By Mike McIntyre
With thirty Olympians entered into the singles draw here at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, you just knew that the possibility for upsets would be plentiful due to the taxing playing and travel schedule these athletes have been faced with.
As the second round of play heated up on Wednesday at the Rexall Centre, several high profile players lost matches that they very likely would have won under normal circumstances. The Rogers Cup is quickly turning into a tournament where the underdog is ruling the day.
The surprises started early on Centre Court with 6th seeded Juan Martin Del Potro giving a solid effort but ultimately a losing one as he went down courtesy of veteran trickster Radek Stepanek 6-4, 7-6(5). Del Potro showed flashes of the ability that reveal his incredible potential, in particular a lethal forehand that leaves spectators and opponents speechless, but could not do it consistently enough to defeat a quality second round opponent like Stepanek. After the match Del Potro was brief in his comments but revealed he was on the brink of exhaustion.
"It's not easy to play after a big effort in the Olympics, but I tried anyway," he said. "Now I need time to recover my body if I want to stay healthy, you know."
Stepanek will now face Tommy Haas in the third round, the German moving ahead thanks to a 6-2, 6-3 dismantling of Gilles Simon, the 9th seed. I don't think many people would qualify this result as an upset given that the 34 year old German is quickly resembling a much younger version of himself now that he is healthy again. Haas has reached finals on three different surfaces so far in 2012, most recently on hardcourts in Washington D.C. last week where he lost a close match to Alexandr Dolgopolov. Keep your eye on this guy as a darkhorse as the U.S. Open approaches.
The upsets continued in the second match on the stadium court with an all-French battle between 3rd seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Jeremy Chardy. While ranked 47th in the world, Chardy has performed well here in Toronto before by making the quarter-finals in 2010. His strong play on Canadian soil continued as he was able to defeat Tsonga for the first time in his career by a score of 6-4, 7-6(4).
Just as was the case with Del Potro, Tsonga was dealing with mental and physical fatigue, the result of his long stay at the Olympics which culminated with a silver medal in men's doubles. He said after the match here that the loss had nothing to do with his game but merely the tough circumstances that brought him here.
"I think it's not about my game. You know, my game is my game. But I was just, you know, not enough - how you say that? I didn't have enough energy to move well," he revealed. "I mean I just played 287 games last week and I took the plane. There is a jet lag, and that's it."
Tsonga was not thrilled to lose but also made it clear he was here because of his obligations as a professional tennis player.
"You know...I'm disappointed because I lost it. But, you know, this is the rule. I have to play every week. You know, for me it's a mandatory tournament; I have to be here."
Fortunately for tournament organizers and sponsors, Andy Murray was ready to reverse the trend of upsets. Despite only arriving in Toronto Tuesday evening and admitting to little more than four hours of sleep each night since his big win at the Olympics, Murray was able to dispatch his opponent, Flavio Cipolla by a routine score of 6-1, 6-3.
While the scoreline looked easy enough, Murray struggled physically at various times during the match and was favouring his left knee that he had a trainer examine in the late stages of the match.
Murray assessed his condition as follows, "I feel okay. I feel a little bit sore in the joints and stuff a little bit. I mean, I feel tired mentally...I haven't really slept much the last few days, so that's probably catching up with me a little bit."
He understandably looked like he was in the twilight zone during his post-match press conference and as he hobbled off after answering multiple questions I wondered if he would be fit enough to compete tomorrow against Canadian Milos Raonic in a match that will certainly test him more than he was today.
Already having won their only career meeting thus far, Raonic could be considered the favourite heading into this third round match due to Murray's evident lack of readiness at the moment. Not only is he dealing with physical and mental burdens, but he still has not had the chance to properly experience all the emotions that come with winning an Olympic gold medal. On top of that, today was his first match on hardcourts since Miami back in March.
Indeed the Rogers Cup this year represents an excellent opportunity for those outside of the "big four" to make their mark as we rapidly approach the final Grand Slam of the year. The chances of Djokovic and Murray meeting in the final as the number one and two seeds is probably pretty slim. Instead look at a veteran like Haas, a relative rookie like Raonic or a steady guy like Mardy Fish, Juan Monaco or Janko Tipsarevic to make the most of this rare opening.
In other results today, Marin Cilic defeated Marcos Baghdatis 7-5, 6-3. He will now face Tipsarevic, a 7-6(2), 6-4 winner over Mikhail Youzhny.
Marcel Granollers beat 15th seed Florian Mayer 6-3, 6-4 to advance to play Chardy in the next round.
Philipp Kohlschreiber took out qualifier Fabio Fognini 6-2, 6-2 and will face big-serving John Isner next.
In a match that last over three hours, 4th seeded Tomas Berdych survived a huge test from Julien Benneteau. Berdych would prevail eventually by a score of 6-7(10), 6-4, 6-4. He gets a tough match again tomorrow against the super-talented Richard Gasquet of France, who beat Mikhail Kukushkin 7-5, 6-3.
American Sam Querrey continued his hot summer streak that has put him atop the U.S. Open Series leaderboard with a win today over Kei Nishikori 6-2, 6-3. Querrey has won an event in LA and made the semis in D.C. in recent weeks and is playing with some superb confidence at the moment.
Querrey will next face a gentleman by the name of Novak Djokovic who defeated 19 year-old Bernard Tomic, 6-2, 6-3 in the night match on Centre Court. Of all the top ranked Olympians to come to Toronto, he appears to be the freshest somehow. Maintaining his ranking points from last year's victory in Montreal will no doubt be on Djokovic's mind as he tries to minimize Federer's hold on the number one ranking in the world.
Keep checking back with us here at ProTennisFan for coverage all week long in Toronto. Follow us on Twitter as well for timely updates.