the 22-year-old Ukrainian’s career and moved her ranking up to a career high No. 4.
Along the way the No. 5-seeded Svitolina defeated ninth seed Venus Williams, fourth seed Garbine Muguruza, second seed Simona Halep and Wozniacki who was seeded No. 6.
It marks the eighth year in a row that Svitolina has improved her ranking – dating back to being a season-ending No. 498 in 2010.
As a junior, the native of Odessa, Ukraine, won the 2010 French Open title at age 15 and then was a 6-2, 6-2 runner-up to Genie Bouchard at Wimbledon in 2012 when she was 17.
TENNIS GRUNT WORK
The glamorous part of tennis is being on famous showcourts around the world playing in front of thousands of excited fans.
The hard yards is hitting ball after ball in practice to be able to be at your best when you get to those big stadiums.
The picture here is of Rafael Nadal at about 6 p.m. on Sunday, August 6th, the day before the 2017 Rogers Cup main draw in Montreal began, being repeatedly fed balls by his coach Francisco Roig.
Nadal has not ranked No. 1 since June 2014 but will be rewarded for his hard work and persistence when he returns to the top perch in the ATP rankings next Monday.
NESTOR AND NO. 30
Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil were knocked out of Rogers Cup in the first round – losing 4-6, 6-4, [10-2] to Spaniards David Ferrer and Roberto Bautista Agut.
On Monday, Nestor and partner Steve Johnson of the U.S. were beaten 6-2, 6-3 by French Open champions Ryan Harrison and Michael Venus at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.
Last month Nestor’s ATP doubles ranking slipped out of the top-30 for the first time since July 31, 2000.
This week he’s at No. 35 – a spot where it can be difficult for him to get into many doubles draws unless he’s paired with a much higher-ranked singles or doubles player.
Nestor has expressed the hope to play until the 2018 Rogers Cup in Toronto and it would be remarkable if he can keep competing until then and notch a 30th participation in his hometown. It’s doubtful any player in the open era (since 1968) has played a single tournament 30 times.
BESTER BOWS OUT
Philip Bester is retiring from tennis and played in his last ATP event at Rogers Cup last week.
In the qualifying, he was beaten 7-6(2), 6-3 by Ireland’s James McGee after holding a set point in the first set.
Bester, 28, reached a career high ranking of No. 225 (2015) and is leaving the game after injury challenges and a hand surgery over the last few years.
A highlight of his career was a crucial fifth-match victory in Canada’s 2011 Davis Cup win over Ecuador in Guayaquil when it rallied from a 0-2 deficit.
MONTREAL POST CARD
The finest bagels in the world can be found in Montreal – and Fairmount Bagel, founded in 1919, may be the best of the best in the city. Cost is a reasonable $4.65 for a half dozen, with the only problem being that you won’t be able to get any frequent flyer miles. An old-fashioned commercial establishment, Fairmount Bagel has an old-fashioned payment policy – see picture below to understand.