Rogers Cup 2012 Men's Preview
By Mike McIntyre
The Rogers Cup Masters is set to begin tomorrow in Toronto and with the Olympic tennis just wrapping up one might think the momentum that the sport is carrying would make for an even more electric event than usual. Instead, the usually talent-laden tournament is showcasing its sparsest draw in terms of talent in several years due to the withdrawals of many of the world's best players.
This Olympic hangover is led by the absence of world number one Roger Federer and world number three Rafael Nadal. Undoubtedly the two biggest draws on the ATP World Tour, Federer withdrew after his epic defeat of Juan Martin Del Potro in the Olympic semi-finals where he prevailed 19-17 in the third set, while Nadal has been injured with knee issues since Wimbledon. For Federer it will be the first time he has missed the premier Canadian competition since 2005 while Nadal has made an appearance every summer since his debut in 2004.
Other big-name players to withdraw include Andy Roddick, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Gael Monfils.
It appears now that Andy Murray has stated he will travel to Toronto to participate. Murray just captured Olympic gold with a stunning rout of Federer at the All-England Club by a score of 6-2, 6-1, 6-4. He then teamed with Laura Robson to capture the silver medal in mixed doubles. Rogers Cup sponsors and organizers must be thrilled to hear he will make the trip. I would not have been surprised if he had bailed due to a lack of energy or desire to make the trip across the Atlantic Ocean after his busy Olympic schedule. Hats off to him for keeping his committment.
While Djokovic too would have been a candidate to withdraw, I see him as the top-player with the most to gain from showing up. His play has been clearly behind that of Federer and Murray over the past month of competition and he has lost the world number one ranking during that time as well. With only a small amount of ranking points separating him from Federer and with a sparse turn-out in Toronto, this would be an opportune moment for the Serb to re-assert himself.
Let's now take a look at how the draw might unfold this year in Toronto.
In the top quarter of the draw Djokovic holds the number one seeding. After a first round bye he will open against the winner of the Bernard Tomic vs. Qualifier match. Tomic represents the future and even the present of Australian tennis at the tender age of nineteen. Currently ranked 49th in the world which is down from his career high of 27th which he attained in June, the young Aussie holds an 0-2 record against Djokovic but might be able to take advantage of the Serb's mental state following a disappointing fourth place finish at the Olympics.
Djokovic's quarter is in fact the toughest of the tournament with several veteran landmines to navigate such as David Nalbandian and Tommy Haas (who both face each other in the opening round), Radek Stepanek and Jurgen Melzer as well. Add to that some younger talent like Del Potro, Kei Nishikori and Alexandr Dolgopolov and there will be some serious tests for the Djoker. A quarter-final versus Del Potro will be on everyone's minds as it would be a rematch from the Bronze medal match in London.
In the second quarter of play, Jo Wilfried-Tsonga the third seed is clearly the most dangerous foe. He won an Olympic silver in doubles with partner Michael Llodra and along with Del Potro represents the next wave of ATP talent after the "big four." Tsonga will face the winner of the first round match between Jeremy Chardy and Donald Young. You might be best served to simply pencil in Chardy's name already as Young has lost an incredible fourteen matches in-a-row on the tour in a stretch that goes all the way back to February.
Marin Cilic, Janko Tipsarevic and Marcos Baghdatis are also floating around in this quadrant of the draw but it is Tsonga in my opinion that stands in a class of his own and should advance.
In the third quarter, the inconsistent Tomas Berdych is the fourth seed and will be looking for a strong result to turn his 2012 season around. Since reaching the finals of the Madrid Masters in May, Berdych has gone a rather ordinary 9-5 for a player of his calibre. Berdych could face Gasquet in the third round and then possibly Mardy Fish in the quarter-finals. I would give either of Gasquet or Fish the edge in those matches.
Canadian tennis fans will also be closely watching Berdych's quarter as Frank Dancevic, Peter Polansky and Vasek Pospisil all have wildcards and were coincidentally lumped together in this part of the draw. All three Canucks have an excellent chance of advancing into the second round. Dancevic, the most experienced of the trio, opens against Mikhail Kukushkin. Polansky will face a qualifier while Pospisil will play Andreas Seppi.
In the final quarter, Andy Murray is the second seed. A third round encounter between he and Canadian star Milos Raonic would be a match that would get the Center Court buzzing. I would put my money on Raonic in this match due to the impact of the home crowd coupled with Murray's understandable fatigue and the mental edge Raonic might have to due to his victory in their one and only career meeting earlier this season. I just don't see how Murray could possibly be mentally ready to continue to compete after the magnitutde of his Olympic victory.
This tournament could be Raonic's chance to make his mark at the Masters level. While he has three tournament titles to his name, all have come at 250 level tournies and Canadian tennis fans are ready for him to take the next step. With a slightly lower field of competition, Raonic should be eager to take advantage. Seeded 16th, Milos will receive a bye and open against the winner between Viktor Troicki and Alex Bogomolov Jr.
The only other player in this section that I could see making a run is John Isner of the United States. Isner made the finals of another Masters Series event on the hardcourt's of Indian Wells earlier this year where he lost to Federer. This is another good opportunity for him to build on the success he has experienced in 2012 which has taken him briefly into the top-ten and now to his current position of 11th in the world.
Despite the reduced competition, the 2012 version of the Rogers Cup still has plenty of great players and the added excitement of a home-grown talent that could truly compete for the title. With many of these competitors missing any recent hardcourt play, upsets could be numerous and perhaps a winner of the Guillermo Canas variety (see 2002) could be in the cards.
My personal pick for this event would be Tsonga and my "darkhorse" would be a guy like Isner or Raonic.
Keep checking back with us here at ProTennisFan as we will be updating daily reports from the grounds of the Rexall Center in Toronto. You can also follow us on Twitter for regular observations and reactions.