Rogers Cup: Canadians set to serve notice in Toronto
Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil add to star power in Toronto
For fans and organizers at the Rogers Cup, Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil picked just about the perfect time to play in the first all-Canadian men's tennis final.
While Raonic and Pospisil were trading serves in Washington, the hype was building up for this week's Masters 1000 event in Toronto. In addition to the big names like Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, the Rogers Cup features a deep field that includes plenty of homegrown talent.
"Right now, with the way things are going with Canadian tennis, I would expect we would have some really, really good crowds here," said Andy Murray, seeded eighth.
Right now, with the way things are going with Canadian tennis, I would expect we would have some really, really good crowds here- Andy Murray on Rogers Cup in Toronto
The Rogers Cup is the next step on the tour as Canada enjoys a golden age. On the women's side, Eugenie Bouchard is in Montreal, while Raonic and Pospisil are in the main men's draw in Toronto along with Frank Dancevic, Peter Polansky and 19-year-old Brayden Schnur, who qualified with a victory Sunday.
Because of its spot in the U.S. Open series a month before the Grand Slam, the Rogers Cup has always attracted some of the game's best. But Karl Hale, who has been tournament director since 2006, knows this is even better because a generation of Canadians has emerged.
"We always talked about: 'Could you imagine if' and that imagine if is now in Milos, Eugenie, Vasek," Hale said. "It's amazing to see that actually happen before our eyes.
"The hype here has been just unbelievable. When I talk to the sales team, they're talking about Milos and now they're talking about Vasek, so everybody's looking forward to watching them this week."
Raonic, who beat Pospisil in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4, Sunday to capture the Citi Open, is set to play his first Rogers Cup match Wednesday night against either Jack Sock or JurgenMelzer. It was Raonic's sixth title of his career and more evidence of his rise.
"He's really made his move now in the rankings in the last year or so, getting into the Top 10, making semis of a Slam, winning tournaments, playing more solid week by week," Federer said. "I think that's what you've got to do if you want to compete with the best and give yourself opportunities.
"I think with his game, he's always going to be dangerous for the top guys and that's a good thing to have if I was him. Now it's just important to be consistent, be healthy.
"But also, obviously, try to win tournaments."
Raonic, who goes into the Rogers Cup ranked sixth in the world, got waxed by Federer in the Wimbledon semifinals. And while Raonic impressed with that run, his frustration in not winning showed Federer something.
"I felt like he was really happy being there," Federer said. "But not happy that he lost.
"That's the kind of attitude you want to see. That's the winner mentality, in my opinion.
"Interesting times ahead for him, no doubt."
The Rogers Cup represents interesting times in general for men's tennis. Djokovic goes into the week as the world's No. 1 player after winning Wimbledon and the rest of the bracket includes big names like Murray and Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka.
'Become much more competitive'
Pospisil will even face a serious challenge in his opening match against Richard Gasquet, who Pospisil beat in the semifinals at the Citi Open this weekend. He told fans in Washington that it felt like he was "playing in front of a Canadian crowd," and will get that chance again this week.
There's no easy path, even for the top seeds, because of the depth of the field.
"Tennis has become much more competitive in last five to 10 years," Djokovic said. "You have guys who are ranked 40, 30 in the world that have skills and that have the quality to win against the top guys.
"They have proven that on a big stage. I think the sport in general has become more professional in many different ways."
Raonic said last week in Washington that beyond the top players, men's tennis is "wide-open." Federer pointed out that the top-tier has remained unchanged for some time, but he thinks some injuries have opened the door for others to step into the void.
"Wawrinka winning the Australian Open really gave belief to other guys," Federer said. "But belief, it is not enough.
"You've got to pull through. That's what I mentioned with the other guys now: It's nice talking about it. But at the end they've got to do it."
'Important to do well here'
Defending champion Rafael Nadal withdrew last week, but Djokovic, Murray and Federer have each won this event before. Murray doesn't put much into having previously won the Rogers Cup because his focus is on this year and what it means in the next month or so.
"A lot of the higher seeds don't play that many tournaments during the year, they maybe play 17, 18 tournaments," Murray said. "It's important to get matches in before the U.S. Open as well.
"Here is the start of the summer. With only two tournaments to get ready for the U.S. Open, it's very important to do well here."
That could be easier said than done, given the competition those stars will face this week.
"The depth in the men's game has been around for quite a while now," Hale said. "Now the difference is you have the young stars.
"You have the Miloses, you have the [Grigor] Dimitrovs. You have the Vasek Pospisils that are sprinkling in there and having some good wins and good results that keeps the interest level really, really high, especially on a national level."