By Mike McIntyre
Day one from the Rogers Cup offered up some quality first round matches in Montreal. Some were able to meet expectations while others did not.
Falling into the category of the latter would be David Nalbandian against 16th seeded Stanislas Wawrinka. While the world's second ranked Swiss player held a solid 5-3 record against Nalbandian heading into the match, the Argentine won their last encounter with ease a year ago by a score of 6-1, 6-3.
Nalbandian has had a tough year, one that once again has been negatively impacted by health issues. Requiring not one, but two separate surgeries to his left leg/groin areas, Nalbandian missed three months on the tour and returned just in time for the brief grass-court season. He lost in the third round of both Queen's (Verdasco) and Wimbledon (Federer) before falling to James Blake in the first round of Washington where he was the defending champion. His inability to defend those ranking points sent him plummeting 24 spots in the ranking to his current spot of 51st in the world.
Nalbandian looked ordinary on Center Court against Wawrinka today and could not make a dent in his game. He looked somewhat lethargic and allowed Wawrinka to win easily 6-1, 6-4 to advance to the second round where he will now face the winner of the Michael Russell vs. Albert Montanes match scheduled for tomorrow.
Wawrinka was moving well on the court today and never seemed bothered by Nalbandian's game. His assessment of his opponent was pretty much to the point as he said that, "With him, you never know. Today he was not playing really good. I think he's not really ready." He pointed out that perhaps at Nalbandian's age he is not quite as fit as he needs to be. "But maybe with the year (age), he's 29 now, maybe it's not easy for him to play many matches at the top level."
Nalbandian was practicing on the weekend with big-serving Ivo Karlovic - perhaps not the best player to prepare for a groundstroke battle with an all-round player like Wawrinka.
In the second match of the day on the main stage, the ever-present Juan Carlos Ferrero took on enigmatic Ernests Gulbis. JCF held a 1-0 head-to-head advantage coming into the match and had looked strong lately on clay in winning his sixteenth career title in Stuttgart. Ferrero's season has been a trying one however as he did not play his first tournament until April due to wrist and knee injuries. He was then out between May and July when those same ailments began acting up once again. Today was his first hard-court action of the year and he got off to a good start by taking the opening set 6-3.
Gulbis has been playing some of the best tennis of his career as of late as the 22 year old won his first title of the year and second of his career in Los Angeles against Mardy Fish. Could it be that Gulbis is finally going to deliver on his enormous potential? He dug deep today against Ferrero to comeback and win 3-6, 6-1, 7-5. Next on the horizon will be a match against the winner of tomorrow's match between Mikhail Youzhny and Michael Llodra.
Other matches of note on the outside courts included the talented Alexandr Dolgopolov, who survived a scare from Erik Chvojka of Canada who is ranked 290th in the world and was entered in the draw thanks to a wildcard from Tennis Canada. Dolgopolov had to battle to win 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
Big serving Ivo Karlovic snapped out of a funk that has seen him lose seven of his last eight matches on the tour. He prevailed today against Juan Monaco 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-6(5) for only his second win since May. Speaking with him afterwards, Karlovic recalled that when he turned thirty it was, "the most depressing day of my life, so I know how Roger must feel now."
American Alex Bogomolov Jr. continued his surprising play of late by dispatching Adrian Mannarino in straight sets, 6-2, 7-6(4).
Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil knocked-off Andrey Golubev 7-5, 7-6(6). Golubev has now lost eighteen straight matches. He is quickly approaching the all-time losing record of Vince Spadea who at one point in his career lost twenty-one consecutive matches. Talk about having your resolve to keep playing thoroughly tested.
Marin Cilic, who it seems to me is due for some sort of breakthrough this year, was able to dispatch of Andreas Seppi 7-5, 6-4.
Nikolay Davydenko defeated Flavio Cipolla 6-3, 6-3 to advance to an interesting second round encounter. Davydenko will now face world number one Novak Djokovic in the second night match on Tuesday in Montreal. While a shell of his former self, Davydenko will be a tricky opening opponent for Djokovic. The Serb has not played yet due to a first round bye.
At night, Juan Martin Del Potro easily handled Jarkko Nieminen by a margin of 6-4, 6-0. I've personally stopped feeling any sympathy for Nieminen ever since he trounced Andre Agassi in the last two sets of the American's last appearance at the French Open. In that match in 2005, Agassi was up two sets to one until his back acted up and he was beaten 7-5, 4-6, 6-7(6), 6-1, 6-0.
The 19th ranked Del Potro is on a collision course to face Djokovic in the third round in what would be a marquee match-up that early in the event. The 2009 U.S. Open winner has been making some solid progress since missing most of the 2010 season due to injury and is certainly going to be back in the top ten, perhaps even top five if he continues at this rate.
Del Potro refused to speculate on facing Djokovic and gave the classic "one match at a time" answer when pressed.
"Yeah, I know that. But first I will have to play against Cilic. Will be very difficult match for both. We know each other since juniors. We play many, many times. It's really difficult match for me because he knows everything about my game, and I know many things about his game, too. But first I have to beat him and then I will thinking if I have another match. Before (Djokovic), Cilic in the next round."
The final match of the night was between fan-favorite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Fabio Fognini. The Frenchman advanced with some second set difficulty but was able to make Fognini the third in a trifecta of Italians to be bounced from the tournament. The final score was 6-4, 7-6(0). Tsonga was visited by the trainer in the second set when down a break and appeared to have - no joke - his head checked. Tsonga stuck around after the match to hit a few balls with a local wheelchair tennis player in a nice moment to end the evening.
One noticeable no-show today was birthday boy Roger Federer. With a bye in the first round he is not scheduled to play until Wedneday so we will have to wait until then to discuss how he feels about turning the big 3-0.