3 things to look forward to in Toronto

(Photo credit: Laslovarga)

The ATP Tour makes its way back to Toronto for the Rogers Cup with most of the game’s best and brightest stars present. Unfortunately, both Roger Federer and Andy Murray have withdrawn, delaying the reunion of the Big Four, but they are almost the only notable absentees. And with the US Open now just weeks away, every player in the draw will be desperate to find some hard court form ahead of the showdown in the Big Apple. Here are three things to look forward to…

Round 53 of Nadal vs Djokovic

The earliest top seed Rafael Nadal and his long-time nemesis Novak Djokovic can meet in Toronto is the final. But the way they have been playing over the past few months it's hard not to back them. Nadal arrives in Canada after yet another season of dominance on the clay courts, where he won in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and of course Paris. He also posted his best result at Wimbledon since 2011 by reaching the semifinals.

There it took the very best of Djokovic to stop him deep in the fifth set of a thriller from which the Serb emerged a 6-4 3-6 7-6 3-6 10-8 winner. That victory, followed by an even sweeter triumph the next day in the final against Kevin Anderson, announced decisively that Djokovic was back at tennis’ top table. But now the challenge for Djokovic is to keep winning, and to deal with the added weight of expectation. But for both, Toronto is the perfect place to begin their hard court campaigns.

Both enjoyed great success in Canada. Djokovic is a four-time Canadian Open champion and Nadal is only one behind with three to his name. They have met twice in Canada, although never in Toronto, with Djokovic winning 7-5 6-3 in 2007 before Nadal had his revenge with a 6-4 3-6 7-6 win in 2013 in what was unquestionably one of the matches of the year. A repeat of that, or of their Wimbledon clash last month, would be a more than fitting way to decide the tournament.

Zverev’s Canadian love affair

Last year, Alexander Zverev stepped forward as the undisputed leading light of the ATP’s NextGen by claiming the title in Montreal. It followed his win in Washington, a feat he repeated this year by defeating Alex De Minaur in the final, and culminated in a dismantling of Federer during which he hit the ball so hard the Swiss picked up a back injury. Much was expected of the German as a result, particularly at the US Open where he was the favourite for many going in to the tournament.

He instead fell in the second round to an inspired Borna Coric. He is still struggling to make his breakthrough at the Slams, with his best result yet a run to the French Open quarterfinals this year. But at Masters 1000 level he is always a contender, having added a further three final appearances to the two titles he racked up last year, winning the title in Madrid. He will doubtless be eager to claim crown number four in Toronto and in the form he is in, has a chance to do just that.

NextGen spectacular

Washington proved to be the tournament of the young guns. Of the four semifinalists, Zverev was the oldest at 21 and the title-match, contested between Zverev and De Minaur, featured the youngest participants in 11 years. All week, young players took the game to their elders and proved that they weren’t their betters, with wins for Stefanos Tsitsipas over David Goffin and Zverev over Kei Nishikori the pick of the bunch.

The field in Toronto also sports a strong selection of young talent. The spotlight will largely fall, one suspects, on Denis Shapovalov, who at just 19 is already the Canadian #1. He made his name with a thrilling run to the semifinals last year, defeating Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal along the way and looks to have an extremely bright future in the game. Expect serious support throughout for him and some serious firepower from him.

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