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Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Welcome to Canada, Eh!
US Open Series hits the hard court in Toronto and Montreal

Welcome back TwineTimers!!  I hope all of you have enjoyed your summer, survived the heat and stayed hydrated (Beer Me!!).  After a brief absence from the sports blog world, #TwineTime returns.  And what a perfect event to focus my return blog on: The Rogers Cup.  Being the huge tennis fan I am, each August I get excited for the one event on the ATP/WTA tour calendar visiting our fair nation.  Want to talk about rich history as well?  The Rogers Cup (formerly known as the Canadian Open) will play it's 126th edition for the men and 114th for the women.  How crazy is that?

The Rogers Cup rotates between the host city for the ATP and WTA players.  This year, the men will take the court in Montreal while the women will pound the ball in Toronto.  The Rogers Cup is considered one of the top tier events on tour, ranking just below the Grand Slam events.  As part of the US Open Series, the Rogers Cup is an ATP World Tour 1000 and WTA Premier 5 event. 

What does this mean you ask?  Well, it means a requirement from both tour's that the top 64 players in the world will play (of course injuries can deplete a field as we have seen in the past).  In addition, the Rogers Cup serves as a highlight event on the US Open Series.  The US Open Series is separate from the world rankings where players earn special points from the 5 events leading into the US Open.  The Rogers Cup happens to be the middle event on the calendar.  Players can rack up the points and have a shot at a cool $1M extra prize money by winning the US Open Series and the US Open, something Rafa Nadal (2013) and Serena Williams (2013, 2014) recently accomplished.  A little known Canadian fact here: the 2014 ATP US Open Series champion was Milos Raonic.  Unfortunately for Milos he was unable to win the US Open, losing in the R16.  For a current update on the US Open Series standings, visit HERE!!   

So what should the tennis fan, whether beginner or hardcore, be looking for over the next week?  Let #TwineTime help you out.

Can Canada Shine? 
As is always the case when your home nation hosts an event, added pressure is on the host athletes to perform.  The Rogers Cup is no exception.  With the additional wildcard spots awarded mostly to Canadian athletes, this is a prime opportunity for not only the nation's top players (Milos, Genie, Vasek) to shine but also for the future of Tennis Canada to showcase their talent on the big stage.  The Rogers Cup/Canadian Open last saw a men's champion in 1958 (Robert Bedard) and 1969 (Faye Urban) on the women's side.  Unitl Milos Raonic's finalist appearance two years ago, both of those winners were the last time this event has even seen a Canadian finalist.  Ohhhh Canada indeed!

Milos will be making his return to the court after a lengthy injury absence and will be hard pressed in his first match against the big Croat and hard serving Dr. Ivo!  If Milos can make it to at least the QF round, I would consider his return a success here at home.  His matches are winnable and a possible QF clash with Stanimal could go either way.  To say he has a shot at winning this event might be a stretch but a shot to entertain the home crowd and give them someone to cheer for is very doable.

Genie is in a tailspin for her career and she is close to hitting rock bottom.  After a successful 2014, 2015 has been the exact opposite.  In fact, just winning 1 match seems to be a struggle lately.  Nothing is working.  Her game has completely deteriorated and she needs to send out the S.O.S. signal quick to try and save some of her season.  Once a top 5 player, she is barely holding on to a top 30 ranking.  Bouchard has just parted with yet another coach and one has to wonder what she needs to do to right the ship.  Perhaps playing at home in front of friendly Canadian fans can help?  Her draw is certainly going to be a challenge, facing off with the next #SwissMiss Bencic in the first round and, if she survives, drawing 2014 US Open finalist Wozniacki in round two.  I love Genie and have since her junior days but I just do not see her turning this around this week.  I want her to and I will be cheering as a member of #GenieArmy but I think the tumble continues.

On a bright side, #AnythingIsPospisil in 2015!  Vasek is coming off his first QF Grand Slam appearance at Wimbledon (losing to Andy Murray) and is the 2014 Wimbledon Doubles Champion (teaming with Jack Sock as the #CanAmConnection or #PospiSock).  Vasek has worked his way back into a Top 30 ranking and will be wise to do well in Montreal to try and clinch a seed for the US Open and, hopefully, earn an easier draw.  He is in the same section of the draw as #Stanimal and Milos mind you but could we see an All-Canadian QF matchup?

What about the future of Tennis Canada?  There are a few players to watch who could be the next Milos or Genie or Vasek.  Most notable, I would keep an eye on Filip Peliwo (who lost a tough 3 setter in his opening round unfortunately), Francoise Abanda and Carol Zhao (who is coming off a Pan Am gold medal win in women's doubles with Gabby Dabrowski).  Are these players a threat to go far in the tournament?  No, probably not but this is a great chance to see who will represent the Maple Leaf in future years.

Will The Favorites Reign Supreme? 
There will be no bigger favorite than Serena Williams.  Williams owns a career 20-1 record at the Rogers Cup with her only loss being in 2009 to Elena Dementieva.  And with Maria Sharapova withdrawing due to a right leg strain, it will be a shock to see any other woman lift the trophy over the weekend.  Last year's champ Aggie Radwanska is back to defend her title and Serena's best buddy Caroline Wozniacki could also give Serena a challenge.  A HUGE potential match to watch out for could be two-time Wimbledon champ (2011, 2014) Petra Kvitova vs. two-time Aussie Open champ (2012, 2013) Vika Azarenka in round two.  Vika is on her way back to elite status and Petra recently announced she is battling mono.  If these two play one another, the winner could just make a run right to the finals.

In Montreal, Novak Djokovic will be the favorite to hoist the hardware over the weekend.  His draw is quite friendly through to the QF but this will also be his first tournament since winning Wimbledon.  It will be interesting to see if the layoff affects his game.  If he is prone to an upset, it will happen early rather than later.  Crowd favorite Roger Federer unfortunately withdrew last week but there will be a Swiss fav on the court still with 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka.  The #Stanimal has a tough section of the draw but if he can navigate through, we could see a French Open championship rematch in the SF.  Andy Murray will be the class of the bottom half of the draw but could find some trouble in his quarter with 2014 Rogers Cup champ J-W Tsonga and 2015 US Open champ Marin Cilic, not to mention a possible third round encounter with Gael Monfils or giant killer Gilles Muller.  And don't forget Rafa!  Nadal has won this event three times before and will be looking to kick start his hardcourt season with a good showing in Montreal.

Is this a chalk tournament?
Ok sure the favorites are big name players and fully capable of making this a seeded tournament, but let's not count out some big name players on the cusp of moving into elite status.  In fact, the Rogers Cup has produced some upset winners and finalists in the past: Andrei Pavel (W, 2001), Mardy Fish (F, 2011), Sorana Cirstea (F, 2013).  If you are looking for a dark horse to rally behind, I would suggest these following two players:

Dominic Theim - The young Austrian is coming off quite a July.  He won back to back tournaments and comes to Canada off a SF appearance at his home nation event.  He is full of confidence right now, is up to a career high ranking of 18 and has a favorable draw to the 3rd round.

Alize Cornet - The Frenchwoman is on a path back to the Top 15 in the world.  Currently ranked 28, she has the makings of a Top 10 player.  Any player who can defeat Serena William three times in one season (2014) receives automatic mention for her game play.  She has a draw that suits up nicely for her style and could be a surprise.

Alright, there are a few things to watch as you sip a cold beverage and enjoy the middle of August.  As is tradition here on #TwineTime, let's get to the predictions.

ATP (Montreal)

3rd Round

(1) Novak Djokovic def. Jack Sock
Dominic Thiem def. (5) Tomas Berdych
(3) Stan Wawrinka def. Vasek Pospisil
(8) Milos Raonic def. Leonardo Mayer
(7) Rafa Nadal def. (9) Gilles Simon
(4) Kei Nishikori def. Sam Querrey
(6) Marin Cilic def. Borna Coric
(2) Andy Murray def. Gilles Muller


(1) Djokovic def. Thiem
(8) Raonic def. (3) Wawrinka
(7) Nadal def. (4) Nishikori
(2) Murray def. (6) Cilic


(1) Djokovic def. (8) Raonic
(2) Murray def. (7) Nadal

Rogers Cup Men's Championship:  (1) Novak Djokovic def. (2) Andy Murray - What a championship final we could be in for if the seeding holds up.  Novak has been on fire this year though and it is hard to bet against him on any surface.  Djoker is a three-time champion (2007, 2011, 2012).  The last time this event was held in Montreal, Novak suffered a SF defeat to Nadal.  Murray is a two-time champ (2009, 2010) but has only made it to the QF round once (2014) since his last win here.  Both have a rich history in this tournament, both are playing outstanding tennis right now and both are looking to gain ground on one another as a favorite entering the US Open.  This could be a final for the ages!  Novak and Andy are the same age, separated by only 1 week, and have the same goals for their careers.  They have played one another 27 times with Novak holding a 19-8 advantage.  On the hard courts, Djoker leads the series 16-6.  Since 2014, Murray has struggled to even mount a competitive fight in his matches with Novak.  Djokovic has won their last 8 matches with Murray only taking a TOTAL of 5 sets off of him.  Perhaps the upcoming baby announcement for Mr. Murray will help inspire him here in Montreal.

Rogers Cup Men's Doubles Championship:  (3) J.-J. Rojer / H. Tecau def. (7) J. Murray / J. Peers

WTA (Toronto)

3rd Round

(1) Serena Williams def. (16) Andrea Petkovic
(7) Lucie Safarova def. Roberta Vinci
(4) Caroline Wozniacki def. Sabine Lisicki
(11) Ekaterina Makarova def. (5) Ana Ivanovic
(12) Timea Bacsinszky def. (8) Garbine Muguruza
Victoria Azarenka def. (15) Sara Errani
Alize Cornet def. (6) Aggie Radwanska
(13) Angelique Kerber def. Jelena Jankovic


(1) Williams def. (7) Safarova
(4) Wozniacki def. (11) Makarova
Azarenka def. (12) Bacsinszky
(13) Kerber def. Cornet


(1) Williams def. (4) Wozniacki
Azarenka def. (13) Kerber

Rogers Cup Women's Championship:  (1) Serena Williams def. Victoria Azarenka - And the rivalry resumes!  The number one player in the world is focused on achieving the one thing she has left to do in the sport: complete the calendar year grand slam.  This is a perfect tune-up event for Serena.  She is a three-time champ (2001, 2011, 2013) and seems to thrive when this event is played in Toronto.  Last year was the first time she played in Montreal since her 2000 final loss (retired vs. Martina Hingis).  The Toronto hard courts seems to be like a second home to Serena as she will aim for her third straight tournament win here.  Vika, on the other hand, is still finding her groove since returning from a foot injury that saw her ranking crash into the Top 40.  Ok sure, a top 40 ranking is nothing to scoff at but for a Grand Slam champion like Azarenka, this was quite the dive and battle to return from.  Back up to a Top 20 ranking right now, Vika will want a strong result here in her push for a high seed at the US Open.  These two women are no strangers to one another as they have met 20 times with Serena holding a 17-3 advantage.  Serena has never lost a Grand Slam match with Azarenka and is 5-3 in career final matchups.  Just recently these two battled in the Wimbledon QF, with Serena fighting back en route to another title.  I am not sure Azarenka is up to the challenge quite yet on her comeback to go blow for blow with the stronger Serena but she is capable of giving her a tough match.  This would be a dream final for tennis fans as well.  We are yearning to see someone step up and challenge Serena on a regular basis and current #2 Sharapova just doesn't seem to be up for it.  Vika is a player who, despite the lopsided record, can at least push Serena in matches and is capable of beating her.

Rogers Cup Women's Doubles Championship:  (1) M. Hingis / S. Mirza def. (2) E. Makarova / E. Vesnina

There you have it my tennis ball boys and girls.  A preview of the action, with predictions, for the 2015 Rogers Cup.  As always, please feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comment section below or on twitter.  I am happy to be back blogging again and hope you all enjoy the read.

Enjoy the rest of summer....

2014 Rogers Cup Champion: J-W Tsonga
2014 Rogers Cup Champion: Aggie Radwanska