Lleyton Hewitt's US Open credentials face an early test when he takes on Spanish prodigy Rafael Nadal in the first round of the Tennis Masters Series event in Toronto this week.
Hewitt has again landed in the same quarter of the draw as nigh-unstoppable world No.1 Roger Federer for his return to the ATP Tour, but his more immediate focus will be on taming an opponent considered similarly talented.
Hewitt v Nadal pits the youngest-ever world No.1 against potentially an even younger world No.1.
Nadal, the nephew of Spanish soccer great Angel Nadal, burst onto the scene last year armed with groundstrokes rated as the biggest in men's tennis.
His irresistible surge up the rankings - from No.818 at the end of 2001 - climaxed at world No.34 in March when he thumped Federer in Miami before breaking down with a broken foot.
The stylish left-hander, who only turned 18 last month, has reached quarter-finals on his favoured clay surface in Bastad and Stuttgart since returning to the circuit two weeks ago.
But his stunning defeat of Federer - one of just four from 55 matches this year for the rampant Wimbledon and Australian Open champion - is proof Nadal is just as dangerous on hard courts.
Not that Hewitt needed any further evidence after being pushed to 7-6 7-6 6-2 by Nadal in the third round of the Australian Open in January.
Australia's leading player will be on high alert as he makes his first appearance since losing to Federer in the Wimbledon quarter-finals four weeks ago.
Hewitt has opted to bypass the Athens Olympics as he targets a second US Open crown and he has been listed as an early third favourite behind only Federer and defending champion Andy Roddick.
The 23-year-old's progress at the first three grand slams of 2004 has been blocked on each occasion by the eventual winners, losing to Federer in the fourth round of the Australian Open and quarter-finals at Wimbledon.
And his prospects of making a successful opening to a north American campaign that he hopes will end with Flushing Meadows glory in September hinges on overcoming Nadal first-up in Toronto and then conjuring his first win over Federer since last year's Davis Cup semi-final against Switzerland at Melbourne Park.
Federer, seeking his eighth title of a dominant season, faces Morocco's Hicham Arazi in the first round of the $US2.56 million ($A3.62 million) event.
Defending champion and second seed Andy Roddick, whose only loss in his past 17 matches came against Federer in the Wimbledon final, is on the same side of the draw as Todd Reid, Australia's only other singles entrant in Toronto.
Reid opens against French Open champion Gaston Gaudio after surviving two rounds of qualifying at the weekend.
The former Wimbledon junior champion held match points against the Argentine before losing their only previous meeting at the Sydney International last year.
Three-time champion Andre Agassi plays the resurgent former world No.2 Tommy Haas in the first match of the tournament.
07-27-2004, 01:35 AM
Masters draws top 20 players
The lineup for the 2004 Tennis Masters Canada is immaculate -- all the top-20 players in the world are in the field.
They will be coming in from around the world and what they have done in previous weeks could affect their performances on the hard courts at the new Rexall Centre at York University in Toronto.
Main-draw action is set to begin at 11 o'clock this morning.
There was a conversation between a tournament worker and a reporter as they followed (via a live scoreboard on the Internet) Andy Roddick's second-set tiebreaker with Ivan Ljubicic in the semi-finals of the Indianapolis ATP event on Saturday.
When Roddick saved three match points on his way to winning 1-6, 7-6 (12-10), 6-3 over the Croatian, the spontaneous, simultaneous reaction was, "Oh, no."
The disappointment had nothing to do with cheering for Ljubicic. It was simply a shared feeling that it would be better if Roddick came to Toronto with an additional day off. As it was, after cruising to a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Nicolas Kiefer yesterday, second-seeded Roddick will start out tomorrow against qualifier Julien Benneteau.
Kiefer, the runner-up for the second week in a row, will face fresh and rested Marat Safin tomorrow. Safin, the 2000 Tennis Masters Canada champion, has not played since exiting Wimbledon in the first round.
Top seed Roger Federer also will begin play tomorrow, taking on talented Hicham Arazi. Federer leads the Moroccan 3-1 in their matches, but lost their last one: 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the opening round of the 2002 French Open.
After winning Wimbledon on grass, Federer immediately played the Swiss Open on clay, winning a title at home for the first time. The question now is whether two weeks off is enough time to recover and recharge, especially with another ATP Masters Series event in Cincinnati next week, followed by the Olympics in Athens and the U.S. Open -- all taking place within seven weeks.
The third seed of the Tennis Masters Canada tournament, Guillermo Coria, will be playing for the first time since Wimbledon, and fourth seed Carlos Moya arrived yesterday after being upset on Saturday in the semi-finals of the Umag, Croatia, clay-court event.
Because of the rain-out on Saturday of semi-finals at the ATP clay-court tournament in Kitzbuhel, Austria, four Tennis Masters Canada competitors -- French Open champion Gaston Gaudio, Nicolas Massu, Rainer Schuettler and Fernando Verdasco -- all had to play yesterday. Massu beat Gaudio 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 in the final.
They all will be pressed hard in Toronto tomorrow after changing surfaces and travelling through six time zones.
Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., who lost in the final of the $50,000 (U.S.) Challenger event in Aptos, Calif., yesterday, has to make a hasty trip across the continent to get to Toronto in time to meet gritty American veteran Vince Spadea tomorrow.
In other first-round matches today, Daniel Nestor of Toronto will play qualifier Cyril Saulnier of France, and Simon Larose of Trois-Rivières, Que., will take on David Ferrer of Spain. Tomorrow, Frédéric Niemeyer of Deauville, Que., will meets another Spaniard, David Sanchez.
Two players who should be optimally prepared for their "popcorn" (get some, sit back and enjoy) match tonight are Andre Agassi and Tommy Haas.
They will take to the court after the opening ceremony.
Haas beat Agassi 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (8-6), 6-3 in the quarter-finals in Los Angeles 10 days ago, but Agassi leads their head-to-head 4-3.
Agassi has played only six matches dating back to the Nasdaq-100 Open in March in Miami, but reported after his three matches in Los Angeles that there were no ill effects on his ailing hip.
During a media conference at the Rexall Centre on Saturday, Agassi's exasperation with the hip problem was evident when he said of returning to play next year in Montreal: "My patience has grown real thin with expectations lately. It's been very disappointing for me.
" my hope and my game plan is to play."
This is Agassi's 13th appearance, winning the title in 1992, 1994 and 1995. John McEnroe played a record 16 times.
[b]Five to watch
Guillermo Coria: But for nerves-induced cramps in the third set of the French Open final, the Argentine might have won easily and now be celebrated as a clay-court titan. Gifted on any surface, he could shine on the Rexall Centre's hard courts.
Fernando Gonzalez: The Chilean is as gentle and kindly off the court as his ball-striking is huge and explosive on it. A good guy to root for.
Tim Henman: With Roger Federer's abandoning his commitment to serving-and-volleying at Wimbledon this year, Henman becomes even more of a vanishing breed. A fine shotmaker, he should be savoured like strawberries in Devonshire cream.
Xavier Malisse: A human highlight reel when it comes to brilliant tennis, the Belgian is guaranteed to hit a few shots that leave spectators gasping in disbelief.
Marat Safin: The unpredictable Russian is long on talent but short on equanimity. He's worth watching just because it's a mystery whether it will be good Marat or bad Marat who shows up.
07-27-2004, 01:36 AM
Israelis talk after failing to qualify for tennis Master Series in Toronto
Saturday's promise turned into Sunday's disappointment for the hopes of Harel Levy and Noam Okun at the 2004 Tennis Masters Canada. The two men lost their second round qualifying matches and failed to reach the main draw.
Both matches were played on the Stadium Court in front of surprisingly large crowds for the qualifying rounds, which is partially explained by the excitement surrounding the new Tennis Canada venue, the Rexall Center.
Levy (ranked No. 142 by the ATP) fell to Frenchman, Julien Benneteau (76) 6-3, 7-5. Benneteau had just a little bit too much firepower for Levy's crafty play to overcome. This resulted in Levy giving up 14 breakpoint opportunities to Benneteau, who was able to convert four of them on his way to victory, ending Levy's chances of duplicating his remarkable run to the tournament finals in 2000.
Okun, whose play last week at the RCA Championships in Indianapolis, where he reached the quarterfinals of an ATP event for only the second time in his career, saw him rise 23 spots in the ranking to overtake Levy as Israel's top-ranked player at No. 141. But none of that helped him on Sunday as he was ousted from the tournament by Korean Hyung-Taik Lee (78). Lee edged out Okun 6-4, 6-3.
Both men allowed their opponent four chances to break serve, but it was Lee who capitalized on all four openings while Okun only managed to break serve twice. Okun possesses the power which Levy lacks, but could have used a little of his compatriot s foot speed to have prevented unforced errors for a chance at beating Lee.
Jewish South African Glenn Weiner (121), who now resides in Florida, also lost his bid to enter the main draw. Weiner was beaten 6-1, 7-5 by Karol Beck, a 22-year old Slovakian ranked No. 63 in the world.
Only the accomplished doubles duo of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich remain for Israel at the event. Ram and Erlich begin main draw doubles play this week in the first round against a pair of impressive singles players, Argentina's David Nalbandian (9) and fiery Marat Safin (14) of Russia.
With Israel's top three players ousted from the qualifying (Ram went out on Saturday in the first round) and now scattering through out North America to prepare for the US Open, what lies ahead for Israeli tennis?
In separate conversations with The Jerusalem Post, both Okun and Levy lamented the fact that, other than untested 19-year-old Dudi Sela (348), there is an apparent gap in young, promising Israeli mens' tennis talent on the horizon.
Levy believes the problem is largely explained by a lack of public and private funding, due to the country's economic situation and security concerns.
Okun feels the problem runs deeper and that the players from generations before him could have taken a greater role in tennis development after their careers had ended. However, he did note that the system that produced him, Levy, Erlich, and Amir Hadad remains much the same today.
The key, it seems, is the ability to attract more young players to the sport and to a system dedicated to their development. In this regard, the size of Israel s population is not a major disadvantage. Great Britian, with nearly 60 million people, suffers from the same paucity of professional tennis players, if not worse. Sweden, on the other hand, produces talent, generation after generation, despite a population base under 9 million.
07-27-2004, 01:38 AM
Larose, Nestor exit Tennis Masters Canada
Canadians Simon Larose and Daniel Nestor didn't get to spend much time on centre court at the spanking new Rexall Centre.
Larose and Nestor were both first-round losers at the $2.507-million (U.S.) Tennis Masters Canada tournament Monday at the Rexall Centre. The new $38-million facility on the campus of York University replaced the former National Tennis Centre.
Larose, of Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Que., lost 7-5, 6-2 to Spain's David Ferrer while Nestor dropped a 6-3, 6-4 decision to France's Cyril Saulnier.
That leaves two Canadians — Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., and Frederic Niemeyer of Deauville, Que. — in the main singles draw.
Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero became the first seeded player to fall in the tournament. The seventh seed retired in the first set of his match with France's Fabrice Santoro due to back spasms.
The back problem is the latest in a long string of physical problems Ferrero has suffered this year, which include bruised ribs, a stomach strain, wrist ailment and a bout with the chicken pox. As a result, Ferrero came here having played just 19 matches after finishing ranked third in the world last year.
"It's very strange because all my life I was, you know, (a) physical guy with no important injuries," Ferrero said. "It has been quite a difficult year for me."
Ferrero, seeded seventh, required a back massage in the fourth game of the opening set versus Santoro. Ferrero returned to finish the fifth game but when he attempted to serve to tie the match at 3-3, he grimaced in obvious pain and his first serve was noticeably slower than it was earlier.
Then, just 36 minutes into the match, Ferrero decided to retire, giving Santoro the win. Ferrero said he experienced back spasms earlier this year at the Australian Open, but added they were quite mild.
"I was playing good in the match and felt comfortable," Ferrero said. "At 2-2, I hit a return and started to feel it (in his back).
"When I was serving I felt I couldn't still play."
Ferrero expects to remain here for treatment the next few days before deciding whether to play in the next Tennis Masters Series event in Cincinnati.
The premature end of the Ferrero-Santoro match had an impact on Nestor, who was slated to follow on centre court against Saulnier.
Ferrer dispatched Larose in one hour 22 minutes, not surprising given Larose only resumed hitting tennis balls four days ago. He missed five weeks with a dislocated vetebrae in his back suffered while lifting weights. What's more, Larose will also undergo knee surgery later this year.
"I was trying to act big, you know," Larose said of his back injury. "Four days ago I started hitting so my legs are not there and my timing was not there and then blisters came because of that.
"I hit some nice shots but then missed a lot of easy shots and I knew I had an opportunity to get this guy. During the match I was upset because obviously my game wasn't there like I wanted."
07-27-2004, 01:39 AM
Ferrero withdraws with back injury
TORONTO (CP) - Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero became the first seed to fall at the $2.507-million US Tennis Masters Canada tournament Monday, retiring from his first-round match with France's Fabrice Santoro due to a back injury.
Ferrero, seeded seventh, required a back massage in the fourth game of the opening set. Ferrero returned to finish the fifth game but when he attempted to serve to tie the match at 3-3, he grimaced in obvious discomfort as his first serve was noticeably slower than it was earlier.
Then, just 36 minutes into the match, Ferrero decided to retire, giving Santoro the win.
The premature end of the Ferrero-Santoro match had an impact on Toronto's Daniel Nestor, who was slated to follow on centre court at the new Rexall Centre against Cyril Saulnier of France.
Simon Larose of Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Que., also didn't spend much time testing out centre court. Larose dropped his opening-round match to Spain's David Ferrer 7-5, 6-2 in a contest that lasted just one hour 22 minutes.
07-27-2004, 01:40 AM
Roddick not stressing as summer pressure mounts
American Andy Roddick takes the confidence from a title defence at the weekend into this week's first ATP Masters Series event on the road to the US Open as pressure mounts on the world number two.
While vowing to keep focussing only on his next match, last year's winner of the Canadian event in Montreal will again have it all to play for as the tournament shifts here.
Roddick, well behind double Wimbledon winner Roger Federer in the ATP ranking chase, kept up his momentum by lifting a second consecutive crown Sunday at Indianapolis, beating Germany's Nicolas Kiefer in the final.
Roddick has three more titles to defend in the next six weeks, here and at Cincinnati next week as well as at the US Open.
Switzerland's stylish Federer, winner of seven 2004 titles - two Grand Slams and two Masters among them - holds a comfortable 720-point margin over Roddick.
The American, seeded second this week with an opening match against French qualifier Julien Benneteau, says he's trying to take his huge task in manageable bites.
"A lot of my progress over the last year has been between the ears and believing in myself and confidence," he said. "I feel like I'm moving better than I did before and I've become a little better athlete."
Roddick admitted that he will need to step up his level over the coming fortnight with the Masters events on offer.
"The field is tough and every match is a tough one. But I fell I got through some difficult matches mentally in Indianapolis. I feel a little bit match tougher and that's what I wanted to do to prepare these next two Masters Series tournaments."
07-27-2004, 01:41 AM
Ferrero succumbs to Santoro, bad back at Toronto Masters
Toronto, ON - Former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero lost to crafty Frenchman Fabrice Santoro on Monday when he was forced to retire with a back injury in the opening round at the $2.564 million Tennis Masters Canada.
The veteran Santoro was leading 3-2 in the first set when Ferrero decided he was unable to continue on the hardcourts at the spanking new Rexall Centre.
Ferrero, last year's French Open champion and U.S. Open runner-up, has been plagued by injuries this season, one in which he's just 17-10. He's dropped his last three matches, having gone winless since the second round at Wimbledon.
The 24-year-old Ferrero opened the year at No. 3, but has since dropped to No. 7 in the ATP Entry Rankings.
Sixteenth-seeded Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela avoided an upset by beating inconsistent Belgian Xavier Malisse 6-3, 5-7, 6-3.
Other Day-1 winners were Spaniard David Ferrer, Russian Igor Andreev, Swedes Joachim Johansson and Robin Soderling, Belarusian Max Mirnyi, Frenchman Cyril Saulnier, Czech Jan Hernych and American Alex Bogomolov Jr. who stopped 6- foot-10 Croat Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 7-6 (8-6).
American Andy Roddick bested Argentine David Nalbandian in last year's final in Montreal, as the event shifts between Toronto and Montreal each year.
The 2004 Canada Masters, which marks the sixth of nine Masters Series tournaments this season, will pay its champion $420,800. The top seeds are Wimbledon and Australian Open titlist Roger Federer, the U.S. Open champion Roddick and French Open runner-up Guillermo Coria.
07-27-2004, 01:43 AM
American tennis star Roddick impressed with new centre despite getting lost
Getting lost in the Rexall Centre certainly didn't dampen American tennis star Andy Roddick's enthusiasm for the new $38-million facility.
"I've been here 20 minutes and got lost three times," Roddick said with a chuckle Monday when asked about the stadium. "I just have to learn to read the signs. "But it's pretty cool and it's nice to see people really trying to improve the game of tennis. You can see this is a place we're going to be coming back to for many, many years. It's amazing."
Play at the Rexall Centre began Monday with first-round action in the $2.5-million US Tennis Masters Canada tournament. The event's official opening ceremony was held prior to the night draw at centre court and featured many of the 64 participating players appearing in Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys.
The top nine finalists from the television program Canadian Idol performed the national anthem. Afterwards, the players threw tennis balls into the stands.
The second-seeded Roddick is the tournament's defending champion, and will begin defence of his title Tuesday against France's Julien Benneteau. Also slated to play will be top-seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland, the world's top-ranked player who will face Morroco's Hicham Arazi on Tuesday night.
The Rexall Centre replaces the National Tennis Centre, which was the sporting equivalent of a backyard fort. Still, this event attracted over 137,000 spectators for the week the last five years.
But the Rexall Centre is a state-of-the-art facility that covers 15 acres and features 16 tennis courts, including eight that are indoors and can be used year-round. The total stadium capacity is 11,500, with 6,000 premium seats, and offers impeccable sight lines. But when 10th-seeded American Andre Agassi, always a crowd favourite here, began his opening match against German Tommy Haas, there were roughly 10,500 fans on hand.
Still, that was the tournament's biggest opening-night draw - in either the men's or women's event - here the last four years.
"To think that we were still wearing hardhats Friday and now we're hosting (nearly) 12,000 fans and viewers around the world I think our team has done an incredible job," said tournament director Stacey Allaster.
What's more, the Rexall Centre even smells new. Walk around the facility and one of the sensations one experiences is the new-car odour about the place.
However, there were opening-day glitches.
Due to a database error, the video board at centre court could only show live action and not scores early in the day, but was fixed later. Also, the price of sandwiches at the concessions began at $9 each but dropped to $7 a few hours later.
Some interesting facts about the facility include it required 30,693 metric tonnes of concrete to be poured as well as 703.46 metric tonnes of reinforcing steel. It consists of five levels and 130,263 concrete blocks.
But the stadium is about more than just tennis.
The park-like setting provides dining, shopping and a host of interactive activities and also features a nutrition centre.
Toronto's Daniel Nestor said the reaction among players to the Rexall Centre has been positive.
"Everyone seems to like it," he said. "It's the same kind of feeling you get at most big tournaments throughout the year.
"Last year, people I think were a little bit upset they had to leave Montreal and come back to Toronto but I don't think that's going to be the case any more."
Simon Larose of Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Que., said the Rexall Centre is a "good first step."
"We're not the strongest country in tennis and having this tournament and this stadium here and the stadium in Montreal, I think, should (provide) more players.
"It's good for Tennis Canada . . . it was a thing we had to do and they did a great job at it."
If there was a criticism, it was the centre court seemed to play slow, a contention both Larose and Nestor agreed with. But Nestor figured that was a byproduct of the surface being stickier because it's new.
"It's good for the fans," he said. "I think you get better rallies when the court is a little bit slower."
Added Larose: "I think people who like the clay are going to like this court. The bounces are high and very slow so you have time to run around your backhand a lot and it's not easy to come in. It's a great court."
07-27-2004, 01:44 AM
Federer hints his leisurely search for coach might end by 2005
TORONTO : World number one Roger Federer dropped the strongest hint yet that his leisurely search for a coach could end by 2005.
"I need to think about someone who would fit my needs and personality," said the top seed, who begins play on Tuesday at the 2.56-million-dollar Masters Series here with a match against Moroccan Hicham Arazi.
"I know a bit who might fit my needs. The next question is: is he available," said the 22-year-old who is currently dominating the game with two Grand Slams and two Masters titles among his seven tournament triumphs this season.
Added the steady Swiss, who has been on his own and doing quite nicely since parting company with Swede Peter Lundgren in December: "Maybe there is someone (coming) next year.
"I'd like to have a coach next year."
The lack of a coach hasn't appeared to harm Federer, who has lost only once in his last 26 matches this red-hot season. That was to Gustavo Kuerten at Roland Garros.
Federer is aiming to make it a hat-trick of titles this week after lifting his second Wimbledon on grass, winning Gstaad on clay a week later and now aiming for hardcourt success in the run-up to the Athens Games and the US Open.
Federer is also the first man to win 50 matches this year, achieving the mark after 54 matches played.
Life is looking sweet - and the Swiss knows it.
"This year has been fantastic year for me," he said. "It's even better than last year. That's difficult to understand, I thought it would be especially tough."
Federer said that his confidence took a huge leap as the won the end-of-season Masters Cup last November going undefeated and taming a few personal demons with a pair of wins over Andre Agassi and victories against Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Nalbandian and Andy Roddick.
"It was important to win the Australian Open in January and carry the momentum, coming out strong right away," Federer said. "I used momentum from the Masters Cup well.
"I like being number one. You can feel stressed sometimes, but for me it's a good situation, I prefer this to being number two or three."
The superlative Swiss said that he's taking this intense and busy summer season as it comes.
He added that while beating number two Roddick for the Wimbledon title this month was satisfying, the American is just one in a string of rivals trying to knock him from his top position.
"My focus is not just to play Andy. We also have to play well in our other matches. My goals it to beat everyone around the tour.
"If he and I have a rivalry, well that's good for the game."
07-27-2004, 01:46 AM
Henman returns to grindstone
Tim Henman ended Wimbledon looking tired. After a three-week rest he restarts his season with back-to-back Masters Series tournaments in North America over the next fortnight.
These lead straight into the Olympics, and then into the US Open, followed by a sprint finale to ensure he crosses the 2004 finish line among the eight who qualify for the year-end finals.
For Henman, the problem of conserving energy levels is likely to become a familiar one. He begins his hard-court campaign today at the Tennis Masters Canada, in a brand-new $45m stadium and with a none-too-easy first-round match against Mariano Zabaleta of Argentina. If he is to have another couple of years near the top, he must avoid over-playing.
Henman is a few weeks short of his 30th birthday, and the up-and-down form which followed the virus he caught in the spring is a warning. Body and mind change with age, and although Henman is physically stronger and mentally more resilient than he was, conservation is the key to both.
"I feel very enthusiastic," Henman said after his Wimbledon exit. "There is a great deal to play for during the rest of the season." There is indeed. But if Henman does well this week, at next week's Masters in Cincinnati and then again in Athens and New York, some hard scheduling choices may be necessary.
Henman is seeded fifth, for a Toronto quarter-final with the French Open champion Gaston Gaudio, and in the same half as Andy Roddick, who beat Roger Federer for the title last year. Roddick and Federer are seeded to meet in the final. Almost everyone hopes they will.
Meanwhile, Greg Rusedski's hopes of continuing his revival with a wild card in his country of origin have been snubbed. The organisers have chosen instead Daniel Nestor, Frederic Niemeyer, Simon Larose and Frank Dancevic, four Canadians who have remained loyal to the Maple Leaf.
07-27-2004, 01:59 AM
Agassi rallies to dump Haas
American Andre Agassi survived the opening round of the $2.5-million US Tennis Masters Canada tournament Monday, but Canadians Simon Larose and Daniel Nestor weren't so lucky.
The 10th-seeded Agassi, always a top draw here, rallied to capture a wildly entertaining 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 decision over German Tommy Haas before an energetic centre court gathering of about 10,500 at the new Rexall Centre. The key point in the match, which was delayed 23 minutes by rain in the second set, came in the third when Haas's untimely double fault gave Agassi a key break and 5-4 lead, allowing him to serve out the match.
Agassi, a three-time champion in Canada and ranked 17th in the world, improved to 5-3 in career matchups against Haas. The German came in ranked No. 66 in the world with two tournament wins this year after missing all of 2003 following shoulder surgery.
Monday's action officially opened the Rexall Centre, the new $38-million facility on the campus of York University that replaced the former National Tennis Centre. It features a centre court seating capacity of 11,500 and 16 courts, including eight that can be used year-round.
While Monday night's attendance wasn't a sellout, it was the biggest opening-night gathering for either an ATP or WTA event here in four years.
However, neither Larose nor Nestor spent much time in the new digs.
Larose, of Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Que., lost 7-5, 6-2 to Spain's David Ferrer while Nestor dropped a 6-3, 6-4 decision to France's Cyril Saulnier. Nestor's loss was predictable as he went into his first singles match of the year with a world ranking of No. 542, compared to No. 70 for Saulnier.
Last year, Larose surprised Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten at his opening match and made it to the third round before falling to top-seeded Agassi. But on Monday, Ferrer, ranked 41st in the world, made short work of Larose, ranked No. 197.
That leaves two Canadians — Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., and Frederic Niemeyer of Deauville, Que. — in singles. But both are longshots to advance Tuesday. Dancevic, ranked No. 225 in the world, faces No. 21 American Vince Spadea while Niemeyer (No. 231) battles Spain's David Sanchez (No. 54).
Seventh-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain was forced to retire in the sixth game of the first set against France's Fabrice Santoro due to back spasms. Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela, the 16th seed, advanced with a 6-3,5-7, 6-3 win over Belgium's Xavier Malisse while Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan, the 14th seed, downed Romanian Andrei Pavel 7-5, 6-3.
The remaining 12 seeds are in action Tuesday, including top-seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland, defending champion Andy Roddick of the U.S., third-seeded Guillermo Coria of Argentina and No. 5 Tim Henman of Britain.
The abrupt end to the Ferrero-Santoro match forced Nestor and Saulnier to play much earlier than originally planned. But Nestor said Saulnier's serve — he had nine aces — was a bigger factor than the start time. Also, Saulnier broke Nestor three times.
"I felt good but it was hard to get into the match because he was serving so well," Nestor said. "He just seemed to be on another level.
"But that comes from playing singles full time and playing matches. I was just a little bit rusty."
Ferrer dispatched Larose in one hour 22 minutes, not surprising considering Larose only resumed hitting tennis balls four days ago. He missed five weeks with a dislocated vertebrae in his back suffered while lifting weights. And later this year, Larose will also undergo knee surgery.
"I was trying to act big, you know," Larose said when asked how he was hurt. "I hit some nice shots but then missed a lot of easy shots and I knew I had an opportunity to get this guy.
"During the match I was upset because obviously my game wasn't there like I wanted."
The back problem is the latest in a long string of physical problems for Ferrero this year, which include bruised ribs, a stomach strain, wrist ailment and a bout with the chicken pox. Amazingly, Ferrero is ranked seventh in the world with a 17-10 record this season.
"It's very strange because all my life I was, you know, (a) physical guy with no important injuries," Ferrero said. "It has been quite a difficult year for me."
Ferrero required a back massage in the fourth game of the opening set versus Santoro. Ferrero returned to finish the fifth game but when he attempted to serve to tie the match at 3-3, he grimaced in obvious pain and his first serve was noticeably slower than it was earlier.
Then, just 36 minutes into the match, Ferrero retired. Afterwards, Ferrero said he experienced back spasms earlier this year at the Australian Open but not nearly this bad.
"I was playing good in the match and felt comfortable," Ferrero said. "At 2-2, I hit a return and started to feel it (in his back).
"When I was serving I felt I couldn't still play."
07-27-2004, 03:42 AM
Agassi takes revenge on Haas at Toronto Masters
Andre Agassi overcame a sluggish start to oust Tommy Haas 4-6 6-4 6-4 in the opening round of the $2.5 million Toronto Masters on Monday.
Haas, who defeated Agassi in the quarter-finals at Los Angeles two weeks ago, took the first set before the eight-times grand slam winner rallied to beat the German for the fifth time in eight career meetings.
After two evenly-matched sets that featured several momentum changes, Haas double-faulted in the ninth game of the third to hand Agassi a 5-4 lead before the American held serve to clinch the win.
"I felt good tonight, I was running well," said Agassi, who last week became only the sixth man to claim 800 career victories.
"I'm trusting my legs out there, which is a good feeling again," he told reporters.
Still searching for his first title of the season, Agassi's ranking has slipped. The 34-year-old is seeded 10 this week, his lowest in the tournament since 1998.
But Agassi, who has won the event three times, remains the favourite of the fans. He was greeted by a standing ovation as he walked on to the main court for the first time at the new $38 million Rexall Centre tennis facility.
"It's pretty special out there, it was a great atmosphere," Agassi said.
"It feels like you're playing in the final in the first round. I needed it (the support of the fans), it felt good."
In other first-round matches, seventh seed Juan Carlos Ferrero was forced to retire against France's Fabrice Santoro.
Trailing 3-2 in the opening set, Spaniard Ferrero received treatment for back spasms from an ATP trainer but was unable to continue, saying he was in too much pain.
"I hit a return and I started to feel it," Ferrero said. "When I was serving I felt I couldn't play."
It has been a frustrating year for the former French Open champion, who has been plagued by injuries and is without a title win in 2004.
Ferrero, who missed a month of competition after being diagnosed with chicken pox in March, did not know how serious his injury was.
"I hope to be ready for Cincinnati, but I don't know," he said, referring to next month's Masters tournament before the U.S. Open.
Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina, the 16th seed, was hard pressed but finally tamed Xavier Malisse of Belgium 6-3 5-7 6-3.
Paradorn Srichaphan, the 14th seed from Thailand, defeated Romanian Andrei Pavel 7-5 6-2 in the only other match involving a seeded player.
07-27-2004, 02:27 PM
Agassi beats Haas after dropping first set
Andre Agassi rallied to beat Tommy Haas 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in an entertaining opening round match at the Masters Canada tournament on Monday.
The key point came in the third set when Haas double faulted to give Agassi a break and 5-4 lead, allowing him to serve out the match.
"I felt like I stepped up in that game and put myself in a good position," Agassi said. "It was pretty special out there and felt like I was playing in a final instead of a first-round match, which is a testament to the stadium, the intimacy of it and the crowd."
The match was played before a crowd of 10,500 at the new Rexall Centre and their enthusiasm wasn't quelled by a 23-minute rain delay in the second set.
But the crowd also played a role in the match for Haas, whose critical double fault came after a fan yelled as he was about to hit his second serve.
"It's always a little bit frustrating when that happens, but what can you do," said Haas. "It's over with now."
Agassi said the hip injury that has bothered him this year wasn't a factor Monday night. Agassi looked healthy, constantly coming to the net.
Haas wasn't surprised by Agassi's aggressiveness.
"He hit a string of baseline shots deep so I was always trying to defend myself," Haas said.
Agassi, a three-time champion in Canada and ranked 17th in the world, improved to 5-3 against Haas. The German, who beat Agassi two weeks ago in Los Angeles, came in ranked No. 66 with two tournament wins this year after missing all of 2003 following shoulder surgery.
Seventh-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain was forced to retire in the sixth game of the first set against France's Fabrice Santoro due to back spasms.
Argentina's Juan Ignacio Chela, the 16th seed, advanced with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 win over Belgium's Xavier Malisse while Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan, the 14th seed, downed Romanian Andrei Pavel 7-5, 6-3.
The remaining 12 seeds are in action Tuesday, including top-seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland, defending champion Andy Roddick, third-seeded Guillermo Coria of Argentina and No. 5 Tim Henman of Britain.