With No Big Three, Canadian Spotlight Focuses On Tsitsipas

Stefanos Tsitsipas (photo: Michael Dickens)

TORONTO/WASHINGTON, August 12, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The last time there’s been a Canadian Open – now known as the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers – without a member of the Big Three of men’s tennis, one needs to go all the way back to 2001. This year, with no Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer – all sidelined with a variety of maladies – the spotlight shifts to other contenders such as current World No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The rising Greek star, who is seeded third at this week’s ATP Tour Masters 1000 event in Toronto, recovered from losing a marathon, 22-minute second-set tie break that stretched to 28 points to beat No. 27 Ugo Humbert of France, 6-3, 6-7 (13), 6-1, during Tuesday evening’s featured Stadium Court match at Aviva Centre. The win advanced Tsitsipas to Thursday’s third round against No. 28 Karen Khachanov of Russia, who beat No. 15 seed Aslan Karatsev, 7-6 (7), 6-4, Wednesday afternoon. The victory was his ATP Tour-leading 43rd victory of the season and it avenged his recent loss to Humbert at the Tokyo Olympics.

“It’s all about the fighting spirit,” Tsitsipas said during an on-court interview after his victory. “I’m someone who doesn’t like to give up. … It wasn’t easy out there today. I had to do a lot. I put a lot of effort into stepping it up and to be my beset today.”

During his press conference after beating Humbert, Tsitsipas was asked if it was strange to not see at least one of the three living legends of men’s tennis in the draw. He replied:

“I don’t really think about that. It is what it is. I mean, if they feel fit and they aren’t ready to play, it’s up to them to decide.

“Obviously, let’s accept it, because it’s a fact, it’s true. They bring a lot of fans to the courts, and they are also the reason why people come and watche these big events. Also, they are a big part of, you know, tennis being where it is now.

“So, I think there is room for new stars. You know, it’s been a lot about them in recent years, and I think now it’s show that, you know, things are changing. Things are kind of – we see kind of different generation of players stepping up and showing what they are capable of.

“So, it’s interesting to have this kind of variation and change of thrones, let’s call it. It’s interesting for our game.

“We, ourselves, we have generated our own team of people and fans that support us, give us love, and are there for us in each single match following us. We want to do as good as they have done so far.

“We obviously have a lot of respect, and that’s not only coming from me but also from, I’m pretty sure,  from other younger players in that category. We do have a lot of respect We grew up watching them and I think we are thrilled to be competing against them and against them now in this kind of period of time.”

• Meanwhile, Wednesday’s seeded winners moving into the third round included: No. 4 Andrey Rublev of Russia, No. 7 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, No. 8 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, No. 10 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain and No. 11 Gaël Monfils of France. However, there were upsets – none bigger than a pair involving Canadians. No. 5 seed Denis Shapovalov fell to American lucky loser Frances Tiafoe, 6-1, 6-4, and No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime lost to Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, 7-5, 6-4. No. 12 Alex de Minaur of Australia and No. 16 Jannik Sinner of Italy, just three days after winning the Citi Open, also lost.

Nadal, Raonic latest to withdraw from Cincinnati

A day after he withdrew from the National Bank Open in Toronto, World No. 4 Rafael Nadal pulled out of next week’s Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio near Cincinnati due to his ongoing left foot injury, the tournament announced on Wednesday.

Nadal’s injury was first diagnosed after Roland Garros and he took 20 days off before returning to action at last week’s Citi Open in Washington, D.C., where he beat Jack Sock, then lost in the third round to Lloyd Harris. Nadal came in Toronto ready to compete until the lingering injury forced him to withdraw from the National Bank Open, an ATP Tour Masters 1000 tournament, on Tuesday.

Now, Nadal’s status for the US Open, which begins on August 30, is in doubt.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Milos Raonic also withdrew from Cincinnati due to a heel injury. He was a finalist in last year’s tournament, which was held in New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Serena and Venus Williams, Kenin will miss Western & Southern Open

On Tuesday evening, a trio of American stars – World No. 4 Sofia Kenin, World No. 20 Serena Williams and her older sister Venus, now ranked No. 112, all withdrew from next week’s Western & Southern Open.

Serena Williams cited a leg injury that goes back to Wimbledon, while Kenin pulled out because of an ongoing injury to her foot. Venus Williams’s withdrawal reason was not disclosed.

The three are the lastest high-profile stars to pull out of the Western & Southern Open, joining Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Andreescu eager to put on good show in Canada

Until Tuesday evening, when she defeating 172nd-ranked British qualifier Harriet Dart, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, Canadian Bianca Andreescu had not won a WTA tour match since June on grass in Eastbourne. Following a first-round loss at Wimbledon, Andreescu dropped off the tour and went home – and changed coaches. She parted ways with Sylvain Bruneau, who coached her to her only major title at the 2019 US Open, and connected with Sven Groeneveld, whose previous clients include Maria Sharapova.

A happy homecoming in Montreal was just what Andreescu needed. The defending champion at the Omnium Banque Nationale had the backing of the 5,000-strong Montreal crowd at IGA Stadium throughout her two hour and two minute tussle, in which she hit 35 winners and committed 35 unforced errors. While most of her past success in this tournament has come in years when it’s held in Toronto, the native of Mississauga, Ontario, made her Montreal debut in 2016 when she a 16-year-old qualifying wild card ranked 610th. Andreescu is now ranked No. 8 in the world.

“I had all the feels. It was super emotional at the end. I got goosebumps walking on the court,” Andreescu said in press after reaching the third round with her win over Dart.

“Having the crowd cheer so long, it’s just a crazy feeling. I’m so happy the tournament was able to be played.

“There’s always going to be pressure, but I really use it to my advantage, especially here at home. Having that crowd support really helps me. Win or lose, I know they’re always going to have my back, so that definitely relieves a lot of pressure.”

In Thursday’s third round, Andreescu will meet No. 13 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, who came back against San Jose finalist Daria Kasatkina of Russia to pull out a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.

• Meanwhile, another Canadian, Rebecca Marino is drawing attention for all the right reasons. The 220th-ranked Toronto native, who reached a career-high No. 38 in 2011 before retiring in 2012 due to depression, is playing her first Montreal main draw in a decade as a wild card entrant. On Wednesday afternoon on Centre Court, Marino defeated No. 31 Paula Badosa of Spain, 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, closing with her ninth ace and 41st winner, to advance to Thursday’s third round against No. 1 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who rallied to defeat 62nd-ranked American wild card Sloane Stephens, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4. On Monday evening, Marino beat No. 16 seed Madison Keys of the United States.

Also, it was a day for seeded upsets. No. 3 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine lost to No. 41 Johanna Konta of Great Britain, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. No. 10 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia fell to No. 30 Jessica Pegula of the United States, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2; and No. 6 seed Simona Halep of Romania, in her first match since retiring in Rome back in May, was defeated by American Danielle Collins, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. The 28th-ranked Collins has strung together 12 straight victories and earned back-to-back titles at Palermo and San Jose. Among the seeded winners advancing to Thursday’s third round were: No. 4 Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, No. 11 Maria Sakkari of Greece and No. 15 Coco Gauff of the United States.

Wednesday’s National Bank Open – Toronto men’s results

Wednesday’s National Bank Open – Montreal women’s results

Thursday’s National Bank Open – Toronto order of play

Thursday’s National Bank Open – Montreal order of play

By the numbers

American Reilly Opelka backed up his Monday evening victory over mercurial Aussie Nick Kyrgios by defeating No. 14 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, 6-3, 6-4, late Tuesday evening. He fired 22 winners, including 12 aces, and won 81 percent ( 22 of 27) of his first-serve points. The loss was Dimitrov’s third straight and leveled his 2021 season record at 12-12. He has not won back-to-back matches since April.

What they’re writing

The New Yorker’s Robin Wright writes about Rafael Nadal ahead of the US Open as the tennis superstar struggles to make a comeback from yet another injury in “Dazzling Washington, Nadal Wins Even As He Loses.”

Tennis.com‘s Steve Tignor and Joel Drucker take a look at the “August Exodus” and what the absence of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams means for summer hard-court tennis.

“Quotable …”

“After those three months, I played a very high level. I’m very happy with the way I played. She was hitting very strong, and I was able to stay there and to return the balls, open the court in a good way.”

– World No. 13 Simona Halep, who lost to Danielle Collins, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, after playing her first match in three months, which lasted two hours and 55 minutes.

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