Novak Djokovic laid claim to a fourth ATP Masters 1000 title this year, and also a third career Rogers Cup title (his first since 2012) as he defeated Kei Nishikori in routine fashion 6-3 7-5, completing his utter dominance of the 2016 Rogers Cup in Toronto, where he didn’t drop a set, and only played one match that could be considered somewhat poor.
Despite losing early at Wimbledon in a shocking defeat, Djokovic sh0wed few weaknesses and no signs of stress back on hard courts as he slipped past big server Gilles Muller, and serve and volleyer Radek Stepanek in the first two rounds, despite their best efforts. In the business end of the tournament, Djokovic had to take out three credible top players, Tomas Berdych, Gael Monfils, and Nishikori. He didn’t drop a set against them, and only against Berdych did he display weaknesses in his game, weaknesses the Czech lacked the confidence to exploit, as he continues to struggle against the ATP’s elite in h2h matches. Nishikori gave it his best effort on Sunday afternoon, but his level simply could not match Djokovic, who heads to the 2016 Rio Olympics as the presumptive favorite for the Gold medal in a weakened field.
Nishikori reached his second Masters final this year, the other coming in Miami where he was also swept aside by Djokovic. The Japanese #1 defeated Dennis Novikov and Rajeev Ram early on, then needed three sets against Grigor Dimitrov, who had his chances, but was poor enough on serve he couldn’t pull the match out. Nishikori faced an improved Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals, but Wawrinka continued his somewhat disappointing season as he lost in straight sets, and was breadsticked in the second set after a competitive battle in the first set.
Credit also goes to semifinalist Gael Monfils who has now won nine of his last ten matches. The Frenchman won Washington, and followed that up with wins over David Goffin and Canadian #1 Milos Raonic most notably to reach the semifinals, although he was unable to knock off Djokovic this time.
Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo beat Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares for the doubles final, as it was a battle of the #3 seed team vs. the #2 seed team.
2016 ATP Rogers Cup Preview and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The summer hard court season will kick into high gear with the 2016 Rogers Cup ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Toronto, as many ATP players make their final preparations for the Olympic games in Rio that are coming up in August. Here is a preview and predictions.
ATP World Tour Masters 1000
July 25-July 31, 2016
Prize Money: $4,089,740
Top 8 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Stan Wawrinka (5)
3: Kei Nishikori (6)
4: Milos Raonic (7)
5: Tomas Berdych (8)
6: Dominic Thiem (9)
7: David Goffin (11)
8: Marin Cilic (12)
Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer, and a host of other top 30 players are skipping Toronto this year, making this one of the weaker Masters 1000 fields, while also creating more opportunities for those in the top 50 who are playing.
A first time meeting between this fan favorite pairing. Paire should prevail, but Stepanek is a difficult opponent to defeat when he rushes the net well, and Paire is dependent on his backhand clicking to win matches.
Ivo Karlovic vs. Taylor Fritz
Fritz looked a bit overwhelmed and overmatched in D.C., it won’t get any easier against the big serving Karlovic in Toronto. Ivo is the heavy favorite, but it will be interesting to see if the young Fritz can fight hard and show some bounce back in this match.
(11)Nick Kyrgios vs. (WC)Denis Shapovalov
Kyrgios is far and above better than the young Wimbledon junior champ Shapovalov in this one, but the Canadian will have home support, and both guys play aggressive battlers tennis. If Kyrgios loses the plot, Shapovalov has the strokes, especially with his one handed backhand, to notch an upset, however Kyrgios serve should dominate play. Expect to see more of Denis in the years to come.
Both players are veterans in poor form who badly need a win, and with Anderson’s penchant for playing (and as of recently losing..) tiebreaks, expect a close battle that is likely to go to three sets. Anderson gets a lot of points this time of year, but if his poor play continues he’s going to drop out of the top 50 sooner than you’d expect. The h2h is tied 1-1.
Donald Young vs. Alex Dolgopolov
Young found some decent form as of late and he hasn’t lost his opening match at a tournament since Roland Garros. Dolgopolov is a tricky shotmaker who could dominate Young in this one, or show signs of weakness and give the American an opening. At a very minimum these two will battle and hit some great shots from the baseline.
Novak Djokovic hasn’t won the Rogers Cup since 2012, but with all of the recent champions absent this year he’s the favorite to improve on his 46-4 record on the season and take home the title. He should ease past Newport finalist Gilles Muller (who opens with a struggling Dmitry Tursunov), then defeat most likely Washington quarterfinalist Benoit Paire in round 3. Paire opens with Stepanek with either Peter Polansky or Tim Smyczek to follow. He’s unpredictable, but he’s likely to win a pair of matches, then bow out meekly to Djokovic.
John Isner and Tomas Berdych look set to meet in the third round for the right to face Djokovic in the quarters, Isner fell in the quarterfinals of Washington, but his form should still be good enough to dispatch Dudi Sela and either Andrey Kuznetsov or in-form qualifier Ryan Harrison to reach round 3. Wimbledon semifinalist Berdych will face either Borna Coric or Ivan Dodig in his second round match, Coric is a solid young player, but didn’t play well enough in D.C. to suggest he will upset Berdych. Berdych over Isner is my pick, given Berdych’s power game should edge Isner matchup wise, although it will be close and could go either way.
Milos Raonic is set for a tricky second round match against Washington semifinalist Alexander Zverev, who is rising quickly up the ranks on all surfaces. Zverev needs only to defeat Rendy Lu in round 1. The home hero Canadian should be bailed out by crowd support and his big serve to prevail however, and likewise Steve Johnson is a difficult opponent in the third round, but Raonic is the favorite to prevail. Johnson knocked off John Isner in Washington and reached the semifinals, showing he can deal with big servers. He’s in great form and should defeat Umag champion Fabio Fognini, and either Jared Donaldson or John Millman to reach round 3. A spot in the quarterfinals would earn Raonic his 20th hard court win of the season.
The fates of Gael Monfils and Sam Querrey are somewhat up in the air, while David Goffin is the player that gets a bye. Goffin has a pair of semifinals in the hard court Masters this year and would face the Wimbledon and Washington quarterfinalist Querrey in round 2, presuming Sam dispatches Frank Dancevic. Querrey is playing some of the best tennis he’s ever played, and his power could be too much for Goffin. They met in Montreal last year and Goffin advanced in a close straight setter. Goffin is my pick though, as he’s proven his mettle in Masters tournaments this season, and likely has the clutch factor.
The Washington champion Monfils should defeat Joao Sousa and then Jeremy Chardy or Vasek Pospisil, both of whom are struggling in recent months. Fatigue could play a factor for Monfils, but he’s playing so well right now I have to pick him over Goffin for the quarterfinals. His movement and serve were exceptional in Washington, while Goffin hasn’t played a match in weeks.
Kei Nishikori and young Frenchman Lucas Pouille look set to do battle in round 3 as Kei would be bidding for 40 match wins on the season. Federico Delbonis or Dennis Novikov should provide little resistance for the efficient Nishikori while the Wimbledon quarterfinalist Pouille faces qualifier Emilio Gomez with Ernests Gulbis or serve and volleyer Rajeev Ram to follow. This smooth path for Pouille will abruptly end against Nishikori, and although the Frenchman is a great young player, on hard court Nishikori should have the shots he needs to advance.
The Kyrgios/Shapovalov winner will face either Yuichi Sugita or a continually struggling Grigor Dimitrov in round 2, for the right to face most likely Marin Cilic in round 3, although Washington finalist Ivo Karlovic, or Fritz are also possible opponents. Karlovic has been dominant on serve in recent weeks, but fatigue will likely catch up to him at his age, while Cilic was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon and has a great opportunity in this Masters tournament with some of the big names absent. Cilic’s power should get him past Karlovic, and Kyrgios, who is good enough to defeat Dimitrov, but likely below Cilic’s level, despite Kyrgios win in Marseille this year indoors.
Stan Wawrinka looks set to face Jack Sock in the third round, presuming Sock defeats struggling fellow American Denis Kudla and the Young/Dolgopolov winner, a tricky but favorable prospect. Wawrinka is 14-3 on the season on hard court, and either Mikhail Youzhny or Stephane Robert are unlikely to provide much resistance in round 2, although a match with Youzhny would treat fans to a battle of great one handed backhanders. Sock was a quarterfinalist in Washington, and I wouldn’t put an upset of Wawrinka past him, but Stan is the favorite in his section with Dolgopolov serving as a bit of a dark horse. Sock’s great forehand will clash with Wawrinka’s great backhand.
Dominic Thiem crashed out of Kitzbuhel, a home tournament for him, in singles, and he has a tough round 2 match on tap with Troicki/Anderson with the winner set to face Bernard Tomic, presuming a streaky Bernie beats qualifier Alejandro Gonzalez, and either Kyle Edmund or wild card Steve Diez. Thiem is 14-5 on hard courts on the season, and he’s played a brutal schedule that may have left him a bit winded recently. With neither Troicki nor Anderson playing well, Thiem over Troicki is my pick, and then Thiem over Tomic, although Bernie could really use a confidence boosting upset on hard court such as that. Thiem beat Tomic earlier this season in Acapulco.
Querrey will need to upset Goffin, and Monfils to reach the quarters, but if he does, even Milos Raonic should be on alert. The American is playing freely right now, and that serious but relaxed attitude is doing his game wonders. Karlovic is unbreakable on serve right now, fatigue likely catches up with him but he could defeat anyone in the draw right now if he can win tiebreaks, and he could reach the quarters.
Quarters: Djokovic d. Berdych
Raonic d. Monfils
Cilic d. Nishikori
Thiem d. Wawrinka
Djokovic, despite his shock loss at Wimbledon, is far and above better than Berdych, Raonic vs. Monfils is a tough match to predict, but given the fatigue factor, Raonic likely edges Monfils in a close one. Nishikori could have a better tournament than the quarterfinals, but Cilic should be hungry, and his power likely gives him the edge. Thiem vs. Wawrinka is a battle of one-handers, Wawrinka hasn’t been super impressive this year, and Thiem will look to continue to make his move into the ATP’s elite with some of the other big names absent this tournament.
Semis: Djokovic d. Raonic
Thiem d. Cilic
It’s a bold and gutsy move to go with Thiem in the final, but the Rogers Cup looks likely to produce a few surprises. Djokovic should break Canadian hearts and defeat Raonic with his superior return game given their result this year in the IW final.
Final: Djokovic d. Thiem
In ATP Masters 1000’s right now I can’t go against Djokovic, he’s simply the best player in the game right now, and in best of 3 there is little margin of error for his opponents to defeat him unless he has a bad day, and that’s rare for him.
Sunday’s afternoon final was played in the sweltering heat of the former Jarry Stadium and despite the challenging conditions on court, the players were still able to deliver an epic showcase that finally gave life to a once competitive matchup. Such drama would not be complete without a proper backstory, as Murray entered this match on an 8 match losing streak against the Serb which included a four set defeat at the Australian Open final in January and a five set defeat at the French Open in May, it was debatable whether he would ever get over the hump against his long time nemesis.
Those fears were cast aside on Sunday as he proved to be every bit the match to Djokovic’s patient counterpunching, saving break point after break point with timely serving especially during an interminable 18 minute game in the third set that had fans of both Djokovic and Murray clinging to the edge of their seats. The match, clocking in at just over 3 hours, was tightly contested in every aspect, with almost every service game going to deuce. Murray in particular looked quite sharp in the first set while Djokovic, no doubt still troubled his right elbow, appeared rattled by the amount of resistance required to hold serve in the 4th game which he would eventually relinquish. Djokovic would break back in the 7th game after pouncing on a weak 2nd serve from Murray but couldn’t hold his nerves in the 10th game and conceded a 2nd break and ultimately the set to Murray.
In set 2, Murray’s concentration dipped and Djokovic immediately broke to love. Momentum would sway back and forth with each player exchanging breaks in the 6th and 7th games before Djokovic steadied himself and closed out the set to even things last one apiece. Throughout the match, Djokovic’ putaway volleys and overhead smashes would strangely not find their target, these are shots that have let him down in the past during crucial moments.
Some more drama would unfold when Murray, barely clinging on to a break, was handed a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct, a very controversial call from chair umpire Fergus Murphy at such a critical juncture in the match. Despite this setback, he saved 7 break points in a game that lasts 18 minutes en route to a 4-1 lead. Djokovic would again have 2 more opportunities to break at 5-3 but Murray, showing a considerable reserve of mental strength, earns the championship point when Djokovic’s forehand goes long. After the dust settled, it was a 6-4. 4-6. 6-3 win for the 2013 Wimbledon champion and a well deserved Masters crown.
Murray showed clutch tennis overall, though his game was a rollercoaster, and Djokovic didn’t appear to be entirely focused in on the match, making him vulnerable. That said Murray has now claimed 11 Masters titles in his career, and two this season as he’s been a top player across surfaces and now moves to world #2. It’s quite possible that we will see these guys face off again in the US Open final.
Bob and Mike Bryan claimed yet another doubles title, this one over Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.
A diverse field of qualifiers claimed their sports in the 2015 ATP Montreal, Rogers Cup main draw this weekend in what was a competitive qualifying tournament. The headliner was Ernests Gulbis, who may be coming out of what has been a season long slump, and beat both Blaz Rola and top qualifying seed Nicolas Mahut, the latter in a close three sets, to qualify. Gulbis was ranked as high as #10 in the world last year, and has six ATP titles, but he’s endured a dreadful season, and perhaps the summer will help regenerate him and his focus.
Along with Gulbis, young gun Hyeon Chung also made the main draw. The 19 year old Korean with a whippy backhand is in great form on the US Open Series thus far (3-1), and dominated both of his matches, the first against Kelsey Stevenson, and the second against Alejandro Gonzalez. Chung has a bright future ahead and we are likely to see him in many Masters main draws to come.
Like Gulbis, Alexandr Dolgopolov has endured a poor season, but the perpetual top 20 talent, who has now been on tour for a while, won a pair of tough matches over Dudi Sela and Alejandro Falla to qualify. Dolgopolov is 4-1 in his last five matches, and should serve as a dark horse threat on hard courts in the Montreal draw. He has two ATP quarterfinals on hard courts this year and also reached the round of 16 in Miami, pushing Novak Djokovic to three sets.
Two other veteran presences on tour also qualified, Yen-Hsun Lu used his baseline ball striking talents to easily dispatch David Volfson and Brayden Schnur, dropping jut three games in four sets of tennis. Mikhail Youzhny snapped a long losing streak, as the Russian surprisingly found form and whipped his one handed backhand to wins over J.P. Smith and Pierre-Hugues Herbert without dropping a set.
Lastly, two Americans qualified north of the border in Quebec as Donald Young snapped a cold streak and beat Rajeev Ram with ease after slipping past Edouard Roger-Vasselin in three sets. He will face off with his countryman Denis Kudla, who continued his fantastic form with routine wins over Ryan Harrison and James Duckworth, both of whom were challenging opponents on paper. Young is 6-1 against Kudla in the h2h, but Kudla clearly has an edge in form.
In the main draw Dolgopolov will have a punchers chance at an upset against Grigor Dimitrov, a fellow shotmaker, Gulbis faces one of his best friends on tour Dominic Thiem, Lu will have a chance to avenge his defeat to Vasek Pospisil in Atlanta and Youzhny faces a struggling Viktor Troicki in a winnable match.
Report from the ATP Rogers Cup Draw Ceremony Featuring Stan Wawrinka Leich Sinha for Tennis Atlantic
The draw ceremony for the 2015 Rogers Cup was held early Friday evening at the 4 star Queen Elizabeth Hotel. World number 4 Stanislas Wawrinka was on hand to inaugurate the proceedings, which was followed by a brief Q&A with the reigning French Open Champion. The draw took place following the previous week’s news of the withdrawals of World number 2 Roger Federer, who cited scheduling issues as the prevailing cause of his absence, as well as top 10 stalwart David Ferrer, who is still hindered by an elbow injury.
The news bumped Japanese star Kei Nishikori to 4th seed, avoiding potentially dangerous quarterfinal matchups against former winners at this event Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. The latter pair, as top two seeds, were drawn in separate halves where they may respectively face Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals. Murray in particular will be looking to amend his hard court season after a shocking opening match loss to Teymuraz Gabashvili at the Citi Open.
Notes on the draw
A very intriguing matchup awaits three time champion Rafael Nadal, who is set to face Nishikori in the quarters. The two have not played each other since the Madrid Masters final in 2014 and this matchup may very well provide the clearest gauge as to where either of them stand amidst the very upper echelon of the game. A win for either would cement (or in Nadal’s case) reaffirm their status amongst the very elite and may fuel a deep run at the US open. In the last quarter, Milos Raonic is on a collision course with Stan Wawrinka. Raonic is coming off an injury plagued grass campaign and is looking to regain lost ground in the top 10.
Some interesting early round matchups should also take place, defending champion and 12th seed Jo Wilfried Tsonga will have a tough task ahead of him if he wants to repeat last year’s run in Toronto. He will face rising star Borna Coric in the first round and will potentially play against Marin Cilic in the round of 16, Murray in the quarters, Nadal/Nishikori and Djokovic in the final, he has his work cut out for him for sure.
Milos Raonic and Ivo Karlovic may just about club each other to death with serves should the Croatian prevail in his opening round match against Jerzy Janowicz. A potential 2nd round encounter between Nick Kyrgios and Stan Wawrinka, who has a poor record at this event, could finally be the right setup for the young Aussie to break through at the masters level.
The draw composition consisted of 64 players, of whom the top 8 seeds received first round byes while 44 others received direct acceptances on account of their ATP ranking. 4 Wild cards were given to Canadians Philip Bester, finalist at last week’s Granby Challenger, Canadian Davis cup mainstay Frank Dancevic, Vasek Popisil and two time junior grand slam champion Filip Peliwo. In addition, the tournament will feature 7 qualifiers who will be selected amongst the winners of the qualifying draw.
The draw ceremony featured a short Q&A session with a relaxed Stan Wawrinka in which he discussed his health, Roger Federer and the big four. Wawrinka revealed that he had spent 10 days treating a shoulder problem following his quarterfinal exit at Wimbledon. He followed that statement up by asserting that the problem was cleared up and that he had spent the last 3 weeks preparing for the hard court season with his coach Magnus Norman. He furthermore lamented Federer’s decision to withdraw from the event but understood that the Swiss great needed to pace himself in order to be fresh for the US open.
Wawrinka was adamant in squashing any comparisons to the big four, saying that the reality is “they’ve been dominant for the last 10 years, I’m just trying to improve and compete with them”. When asked of his potential 2nd round matchup against Kyrgios, he praised the youngster’s game and conceded that sometimes the nature of the draw is such that “sometimes you have to play good players in the early rounds.” As the only ATP player present at the ceremony, Wawrinka appeared unburdened and at ease throughout the session, taking pictures and warmly greeting tournament organizers.
Look for my reports on the qualifying rounds this weekend!