Rafael Nadal stole the show on the opening free-admission practice day at Rogers Cup in Montreal.
He worked out on the stadium court for almost two hours with Tommy Robredo and then spent the better part of a half hour signing autographs – first for fans inside the stadium and then (see above) when he finally made his way outside and headed to the players entrance.
Nadal won the tournament the last time it was played in Montreal in 2013 – defeating Novak Djokovic in a Saturday night semifinal and Milos Raonic in Sunday’s final.
As usually happens at this time of year, Uncle Toni is not with Nadal. As can be seen in the picture below Francisco Roig, the longtime ‘assistant’ coach, is with the current world No. 9.
There were players all over the site on Friday, including two fairly prominent ones who were on court without any coaches present – David Goffin and Ernests Gulbis. The Latvian will be playing in the qualifying on Saturday.
Gulbis, who currently ranks No. 81, may not be wearing the best T-shirt for his circumstances. Born into a wealthy family in Latvia, he ranked as high as No. 10 just last June but has struggled mightily of late as he approaches his 27th birthday.
Daniel Nestor was also on court doing drills with Davis Cup teammate Adil Shamasdin beside him – although in the doubles draw Nestor will partner Edouard Roger-Vasselin, the Frenchman who ranks No. 23 in doubles. Nestor is No. 25.
Before Nadal and Robredo went onto the stadium, there was a little fun and games featuring Milos Raonic and Montreal mayor Denis Coderre. The mayor, who claims to have lost 50 pounds, did a decent job trying to return about 10 serves from the mighty Milos – and actually got one back into play.
The last couple of Montreal mayors have wound up in dicey situations with criminal charges against one and another under criminal investigation.
Coderre has so far been quite popular with his fellow citizens, including going to the recent Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., for former Montreal Expo Pedro Martinez. He is attempting to draw attention to his city’s bid to re-acquire a major league baseball team.
During the afternoon, there were the odd interesting things going on in the players lounge, with ATP media maestro Greg Sharko rounding up players to take part in the ball hockey game on Saturday. The two big-name NHL players committed are Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks.
Among the participants on the players/coaches include Philip Bester and Swedes Jonas Bjorkman, Magnus Larsson and Thomas Johansson, who won the Canadian Open/Rogers Cup back in 1999.
On the subject of previous Montreal tournaments, Sharko reminded Raonic on Friday that this event was when he first made an impact on the international scene. In 2009, at just 18, he pushed then-world No. 10 Fernando Gonzalez to the brink – holding a match point before the Chilean finally won 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4.
Raonic was working with coach Riccardo Piatti on Friday.
Andy Murray arrived at the site on Friday as did Jerzy Janowicz who exchanged a warm greeting with Gulbis.
Back in the stadium, Tomas Berdych and Borna Coric followed Nadal and Robredo onto the court, along with their coaches Danny Vallverdu and Thomas Johansson – after Nadal and Robredo finished.
In the picture here, Nadal can be seen smiling at Berdych. There have been incidents between the two in the past but all seems good now.
UN BEAU TABLEAU
Un beau tableau means a beautiful draw and that probably accurately describes how matters unfolded late Friday afternoon when the draw ceremony was conducted at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in downtown Montrreal.
William Coffey, the tournament referee, can be seen in the picture above beside Stan Wawrinka who was the player representative at the event.
Basically, the best part of the draw is that there could be a Novak Djokovic – Rafael Nadal final. With the world No. 1 Serb at the top of the draw, Nadal, seeded No. 7, was drawn into the third quarter and could face No. 4 seed Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals and No. 2 seed Andy Murray in the semifinal.
The draw was also beautiful because the host country players didn’t fare too badly. No. 8 seed Milos Raonic, after a bye, will face the escapee of a monster serving battle between 6-foot-11 Ivo Karlovic and 6-foot-8 Jerzy Janowicz. The winner of that second-round encounter could play No. 11 seed Richard Gasquet.
As far as the other Canadians, Vasek Pospisil will play a qualifier with whomever advances then taking on John Isner or Benjamin Becker. Isner defeated Pospisil in two sets in Washington late on Thursday night – or early Friday morning.
Filip Peliwo, who won a match two years ago in Montreal, will face the serve-and-volleying Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine (winner to play Nadal), Frank Dancevic has solid but unspectacular Pablo Andujar as a first-round opponent and Philip Bester will take on heavy-hitting Gilles Muller.
The obvious popcorn match-up in the first round has to be No. 15 seed Gael Monfils against temperamental but talented Italian Fabio Fognini.
Another opening match with serious implications pairs defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga against ambitious, tenacious Borna Coric.
There were 10,000 people on the site on Friday and things are looking good for main-draw action next week.
“We’ve become an event in the city,” said tournament director Eugene Lapierre. “It’s like when the jazz festival is on, the people know that the best jazz musicians are in town, so they go see them. The same with us, they know the best tennis players are here so they want to see them.”
GENIE COACHING MOVE
The news came yesterday that the Genie Bouchard – Sam Sumyk coaching relationship is over.
Back in February when Bouchard committed to Sumyk as the successor to Nick Saviano, the reasoning then was that he had taken Victoria Azarenka to two Grand Slam titles and the No. 1 ranking and would be able to guide her to a similar kind of success.
You have to feel a bit sorry for Sumyk, a late forty-something Frenchman, because within about two months of him hooking up with Bouchard, she successively had forearm, abdominal and ankle injuries which did not help build momentum in their partnership.
Bouchard will be working at least temporarily with Marko Dragic of Serbia.
In any sport, when a player or a team isn’t doing well – Bouchard is 2-12 in her last 14 matches – it’s the coach that usually pays the price. It’s going to be a challenge after her inactivity and her abdominal issue, but her fans will hope she can get back on track at Rogers Cup next Tuesday night when she is scheduled to play her first match against gifted 18-year-old Swiss Belinda Bencic.