Thursday is usually the day of the week that you can see the light: You can see Friday. Friday is almost here.
At Rogers Cup presented by National Bank each year, Thursday is when the clearing occurs in the schedule. The locker room is starting to empty as the day progresses. Centre Court is becoming centre stage. By Friday, only eight players will remain in singles, each with their eyes on one prize: The title.
Thursday was split in the way it played out. The top seeds held firm their ground, while former success stories on tour continued their respective resurgences, finding a belief and a confidence that make them downright dangerous at the latter stages of a Masters 1000.
The top five won through, however: Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych all registering third-round wins, Djokovic and Berdych setting up a Friday night quarter-final.
Team Resurgent, however, can’t be overlooked: Gael Monfils, on a seven-match win streak; Grigor Dimitrov, finding the game that brought him to the Top 10; and Kevin Anderson, with his bomb of a serve, bouncing back from a surgery (ankle) and another injury (shoulder) earlier this year.
“All of that losing in the first round has helped keep my fitness up,” quipped Dimitrov, who reached a career-high No. 8 in the world after making the Wimbledon semifinals in 2014 but has struggled for much of this year, barely over .500 in 2016.
Monfils might be the most dangerous of match-ups, the can’t-miss Frenchman tied 2-2 with Raonic in their four career meetings.
“I’ve got to play well. I have to dictate,” Raonic said of facing Monfils. “He can do a lot of things. He can make you play a lot of balls.”
It is indeed fun to see Dimitrov striking the ball like he used to, however. He is now working with Dani Vallverdu, the former coach of Andy Murray as well as Berdych, and he broke big-serving Ivo Karlovic not once but twice on Thursday.
“He broke the guy no one can figure out!” Called out by Jack Sock – good-heartedly – as he walked by Dimitrov’s media scrum, Dimitrov unsure of how to respond. But Sock is right: If you can make inroads on Ivo’s serve and break – twice! – in a single match, you’re doing something right.
Both Nishikori and Wawrinka have been silent assassins this tournament, yet to drop a set while Djokovic and Raonic have grabbed the headlines. One of the two of them is favoured to make the final on the bottom half of the draw, or can Dimitrov or Anderson thwart them?
Thursday, world No. 1 Djokovic played the role of court crew member for a few minutes, taking a towel after a brief early-evening rain storm and helping to dry his practice court. His form was questionable (he wasn’t trying, just so we’re clear), but to watch a world-class athlete “help” dry his court? That’s the kind of stuff that we love to see – no matter the day.
He went out and mopped the court (mostly) with Radek Stepanek later on. Can he continue that trend on Friday? Let’s wait and see.