By Mike McIntyre
The Rogers Cup had the odds stacked against them as play began today in Toronto. A somewhat subdued vibe lingered in the air due to the uncertainty of Andy Murray’s status and the already known absence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Murray, fresh off his gold medal in London, stated today that he would appear in Toronto but would have to see how he felt once on-site before committing to playing. It was not a scenario that tournament sponsors and organizers were happy about and yet one that was to be expected due to the abnormally hectic summer scheduling caused by the Olympics.
Indeed there were sparse crowds for the daytime session despite some beautiful weather and the fact it was a holiday for most here in Ontario’s capital city. The tournament cannot really be faulted for this sluggish start however, as the top sixteen seeds all enjoy a first round bye and other big players like Tommy Haas and Alexandr Dolgopolov still had to make their way here from Washington D.C. where they just wrapped up the Citi Open.
Despite these hurdles, there were some interesting story lines to follow here at the Rexall Centre including some Canadian talent for the home crowds to get behind. Here’s how day one unfolded:
Action started on Centre Court at 11am ET with Frenchman Jeremy Chardy extending American Donald Young's epic losing streak to sixteen matches with a 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-0 victory to open play. Young collapsed after losing the second set in a tiebreak and revealed the fragile nature of his mental game which can be easily understood for a player who has not won a match on the Tour since February. He now stands just five losses away from tying retired countryman Vince Spadea for the all-time losing streak on the ATP World Tour at 21 consecutive matches.
After the match Chardy was asked if he was aware of the magnitude of his opponent’s stretch of bad luck. “Oh, sixteen is a lot. I didn’t know that. I know he lost many matches on first round, but not sixteen.” When asked about the longest drought he had ever experienced he half-joked by saying, “I don’t know. I prefer to forget it.” No doubt Young will also be hoping to forget his most recent setback and try to cling to the hope that better days are ahead. At only 23 years old, it sure seems the American has endured and created more than his fair share of hardships as a professional tennis player.
In the afternoon big-serving Michael Berrer of Germany provided some mid-match trouble to promising nineteen year-old Aussie Bernard Tomic before falling 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Berrer impressively carries his 220lb frame around the court and at the age of 32 used his experience to push the match to a third set. As for Tomic, he certainly does not play the way you would imagine someone of his own generous stature of 6'5'' and 201lbs. He tries to take the pace off the ball rather than playing the power game you might expect. It worked for him today against the 131st ranked Berrer, but might not be as effective against his next opponent – Novak Djokovic.
Next-up on the main court was some Canadian content with Peter Polansky, ranked 157th in the world, taking on Matthew Ebden from Australia. Both players are 24 years of age, but it is Ebden who has made more of a mark thus far on the circuit. Both players received some help to get into the main draw of the event, with Polansky receiving one of four wildcards from Tennis Canada and Ebden receiving a lucky-loser designation after losing his final qualifying match but replacing Feliciano Lopez in the draw after the Spaniard withdrew.
Ebden was certainly playing the part of the loser well at the start of the match as Polansky cruised through the first set by a score of 6-0. It was not as much due to the Canadian’s play, but instead Ebden’s own inability to hit a tennis ball inside the lines of the court. As Polansky said after the match, Ebden, “was missing almost every single ball.”
Despite having a chance to break Ebden in the first game of the second set at 15-40 on the Australian’s serve, Polansky would lose the game and spiral downwards from there. The Canadian seemed to suddenly get tight and did not resemble the player who enjoyed so much success here two years ago in an opening round defeat of then 13th seeded Jurgen Melzer. Ebden picked up his game sensing the fragility in his opponent and would carry that momentum forward for a 0-6, 6-4, 6-3 win.
Polansky did not hold back after the match in assessing his disappointing performance. “…it’s very frustrating, especially having a big tournament like this, such a great opportunity. Just wasn’t able to perform today.” When asked what part of his game needed he work he conceded, “…I’ll probably say everything.”
Canadian tennis fans hoped that Vasek Pospisil would be able to reverse their country’s fortunes in the opening match of the night session. Up against consistent veteran Andreas Seppi, Pospisil had a match that was certainly within his promising capabilities despite his opponent being currently ranked 28th in the world.
Instead the hardships for the Canucks seemed to continue with Seppi taking the first set 6-4. Even with the bigger serve as a weapon, Pospisil’s control of his groundstrokes could not match the Italian’s in that opening frame.
Pospisil would not give-up despite the early setback, and he would take the second set by the same score to settle the match at one apiece. In the final set Pospisil would break his opponent early and then consolidate his serve to go up by a comfortable 3-0 margin.
Later Seppi would break his way back into the set but while serving at 4-5 he would allow Pospisil two chances to take the match at 15-40. Unfortunately the home crowd would groan twice as their young hopeful could not close it out.
Both players would hang-on to their last service opportunity with ease to force the deciding tie-break. This is where we would find out what Pospisil was made of. Could he block out the missed match points and maintain his composure in front of such a nervous crowd?
Pospisil dictated most of the points in the breaker and was up 6-3 after a timely ace. Seppi would then hold his serve in consecutive points giving Pospisil his third match point of the tiebreak and on his serve. A missed forehand by the Canuck would prolong the tension but he wouldn’t miss his next chance with Seppi serving at 6-7. Pospisil would complete the upset to the delight of the frenzied crowd by a final score of 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(6) to advance to the second round.
After the match ended the satisfaction within Pospisil was obvious as he gushed to the crowd before leaving the court. “It’s incredible to come here and play in front of my home crowd…I’ve been looking forward to this all year.”
There will be more to look forward to tomorrow as he will face seventh seed Juan Monaco in the late afternoon/early evening on the Grandstand Court.
Other Canadians up tomorrow include Frank Dancevic and Milos Raonic. Dancevic opens play against Mikhail Kukushkin at 11am on Centre Court, while Raonic will entertain the night crowd at 7pm against Viktor Troicki in the first second round match to be played on Centre Court. Troicki advanced today with a 6-4, 7-6(5) win over Russia’s Alex Bogomolov Jr.
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