The road to the US Open 2015 has just begun for the game’s elite as play is set to get underway at the 2015 Rogers Cup to be held in Montreal this year.
Back in action for the first time since triumphing over Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic returns to a testing draw at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, in the Quebec Province of Canada. The fact is every time Novak Djokovic steps onto the court, he is the strong favorite to win no matter what the opposition is or the conditions are. This perhaps again holds true as he gets ready for his charge at a 2nd US Open title in a month’s time.
See the Full Draw Here: Coupe Rogers 2015 Draw
It seems strange, but the U.S. summer hard-court season just isn’t what it used to be. Years ago, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and even guys like Patrick Rafter and Yevgeny Kafelnikov would play several events leading up to the US Open. These days, for most of the top guys it’s one event (Roger Federer), likely two (Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal) and sometimes if we are lucky three (Andy Murray). The U.S. Open series also features a handful of mid-level tournaments, but most of the stars will opt out or rest at places like Atlanta, Washington and the Winston-Salem Open. The top stars rarely prioritize them. The real focus will be Masters 1000 tournaments at Canada (Montreal this year for the men), Cincinnati and the year’s final major at New York’s U.S. Open.
The major headlines coming out in Montreal were that Roger Federer would not be there (resting perhaps) as well as David Ferrer missing out due to an injury. Two lucky players benefited from that greatly. Those players were Rafael Nadal and Milos Raonic.
With the withdrawal of those players, Raonic and Nadal have now received opening round byes which were given to the top eight seeds. Also with the withdrawal (of Federer), Andy Murray moves to the opposite side of the bracket as Novak Djokovic, and Kei Nishikori gets his own quarter in this first Masters 1000 event of the North American hard court season.
1st Quarter – (1) Novak Djokovic & (5) Tomas Berdych
Novak is a 3-time winner of the Rogers Cup (2007, 2011 & 2012) and the draw has been spread out nicely for the World No.1. His half of the draw includes French Open Champion Stan Wawrinka (the man who dashed hi Roland Garros dreams), World No.6 Tomas Berdych and crowd favorite Canadian Milos Raonic. The quarter doesn’t look too bothersome for the 28-year old Serb to deal with. He opens against South American clay-court specialist Thomaz Bellucci before possibly facing American Jack Sock or 14th Seed Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov has struggled this season (23-14) and was nursing a right shoulder injury in his 3-set loss to American Steve Johnson at the Citi Open.
The other top seed in Novak’s quarter is Czech veteran 5th seed Tomas Berdych. Berdych will have to plot a course to a QF meeting with Nole by possibly beating South African Giant Kevin Anderson or the in-form Austrian Dominic Thiem. The Austrian has been playing his best tennis off late picking up titles in Umag and Gstaad and is about the crack the top 20 for the 1st time in his career.. His 10-match winning streak was finally ended by German Philipp Kohlschreiber in the Kitzbuhel SF.
Berdych has a woeful 2-19 record against the World No.1 and has hardly troubled Novak in spite of his big game and heavy groundstrokes. Kevin Anderson brings in the surprise element in this section. The South-African nearly took out Djokovic in the Wimbledon 4R with a two sets to love lead only for Novak to dig deep and fight his way back to a victory. That victory did give Novak the fuel and thrust for his 3rd Wimbledon title.
Nole is yet to lose a match at the Masters level this season. He’s won all four Masters events that he’s played in this season (skipped Madrid) so he’ll be looking to add a fifth to what’s been a dominant year for the Serb (21-0; won in Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Rome; also won Paris last season). In fact he is on a 26 match winning streak at this level (last loss at this level to Roger Federer – Shanghai SF). An early exit last year to giant slayer and eventual champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will give motivation to the Serb to find a way to get through and perform better this year.
QF – (1) Novak Djokovic vs. Dominic Thiem – Djokovic in straight sets
Master vs. Apprentice – should be a good lesson for Thiem
2nd Quarter – (3) Stan Wawrinka & (8) Milos Raonic
Swiss No. 2 and Roland Garros Champion Stan Wawrinka can produce some serious firepower and his section includes big servers John Isner and Ivo Karlovic.
Wawrinka, who was present at the draw ceremony in Montreal on Friday evening, is set to play for the first time since Wimbledon, where he reached the quarter-finals. The Swiss will be tested from the start as he faces Fernando Verdasco or Nick Kyrgios in his opening second-round match, before a likely third round against Wimbledon quarter-finalist and home hope Vasek Pospisil (wildcard & 2013 Semifinalist) or the in-form John Isner who recently won the Atlanta Open (also is in the final of the Citi Open).
Nick Kyrgios is back on the scene for the first time on the ATP World Tour since his Wimbledon loss to Richard Gasquet. The Aussie put on a show with and without his racket by showing off his astounding shot-making but also threw in a tank job in a game, hugged a ball kid, and even argued with the chair umpire for taking too long to change his socks.
Wawrinka potential QF opponent could be crowd favorite and native son Milos Raonic, the last man to receive a bye as the 8th seed. Raonic reached his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final in Montreal two years ago (l. to Rafa Nadal). The Toronto native, whose season has been marred by injury, faces a tricky opener against Ivo Karlovic. He is seeded to face Wimbledon semi-finalist Richard Gasquet in the third round before a projected clash with Wawrinka.
Most of this discussion has been about the players in Wawrinka’s section rather than the man himself. He has been cleared by doctors to play at the Rogers Cup after pulling out from Gstaad a couple weeks ago due to a shoulder injury which doesn’t bode well that he’s back at a major event for his first tournament back. Milos Raonic is probably licking his chops at another opportunity for a fantastic showing in the biggest tournament in his home country. This is his chance to repeat that feat.
Perhaps the expectations surrounding the big-serving 24-year-old should be tempered, however, considering the circumstances. Raonic had surgery in May to repair a pinched nerve in his foot. Since reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals in January, he has entered a limited number of events, missing the French Open as well as Davis Cup play in Belgium, and he was not himself in a Round of 32 loss at Wimbledon to Nick Kyrgios. Raonic has not claimed an ATP title this season. He has six career titles, including Washington, where he beat Pospisil in the lead up to last year’s Rogers Cup in Toronto, but is trying to avoid going without a tournament win for the first time since 2010.
Raonic is the last Canadian to have reached the final and is attempting to become the first Canadian winner in the Open era since Robert Bedard in 1958.
QF – (3) Stan Wawrinka vs. (8) Milos Raonic – Raonic in 3 sets
Expect the crowd to play a big part in this match. Also Wawrinka is not that consistent when it comes to the Masters level.
3rd Quarter – (4) Kei Nishikori & (7) Rafael Nadal
Fresh from capturing the Hamburg crown on clay last week, Rafael Nadal headlines the bottom half of the draw with 2nd seed Andy Murray.
Seeded 7th , Nadal is looking for a strong showing on the North American hard courts this summer to mount a charge in the race to qualify for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. The Spaniard has won the Canadian Masters 1000 three times, most recently two years ago in Montreal (managed to win the Triple Crown – Canada, Cincinnati, US Open). He opens his bid against Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky.
The 2013 Rogers Cup champion nursed a shoulder injury in the Hamburg final. He was spinning his first serves in from about 90-100 MPH. That may have worked against second-tier opposition in Germany but that will not cut it against the best of the best. The biggest advantage which Rafa has this summer is that he has not points to defend (missed the entire US Open Series due to injury last season).
The 29-year-old Nadal is seeded to face 9th seed Frenchman Gilles Simon (Wimbledon QF) in the third round, with a possible clash against Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals. Simon does have the game to trouble Nadal on the hard-courts as his game is predicated on deep, solid groundstrokes and consistency. He doesn’t have a go-to weapon, but when you’re as consistent as he is, you’ll force your opponent to go for more to shorten the points.
2014 US Open runner-up Kei Nishikori is the top seed in this section. The 4th seeded Japanese will face wildcard Canadian Frank Dancevic or a stubborn Pablo Andujar in his opener. He is seeded to face Belgian David Goffin or in-form American Steve Johnson in the 3R before the big QF against Rafael Nadal. Despite this being a relatively easy draw, Nishikori did pick up an injury to his leg in his Citi Open SF match against Marin Cilic (a rematch of their 2014 US Open Final).
QF – (4) Kei Nishikori vs. (7) Rafael Nadal – Nadal in 3 sets
A contrast of styles brings us to the intriguing conclusion that this match could very well go the distance. Expect Kei to be a little fatigued after reaching the Citi Open Final.
4th Quarter – (2) Andy Murray & (6) Marin Cilic
British number one Andy Murray was one of the major beneficiaries of Federer’s withdrawal. He avoids having to see his fellow Big Four rival who dispatched him at Wimbledon with relative ease and avoids seeing Djokovic until the final should they both get there. He’s got the most difficult of the opening round matchups of the top four, meeting Tommy Robredo who outlasted Feliciano Lopez in three sets.
Robredo and Murray have had some phenomenal matches in their recent history with the most memorable ones coming last season in the finals of Shenzhen and Valencia, a home tournament for Robredo, as the Brit took him out in three gruelling sets in both the finals (saved multiple match points in both the matches).
The Scot, a two-time champion in Canada (2009 & 2010), could face 15th seed Gael Monfils in the third round, though the Frenchman has a blockbuster opener against Fabio Fognini (tennis’ two unconventional yet entertaining characters).
Murray is projected to face 6th seed Marin Cilic in the quarter-finals, though defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is also in that section, but the Frenchman has a tough opener against Croatian young gun Borna Coric. The Croat has the weaponry to make things challenging for Tsonga especially if the defending champ is having an off day. Tsonga’s potential 3R opponent could be another Croat Marin Cilic.
Marin Cilic, the reigning US Open champion is just coming off a disappointing three set loss to Nishikori in the Citi Open semifinals in a tournament where he never looked at his best. He looked very vulnerable in all his matches but looked most vulnerable against Querrey. He was let off by the American’s poor shot choices in both tiebreakers which allowed him to take the match in straight sets. He’s got an interesting second round matchup with quirky Bernard Tomic should the 22-year-old Aussie defeat Joao Sousa.
Murray is coming off a horrendous showing at the Citi Open where he lost in his opening match to Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili but expect him to rebound in Canada where a strong showing moves him closer to surpassing Roger Federer for world number two.
Andy will pass Roger next Monday if he reaches the final in Montreal and take the No.2 ranking as Roger will drop 1000 points for his Cincinnati win last season. This is because of the extra week being played on the tour this season.
QF – (2) Andy Murray vs. (6) Marin Cilic – Murray in 3 sets
One compelling match-up but expect Andy to hold forth against the reigning US Open Champion.
(1) Djokovic vs. (8) Raonic – Djokovic in straight sets
Raonic is 0-5 against the Serb and expect him lose for the 6th time.
(7) Nadal vs. (2) Murray) – Murray in 3 sets
This is a tough one to predict but Rafa is yet to play his best hard-court tennis this season (rewind 2013) so expect Murray to win this nail-biter.
(1) Djokovic vs. (2) Murray – Djokovic in straight sets
Murray is 0-8 since the 2013 Wimbledon final against Novak. The Serb is way ahead of the rest of the field and expect him to win his 4th title in Canada.
• Only Patrick Rafter (1998), Andy Roddick (2003) and Rafael Nadal (2013) have completed the Triple Crown, and for each of them it was the last time they would win the U.S. Open (Nadal can still add another).
• Notable legends such as Pete Sampras and Roger Federer never achieved the Triple Crown, even though the Swiss Maestro has two Canada Open titles, six Cincinnati titles and five consecutive U.S. Open titles from 2004 to 2008.
What are the chances that Djokovic can win this Triple Crown of late summer (Canada, Cincinnati & US Open)? After all, he has not won any of these three titles since Canada in 2012.