A year ago, Novak Djokovic’s performance at Rogers Cup was nothing if not inscrutable.
It was his first tournament after winning his second Wimbledon title and he was life and death to win his opening round 6-2, 6-7(4), 7-6(2) over Gael Monfils before exiting meekly in the next round 6-2, 6-2 to eventual winner Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
He had arrived in Toronto after getting married on July 10 to his longtime girlfriend Jelena Ristic, who gave birth to their son Stefan three months later on October 22.
So, things were going on in his head and he admitted as much when he spoke to the media before this year’s Rogers Cup.
“I feel different this year than I did last year after Wimbledon…the wedding and everything that I experienced,” he said last weekend. “That period of the year was a lot to take. It was a beautiful experience and days and dates that I will always remember. Overall, on and off the court, it was the most remarkable year of my life in 2014. But I was very exhausted and I came to Canada without really being emotionally ready and recharged to compete on a high level. So, I came into New York (US Open) also with not many matches under my belt (after Toronto he subsequently lost in the third round of Cincinnati to Tommy Robredo). I reached the semifinals again at the US Open but I hadn’t played the way I was supposed to, and on the big points, and lost that semifinal against Kei (Nishikori).
“So, I’m glad I had a very successful hard court season this year with (titles at) the Australian Open and Indian Wells and Miami and hopefully I can start off well here.”
He is 37-1 since March and continued his winning ways with a 6-3, 7-6(4) win over Thomaz Bellucci on Tuesday – no service breaks and three break points saved – and then a 6-2, 6-1 demolition of Jack Sock – no service breaks and one break point saved – on Thursday.
“I never played him before so it took me some time to really figure out what his patterns are on the serves,” Djokovic said about the big-hitting Sock, “just his game in general.
“I did watch him many times before, but it’s different when you’re standing on the court trying to read the rotation especially of his forehand because he’s got a very quick wrist, very quick motion, good forehand.”
No one is better at reading opponents’ games than Djokovic at the moment and next for the 28-year-old world No. 1 will be Ernests Gulbis, his old mate from the Nikki Pilic tennis academy in Germany during their teenage years. Djokovic leads their head-to-head 5-1, with the Latvian’s last win coming in 2009 in Brisbane.
Gulbis, who still bobbles the ball (above) when he serves, had little trouble on Thursday reaching the quarter-finals with a 6-4, 6-4 win over fellow-qualifier Donald Young.
He made the quarter-finals two years ago in Montreal before losing to Milos Raonic.
After his fairly routine 6-3, 6-2 win over Gilles Muller on Thursday, Andy Murray said he had a lot more success reading Muller’s serve than two months ago when he beat the Luxembourgian 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 on grass at Queen’s Club in London.
He also engaged in a little post-match frivolity (above) when he hit autographed balls into the crowd, with the lucky receiver getting a chance at tickets for Sunday’s final.
Later, Murray went out, with partner Leander Paes, for a second-round doubles match against his brother Jamie and John Peers of Australia. Much had been made about the Murray boys’ first match-up since their junior days. Jamie, older by a year, wound up winning 6-4, 7-6(9). “Obviously doubles is Jamie’s career,” Andy said in a lengthy reply about the brotherly battle. “I support him every single week. I watch all of his matches online. I’m always desperate for him to win.
“It’s awkward when you go on the court and play doubles against him when I’m always supporting him to win those matches. I want to play well for Leander, too.
“It’s tricky but it wasn’t too bad. Emotionally I didn’t find it that stressful. The atmosphere is just a bit, you know, awkward I think for everyone involved –especially the partners, as well.
“You watch the first match with me and Leander and we were pretty energetic on the court. I don’t want to be fist pumping and stuff and getting in Jamie’s face and his partner’s as well. Maybe I can take that into some of my singles matches and try to be a bit more levelheaded.”
A more level-headed Murray might please some detractors, but the Scot has gotten where he has by being very demanding of himself on court and surely that’s unlikely to change.
Rafael Nadal had the most testing third-rounder of the big names on Thursday, overcoming a revitalized Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 6-3. The Russian has been limited by some respiratory illness issues earlier in the year but looked sharp against Nadal who was pushed by the 33-year-old Muscovite. Nadal’s victory sets up an interesting quarter-final on Friday evening against Kei Nishikori, who won his seventh match in a row over the past two weeks, defeating David Goffin 6-4, 6-4.
As was the case with Djokovic and Murray, Nadal was asked for his reaction to ‘l’affaire Kyrgios.’
His take was as follows: “It’s obvious that when you are in the tour, you are in the locker room every single week of the year, you are with colleagues around. Life is much easier and more happier if you have a good relationship with the rest of the colleagues, the rest of the players.
“What happened yesterday doesn’t help that.”
Now aged 29, Nadal added that he thought Kyrgios’ age, 20, was no excuse – noting that he, Djokovic and Murray had come on the tour between age 16-18.
The publicity about the Kyrgios incident with Stan Wawrinka on Wednesday night no doubt drew a lot of curious fans to National Bank Court (above) for the third round between the Australian and No. 16 seed John Isner on Thursday.
Lower bowl seats are sold (thus the empty seats) but those in the upper level are first-come first-served, which explains the full house higher up. At Stade Uniprix, it’s always easy to tell the popularity of a match on National Bank by the number of people standing on the walkway linking the two sections high in the background.
Isner won the match 7-5, 6-3 and had the crowd clearly on his side, with several boos heard for Kyrgios at certain moments.
Kyrgios reacted to jeering by facetiously tapping his racquet (above) when Isner got the decisive service break in the penultimate game of the match.
Later on the same National Bank Court, there was good doubles news for Canadian fans. Daniel Nestor, 43 on September 4, was once again ageless as he and partner Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France upset the second seeds, Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Marcelo Melo of Brazil, by a 6-4, 6-2 score.
In Friday’s quarter-finals, Nestor will face one of his growing number of former partners – Nenad Zimonjic. The 39-year-old Serb is playing with Marcin Matkowski of Poland and they are the No. 5 seeds.
Nestor is playing his 27th Rogers Cup/Canadian Open and he is hoping for his third title at Canada’s premier event.
Keen tennis fans in the Toronto area will not want to miss the Under-18 Rogers Junior Nationals currently being played at the Ontario Racquet Club in Mississauga.
Nothing is ever certain about the future, but the current group of Canadian junior boys is one of the most promising ever. Félix Auger-Aliassime (above) of Montreal and Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., lead a group of world-class prospects. Along with Auger-Aliassime, just turned 15, and Shapovalov, 16, are Nicaise Muamba, Joshua Peck, Victor Krustev, Jack Mingie and Alexis Galarneau among others.
There could be comparisons to the Glenn Michibata, Martin Wostenholme and Stéphane Bonneau generation in the late 1970s, Andrew Sznajder, Grant Connell and Chris Pridham group in the 1980s or probably the best ever – Daniel Nestor, Sébastien Lareau, Greg Rusedski, Sébastien LeBlanc and Robert Janecek circa 1990.
But there’s a cautionary note here. Canada’s best-ever ATP ranking singles player – Milos Raonic at No. 4 – was hardly on the radar as a junior.
For Shapovalov (above) and the others, main draw play begins on Friday (the 14th) with the semifinals and final scheduled for next Tuesday (18th) and Wednesday (the 19th).
There’s not as much interest in the girls event because the top three – Bianca Andreescu, Charlotte Robillard-Millette and Katherine Sebov – are not playing. A heavy upcoming tournament load is keeping them out of the event.
The Ontario Racquet Club is located at 884 Southdown Road in Mississauga and is walkable from the Clarkson GO Train station.
Many non-Canadians reading this blog will not be aware that Canada is already into a ridiculously long 11-week federal election campaign that will culminate with the vote on Monday, October 19.
The three main political parties are the Conservatives – in power now for a third term with Stephen Harper as Prime Minister – the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals.
On the political spectrum the Conservatives are on the right, the Liberals in the middle and NDP on the left but approaching the centre as it has a chance for the first time in its history to form the government.
The posters above at Metro stations in Montreal are of the leaders of the two main opposition parties. Justin Trudeau of the Liberals is the son of one Canada’s most famous prime ministers – Pierre Elliott Trudeau – and Thomas Mulcair is a Quebecker who has led his party since the death of inspirational leader Jack Layton in 2011. Both Trudeau and Mulcair are impeccably bilingual.
All three parties are given a chance of winning – with a coalition of the Liberals and NDP not an impossibility if their combined numbers form a majority in the House of Commons.
NOTE: Next blog will be Tebbutt Tuesday with a look back at the Rogers Cup events. A CBC TV commitment on the weekend will keep this blogger busy.