In a mere 10 days Rogers Cup presented by National Bank kicks off in Montreal with free admission on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the tournament main-draw action begins on the Monday. In Toronto, it will be a day later with admission being gratis for the qualifying event at Aviva Centre at York University on the August 8-9 weekend.
The opening weekend in Montreal is sponsored by Hygrade, while Pizzaville is the benefactor in Toronto.
“There are a few changes this year,” Montreal tournament director Eugene Lapierre said. “We’ll have a larger stand between courts five and six (beside the Banque Nationale Court) to allow people to watch players practice. And we’ve made the entrance bigger on the Gary Carter Street side of the site. It’ll be more spacious.”
Lapierre added, “ticket sales have been going crazy and we’re almost sold out for Sunday (final) and Friday night (quarter-finals). For a 12,000-seat stadium, that’s not bad.”
In Toronto, tournament director Karl Hale is singing very much the same tune. “We’ve got new and improved bleachers so people can watch the players on our practice courts,” he said.
As far as ticket sales, Hale added, “we’re tracking well ahead of projections and of two years ago.”
There’ll be ball hockey games on the opening weekend in both cities, with Hale saying that Jason Spezza of the Dallas Stars is expected in Toronto and that feelers have been put out in hopes of attracting local guys such as P.K. Subban, John Tavares and Steven Stamkos. The chance for the hockey superstars to meet some of the fine women athletes on the WTA tour is no doubt a major selling point.
As well as the ball hockey game in Montreal, there will be a soccer game featuring some players from the local Major League Soccer team, the Impact.
The player fields for the two events should be strong. The current Top 25 women in the WTA rankings have entered Toronto while Montreal, as a Masters 1000 tournament, has the Top 44-45 players automatically entered. That leaves seven spots for qualifiers, four for wild cards and no more than one place for a special exempt (a player who can’t get to Rogers Cup qualifying because he’s still involved in a tournament elsewhere).
There’s an asterisk here about mandatory participation in the Masters 1000s – players are allowed to miss Masters 1000s if they meet three qualifications: have played 600 tour matches, have been on tour for 12 years and are 31 years old. They are allowed to skip one tournament for each of those milestones. Rafael Nadal meets two of them and Roger Federer all three. And in the latter case, meeting all three, gives a player a complete exemption and he can play as many or as few Masters 1000s as he likes without sanction.
In Toronto at the women’s event, it’s 39 direct entries, 12 qualifiers, three wild cards and two Top 20 wild cards (Simona Halep has taken one). Because there are no other Top 20 players who did not previously enter Rogers Cup, the second Top 20 wild card will end up becoming the 40th direct entry – going to the next player in line for the main draw.
It’s revealing to look at the domination of the men’s Rogers Cup by the so-called Big Four – Nadal and Novak Djokovic have won three times each while Federer and Andy Murray have both won twice. After 10 years – 2004 to 2013 – with no one but the Big Four winning in Canada, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ended that run a year ago in Toronto with a win over Federer in the final.
The current prize for Rogers Cup perfect attendance at the men’s event goes to Murray, playing his 10th in a row this year. Djokovic is right behind, in his ninth consecutive dating back to 2007 when he memorably won in his first try – beating Andy Roddick, Nadal and Federer in his last three matches.
This year in Toronto (above last year’s winner Agnieszka Radwanska with Venus Williams before the final) for the women’s event, Hale said he hopes that a former world No. 1 player might be able to highlight the opening Monday evening session, while Genie Bouchard is already penciled in for Tuesday evening. Bouchard, with a current ranking of No. 26, will not be seeded nor given a first-round bye as was the case a year ago in Montreal.
In Montreal, there are doubts about whether 14-year-old sensation Félix Auger-Aliassime, who turns 15 on August 8 (also RF’s birthday), will be in the tournament. Asked about a wild card in the qualifying for Auger-Aliassime, already No. 749 in the ATP rankings after qualifying and reaching the quarter-finals of the $100,000 (US) National Bank Challenger in Granby last week, Lapierre said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea. Personally, I wouldn’t give him one. I think it’s too much to throw him into the arena at his age. But I’ll have to talk to the (Tennis Canada) coaches about that. We’d like to have him around to hit with the main-draw players.”
In terms of television coverage – for the women’s Rogers Cup in Toronto it will be host RJ Broadhead and analyst Tracy Austin for both Sportsnet (weekdays) and CBC (weekend). In Montreal, Rob Faulds will work with Jimmy Arias for Sportsnet during the week and then Arias joins the CBC’s Bruce Rainnie on the weekend.
In Montreal during the week, there will also be coverage of the Banque Nationale Court with Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy and Ottawa native Jesse Levine doing colour commentary.
This year marks the 35th time the men’s and women’s Canadian Open events have been held separately in Montreal and Toronto. That alternating began in 1981 when then-sponsor Imperial Tobacco wanted the tournament – Toronto-based at the time – to also be played in Montreal where its head office was located.
The old Montreal Expos baseball stadium in Jarry Park was renovated and reconfigured…and the rest is history.
Vasek Pospisil is back in action this week at the ATP 250 event in Atlanta where he will be the No. 2 seed with a ranking of No. 29.
Top-seeded is No. 19 John Isner while the third seed is Pospisil’s doubles partner Jack Sock, No. 35.
It could be a good opportunity for Pospisil, who faces No. 76-ranked Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei on Wednesday after receiving a first-round bye. If all is well with the bone bruise on his right wrist and he gets through that match it would be one of Marcos Baghdatis, Sam Groth, Francis Tiafoe or a qualifier Austin Krajicek in the quarter-finals for a spot in the semifinals.
It’s a first meeting between Pospisil and Lu, who turns 32 next month.
Among other Atlanta notables are Mardy Fish, in the draw with a protected ranking. Fish, 33, who is playing his final few tournaments before retiring at the US Open, is in the doubles with old buddy Andy Roddick. Former hot prospect Ryan Harrison, now 23 and ranked No. 128, is in the main draw on a wild card. His career-high ranking has been No. 43 in July 2012.
Also returning to tournament play for the first time since his second-round loss to Dustin Brown at Wimbledon, is Rafael Nadal at this week’s ATP 500 clay-court event in Hamburg. Currently ranked No. 10 with exactly 3,000 points, the 29-year-old Spaniard has only 190 points to defend between now and the end of 2015. If he wins Hamburg and its 500 points, he will have accomplished that and then some at a single tournament.
Nadal has a tricky first round on Tuesday against compatriot Fernando Verdasco and then a more favourable path to the final. The only way he can meet his recent nemesis (two 2015 clay-court losses) – Fabio Fognini – is in the championship match.
Garbiñe Muguruza, this year’s Wimbledon finalist, is pictured here with BBVA (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria) Chairman and CEO Francisco Gonzalez.
An ambassador for BBVA, the second largest bank in Spain, Muguruza has donated one of her Wimbledon racquets as part of a fundraising campaign for Unicef.
The Chairman and CEO has a good tennis name – in the mid-1980s Paraguay reached four Davis Cup quarter-finals led by 1979 French Open runner-up Victor Pecci and… Francisco Gonzalez, who is now 59 years old.