Reactions to the draw for the 2016 Rogers Cup were mixed, as can be seen in the picture above of tournament director Karl Hale and the player representative – No. 2 seed Stan Wawrinka.
The 31-year-old Wawrinka can’t be too disappointed with the way things worked out because he gets to start out with the winner of a match between two guys older than him – 34-year-old Mikhail Youzhny and 36-year-old Stéphane Robert.
Wawrinka is slated to play No. 3 seed Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals but the Japanese has been struggling with health issues of late so No. 8 seed Marin Cilic, who has been in Toronto for three days already, could be a more probable semi-finalist.
Cilic, currently ranked No. 12, is into the top eight seeds thanks to the withdrawals on No. 2 Andy Murray, No. 3 Roger Federer, No. 4 Rafael Nadal and No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Hale’s non-plus expression could be because No. 4 seed Milos Raonic came out in the top half of the draw with 1 Novak Djokovic – ending any hope of a hometown boy vs. World No. 1 final. But similar to Cilic, Raonic slipped into the top four seeds with the withdrawals. He is currently ranked No. 7 and his final four seeded spot at least prevented any chance of him playing Djokovic in the quarter-finals.
Raonic probably has what could be considered a challenging draw as he faces the winner of Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei and Alexander Zverev of Germany in his first match following a bye. The 6-foot-6 Zverev, 19 and already ranked No. 27, is a possible future star of the sport. He and Raonic have not played.
Should be advance, Raonic would likely play whoever emerges from an opening-round contest between hard-working, straight-shooting and constantly-improving Steve Johnson of the U.S. and the edgy, combustible but ridiculously-talented Fabio Fognini. In the quarter-finals, according to the seeding, he would play either No. 7 seed David Goffin or No. 10 Gael Monfils, both of whom he has beaten in Grand Slams this year – Goffin at Wimbledon and Monfils at the Australian Open.
Then it would likely be Djokovic in the semi-finals, although the Serb could possibly be tested in his opener (after a bye) by the big-serving, forward attacking Gilles Muller of Luxembourg. If he gets going, Djokovic could have No. 5 seed Tom Berdych – whom he leads 24-2 in their head-to-head – in the quarters to set up a potential clash with Raonic in the semi-finals.
The loudest oohs and ahhs during the draw ceremony came when Denis Shapovalov, recent winner of the junior boys title at Wimbledon, was matched with world No. 18 Nick Kyrgios in the first round. Everyone knows about the talent and temperament of the 20-year-old Aussie so the encounter should be entertaining because 17-year-old Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., has an impressive all-round game and likes to play on the big stages. That could easily be a night match on Monday depending on the vagaries of the schedule and players involved in other tournaments.
It will be Shapovalov’s second ATP main tour match after he lost 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-4 to No. 102-ranked Lukas Lacko of Slovakia earlier this week at the ATP 500 event in Washington.
Kyrgios, at the 2013 Australian Open, and Shapovalov, at the Wimbledon this year, have both won junior Grand Slam titles.
Vasek Pospisil, who is 1-9 since the Miami Open in March, has always played well at the Rogers Cup. After losing in the first round of qualifying each year from 2008 to 2010, he has compiled a 7-5 record, including reaching the 2013 semi-finals in Montreal where he played a memorable final-set tiebreaker against Milos Raonic. In his last five Rogers Cups, he has only once – in 2014 against Richard Gasquet – failed to win at least one match.
Now ranked an unflattering No. 98, Pospisil faces No. 38 Jeremy Chardy of France in an opening round that is also a first-ever meeting.
The other Canadians in the draw are all wild cards. No. 232-ranked Frank Dancevic will be playing his 14th Rogers Cup and will take on Sam Querrey in the first round. The 28-year-old American, who famously upset Djokovic at Wimbledon this year, leads their head-to-head 1-0 but his win dates back to the now-defunct tournament in Indianapolis in 2009 when Querrey prevailed 6-4, 6-4.
Steven Diez, originally from Toronto but now resident in Spain, will play Kyle Edmund of Britain, the rangy blond who led his country to a Davis Cup quarter-final win in Serbia last weekend. Diez is basically a clay-court player and has won three Futures events on clay this year as well as reaching the final of a Challenger tournament in Moscow on clay. Currently ranked No. 190, the 25-year-old is playing his fifth Rogers Cup but has lost in the first round of qualifying on all four previous occasions.
Peter Polansky of Richmond Hill, Ont., is playing his 10th Rogers Cup. He enters the event ranked No. 239, with his career high being No. 122 in 2014.
The 28-year-old Polansky went on a tear in June in early July winning 15 matches in a row to capture Futures events in Richmond, B.C., Kelowna, B.C., and Saskatoon. He has won three main-draw matches at the Rogers Cup and will hope to make that at least four when he plays a qualifier in the first round this year.
Friday’s draw ceremony was held in a suite at the Rogers Centre, home of the Toronto Blue Jays, and Wawrinka was down on the field beforehand and took a few cuts with a bat. He also had a chat with Blue Jay Devon Travis (above).
Later, after the draw was completed, Wawrinka, who lost to Raonic in the Australian Open round-of-16 in January, spoke about Canada’s brightest hope. “Milos is getting closer and closer,” Wawrinka said. “He just played the final of Wimbledon and he’s trying everything to improve his game. It’s going to be interesting to see the end of this year and next year because Milos has improved a lot and he’s a really dangerous player.”
Wawrinka said his early exit at Wimbledon – second round to Juan Martin del Potro – has given him time to practice and that he has spend 10 good days getting prepared for the Rogers Cup.
He caused a bit of a surprise when he was non-committal about playing doubles with Roger Federer at next month’s Olympic Games in Rio. He said it would be a last-minute decision. The way things are now, if Federer is fit enough to compete, the great Swiss appears to be more committed to playing the mixed event with Martina Hingis.
Toronto area tennis fans can attend the qualifying event for the 2016 Rogers Cup free-of-charge beginning Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at Aviva Centre at York University.
Among the most interesting players to watch will be junior sensation Félix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal. Runner-up at the French Open boys event – after holding three match points in the final – Auger-Aliassime is viewed by many as just as bright a prospect as his doubles partner and great friend Denis Shapovalov.
Eight days after the Rogers Cup finishes, Auger-Aliassime will turn 16. That’s the same day Roger Federer hits 35.
There’s another Canadian junior who is worth checking out – 17-year-old Benjamin Sigouin from Vancouver. He’s 6-foot-3 and has a big game. A contemporary of Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime, he’s a bit of a late bloomer who has ample potential.
Also playing in the qualifying will be Philip Bester, ranked No. 285. The 27-year-old has battled a lot of fitness issues but has always been a stalwart Davis Cup performer for Canada.
Word has it that colourful Ernests Glubis of Latvia has done away with his thrusting out of his left arm when he hits his forehand. He should be on the practice courts at the Aviva Centre this weekend, so tennis fans can see what this latest incarnation of Gulbis looks like.