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Preview: Thursday whittles field to elite 8

Jul 28, 2016
written by: Nick McCarvel
written by: Nick McCarvel

Not that we’re peeking or anything, but Novak Djokovic and Milos Raonic are just two match wins apiece from a semifinal showdown.

The most talked about potential match-up since Rogers Cup’s draw came out last Friday, the semifinal showdown that could be will be put to the test Thursday night at Aviva Centre, when the two play in a blockbuster evening in back-to-back matches.

The Centre Court night session is the anchor of what is an ocean-sized day of action as all eight round-of-16 matches take place. Raonic will do battle with American qualifier Jared Donaldson, just 19, to start the night before Djokovic gets a player on the other end of the career spectrum: A 37-year-old Radek Stepanek, who also qualified.

But should Djokovic and Raonic win this evening, they have high potential hurdles to clear in the quarter-finals, with Tomas Berdych seeded to meet Djokovic in the final eight, and David Goffin, the No. 7 seed, or a red-hot Gael Monfils awaiting Raonic should he win.

The bottom half of the draw has similar intrigue, if not an equal amount of star power. No. 2 seed Stan Wawrinka meets American Jack Sock, while a comeback-minded Kevin Anderson has a test in Bernard Tomic.

Kei Nishikori, the No. 3 seed, gets surprise third rounder Rajeev Ram, as two dark horses familiar to tennis insiders – Ivo Karlovic (who has won 10 of his last 11 matches) and Grigor Dimitrov – battle for the right to (potentially) play Nishikori.

While the story this week has been the young guns – think Canadian 17-year-old Denis Shapovalov and fellow teen Donaldson – both Karlovic and Stepanek are 37. Thirty-seven! And still Top 40 calibre players. Each have shots at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarter-final berths on Thursday, a first for Karlovic in five years (Indian Wells 2011) and for Stepanek in four years (Shanghai 2012).

Djokovic looked solid in his opener against another veteran, Gilles Muller, and brings an 11-1 record into his match with Stepanek, including 10 in a row. Raonic and Donaldson, conversely, meet for the first time ever.

Who, exactly, is Donaldson? The 19-year-old American has been on the rise for the last couple of years, and is ranked No. 147 in the world. He is coached by former pro Taylor Dent and his dad, Phil Dent, and has done most of his work this year on the ATP Challenger Tour, making a semifinal and final at that level.

The popcorn match of the day might be Monfils-Goffin, the Frenchman on fire having won seven matches in a row, including his title last week in Washington, D.C. Surprisingly, it’s the first meeting between the two, though their styles could mean a long, who-will-miss first affair full of baseline rallies, Monfilsian trick shots and a challenge of attrition.

Sock offers an interesting challenge to Wawrinka, as well, who (along with Berdych) has not played since Tuesday. It is also the first meeting between the two of them, and Sock’s whale of a forehand is what could give Wawrinka the biggest headache, particularly if his famous one-handed backhand isn’t firing the way he wants it to.