ROGERS CUP CARVES OUT CLEAR NEW IDENTITY(Damien Cox, Sports Columnist)
There are many cities and countries around the world anxious to host professional tennis tournaments, and many more tennis players anxious to enter those events to make a living, sometimes a very, very lucrative living.
This is the basic reality of a sport that has the unusual characteristic of being without a defined off-season. You can watch the world’s best players compete 11 months of the year, and sometimes even more. Theoretically, the men’s season begins in January with the Australian Open and ends in late November with the ATP World Tour Finals, set for London this year — but to most avid sports watchers tennis, like golf, is simply one endless season.
That creates room for new events — too many, it seems clear — and, most important, new markets, like the Far East. But to some extent, it robs tournaments, particularly the non-majors, of definition. They simply take place, and despite the best efforts of both tours, often lack particular meaning in the endless tennis year.
There are exceptions, and it could well be that Canada, with the new virtually combined Rogers Cup event, is one of them.
We’ll see, although the great Roger Federer has already voiced his misgivings. But based on the events of the year, Canada will effectively mark the beginning of the post-Wimbledon season for both men and women, the beginning of the hard court campaign and the march to the U.S. Open, the final major of the year.
With the women competing in Toronto and the men in Montreal this week, being the next big tournament after Wimbledon is not a bad identity.
None of the top men — Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray — have competed on the men’s tour since Djokovic captured the men’s title at the All-England Club in the early days of last month. Some have played Davis Cup, but that’s another endless animal altogether.
On the women’s side, Caroline Wozniacki, the very questionably-ranked No. 1 player in the world, played two matches right after Wimbledon and none since. Ditto for ladies champ Petra Kvitova, although there may be injury issues there.
There have, of course, been events in Europe and the United States since then, and many lesser players have been involved to make some dough and gain some rankings points. Among the men, Mardy Fish, the top-ranked American, has played two tournaments and won one of them, and just this week in Kitzbuehl, normally known as a Mecca for downhill skiing, Robin Haase of the Netherlands became the eighth male player in 2011 to win his first ATP event ever.
Veteran Radek Stepanek, meanwhile, upset Gael Monfils in the final at Washington on Sunday
But the big boys? Mostly resting and recuperating and training, chomping at the bit to get rolling in Montreal this week, while the top 20 women gather in Toronto.
For the men, Montreal is where the Djokovic-Nadal-Federer tale resumes, with Djokovic now No. 1 in the world, having beaten Nadal at Wimbledon, and Federer looking to again demonstrate he’s still a force in the game. He beat Djokovic at the French Open, the Serbian’s only loss in 2011, but went out relatively early on the lawns of Wimbledon.
The buzz over the Big Three is almost enough to make you forget Murray has emerged as the champion of this event the past two years, beating Juan Martin del Potro two years ago and Federer last year in Toronto.
This is, arguably, a golden age for men’s tennis, and when the stars all gather, as they will this week, it’s special. Canada’s burgeoning star, Milos Raonic, was injured at Wimbledon, and won’t be on court here, although he will try his hand as a tennis commentator on Rogers Sportsnet during the week.
The Can-Con will be lighter in Montreal than for the women in Toronto, with only Vasek Pospisil and Erik Chvojka in the men’s singles draw. Pospisil and Pickering’s Adil Shamasdin will be in an interesting doubles match on opening day against the Spanish duo of Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez.
Logic suggests one of the Big Three will win the men’s event — but then again, there have been all those players in 2011 who have demonstrated, for the first time, that they can win an ATP event.
So, after a four-week hiatus, the tennis tour for both men and women really gets rolling again this week in Canada. Not a bad identity to build on.
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