Wednesday night tennis takes the most centre of stages in Canadian sport, as Wimbledon runner up Milos Raonic opens his Rogers Cup campaign before 17-year-old Wimbledon junior champion Denis Shapovalov tries to continue his Cinderella run in Canada.
The two Canucks will play back-to-back on Centre Court at the Aviva Center, Raonic taking to the court at 6:30 PM local time against Yen-Hsun Lu. Shapovalov will do battle against Grigor Dimitrov, the Bulgarian, to follow.
It’s a Wednesday that is brimming – no, overflowing – with tennis, including opening matches for world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 3 seed Kei Nishikori, No. 8 Marin Cilic as well as top 8 seeds Dominic Thiem and David Goffin.
American John Isner is also in action, as is Gael Monfils, Jack Sock and three other Canadians aside from Raonic and Shapovalov as wild cards Peter Polansky and Steven Diez as well as Vasek Pospisil all look to push the Maple Leaf further into main draw action.
Raonic and Lu are facing off for the third time, the Canadian No. 1 and world No. 7 with a 2-0 lead having last met on clay in Monte Carlo in 2014. On Tuesday, Lu took out rising teen Alexander Zverev to set up the clash with Raonic, who is playing in his first match since making the Wimbledon final earlier this month.
It’s a first singles match since London for Djokovic, as well, the world No. 1 having suffered his first defeat at a major after winning four in a row between last season and this. The Serbian gets a stiff challenge in world No. 37 Gilles Muller, a veteran who he is 2-0 head-to-head against.
Along with Isner and Sock, there are eight Americans total in the second round, with Ryan Harrison meeting Isner in one all-American clash and Donald Young set to challenge Sock in the other. Canada has five representatives in the second round in Polansky, Diez, Raonic, Shapovalov and Pospisil.
The teen Shapovalov brought Centre Court to its feet on Monday night with his three-set shocker over Nick Kyrgios, becoming the youngest Canadian to register a Rogers Cup win in the tournament’s history. Ranked No. 371, it was Shapovalov’s second-ever ATP main draw match and first win, but he said he’s hungry for yet another against Dimitrov, a former member of the top 10 who has had an off-form 12 months.
“It’s not the first time I have been so happy about a win,” he told reporters after the victory. “The semifinals of (junior) Wimbledon I was two points away from losing the match. I was equally as happy. It’s just a matter of refocusing, getting ready for the match. My tournament is not over. I can celebrate my win over Nick after the tournament, but now I’m going to focus for Dimitrov.”
Dimitrov struggled in his win over Yuichi Sugita Monday afternoon, needing two and a half hours to advance. He has dropped to No. 40 in the world rankings.
The 2014 US Open runner up, Nishikori, gets another American in qualifier Dennis Novikov, who has already won three matches in four days in Toronto. Other matches to watch include Thiem’s battle with Kevin Anderson, Diez against seed Bernard Tomic, Polansky versus veteran Radek Stepanek, No. 13 seed Lucas Pouille against Rajeev Ram and Goffin taking on Sam Querrey, the man who knocked Djokovic out of Wimbledon.
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Pospisil gets Monfils in the second round having taken out another Frenchman, Jeremy Chardy, Tuesday night. Chardy retired after losing the first set 7-6(3) due to injury. Pospisil is looking for just his third victory in a tour main draw since March.
“I’m expecting a very tough match,” Pospisil said of Monfils. “He likes to play long points. It will be physical playing during the day, although it will be late, so that’s all right. But I will try to use the crowd support on my side.”
The spotlight will grow bright as the sun goes down, however, Raonic and Shapovalov in two very different points of their career but equally keen to chalk up wins in front of the home crowd. Who delivers under the pressure? Canada will be watching.