Tennis·ROUNDUP

Canada's Stakusic advances to 2nd round of qualifying at National Bank Open

Canada's Marina Stakusic has advanced to the next round of the National Bank Open's qualifying tournament. Stakusic, from Mississauga, Ont., beat China's Xinyu Wang 6-1 in the first round when her opponent retired due to injury.

Montreal teenager Weekes ousted by Germany's Altmaier in men's tournament

Marina Stakusic of Mississauga, Ont., defeated Xinyu Wangduring, who retired due to injury, in a qualifying match at the 2022 National Bank Open in Toronto on Saturday. (HO-Gyles Diaz/Tennis Canada via The Canadian Press)

Marina Stakusic's earliest memory of tennis was watching the Rogers Cup at Rexall Centre. The names of the tournament and the stadium have changed since Stakusic was five, but the 17-year-old has now won at least one match at the event that helped her fall in love with the sport.

Stakusic, from nearby Mississauga, Ont., was the only Canadian to advance to the second round of the National Bank Open's qualifying tournament. Toronto's Victoria Mboko and Kayla Cross of London, Ont., both lost their matches on Saturday.

"I came here so many times as a kid and I always wanted to play this tournament," said Stakusic in the media centre at what is now called Sobeys Stadium. "I love Montreal too but Toronto, this is where I grew up.

Stakusic was beating China's Xinyu Wang 6-1 in the first round when her opponent retired due to injury. She felt that she had the match well in hand when Wang called for an end to play.

"I kind of figured out her game pretty early. That helped me a lot," said Stakusic. "I tried to keep my energy up the whole time and keep moving my feet because I never played in front of such a big crowd.

"That was the main thing, just be relaxed and keep my energy up the whole time."

Stakusic will play Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic on Sunday in the qualifying tournament's second round. She had to play in pre-qualifying matches to even make the qualifiers.

"I'm just going to try and stay as relaxed as I can," said Stakusic. "I mean, I'm definitely not supposed to win tomorrow so there's not too much pressure on me."

Mboko, Cross gain experience

The 15-year-old Mboko pushed Claire Liu of the United States to three sets, eventually losing 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to the world No. 79. The last match of the day stretched to two hours 28 minutes in baking heat with southern Ontario under a weather advisory.

Cross lost to Spain's Nuria Parrizas-Diaz 7-6, 6-0. Cross said she was disappointed in her result but enjoyed the rest of her National Bank Open experience, including signing autographs and taking photos with fans.

"This is a huge opportunity," said the 17-year-old Cross. "Of course, losing wasn't the greatest but I'm still going 7-6 with someone who's No. 59 in the world right now, so that was insane.

"Just getting the exposure even media wise, doing interviews, stuff like that. Getting a glimpse of what hopefully the future holds for me."

Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic is the top seed in the qualifying tournament. She'll play Germany's Tatjana Maria on Sunday.

Stakusic is vying for one of eight qualifying spots in the WTA event's main draw. If she advances to Monday, she will be one of five Canadians on the women's side of the event in Toronto.

Leylah Fernandez of Laval, Que., is the 13th seed in Toronto, with former champion Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Vancouver's Rebecca Marino, Carol Zhao of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Toronto's Katherine Sebov already in the main draw.

Canadian junior Weekes ousted in debut

It was just a few short years ago Jaden Weekes was at IGA Stadium as a fan with dreams of one day playing on the ATP Tour circuit.

On Saturday, the 17-year-old Montreal native took the next step in his tennis journey by making his National Bank Open debut, on centre court no less, as a wild-card entry in the qualifying draw.

Weekes held his own against Germany's Daniel Altmaier before dropping a 6-3, 6-4 decision in one hour 27 minutes.

"I mean it's surreal … it was the first time I [experienced] an atmosphere like this," Weekes said from Montreal. "I was very happy and I was just enjoying the moment."

Canadian junior player Jaden Weekes, shown in this file photo, made his National Bank Open debut in Montreal on Saturday. (Audric Gagnon for Tennis Canada)

Currently ranked 21st in the ITF junior rankings, Weekes was among six Canadians in the 28-man qualifying draw at the ATP Tour event.

Proudly calling himself a serve-and-volleyer — his father used to show him old John McEnroe tapes of the technique — Weekes covered a lot of court in hot, sunny conditions in front of a few hundred fans.

"I train here and I come to this tournament every year," he said. "So it means the world to me to be playing in it."

Altmaier, the world No. 79, punished the Canadian teen in the opening game with three service winners as he held at love. Weekes answered with four straight points of his own but the German earned a service break on his next opportunity.

Weekes admitted he battled some nerves throughout the match, perhaps leading to more unforced errors than usual. He was still all smiles afterward as he gained valuable experience at a Masters 1000 competition.

Next up is a junior warm-up tournament ahead of the US Open boys' event in a few weeks in New York.

"From there, we're switching to the big leagues," he said with a laugh.

Family affair

Weekes plans to turn professional once he ages out of the junior ranks. He will keep a university path open as a backup option.

A resident of nearby LaSalle, Que., Weekes said his parents used to play tennis for fun and they introduced the sport to his older brother years ago.

Weekes eventually picked up a racket too and quickly became hooked. He watched the pros as a young boy when they came through town in the summer.

He remains a fan and is most excited to see another local favourite — sixth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime — on court over the coming days.

"Ever since a young age I've always looked up to him," Weekes said. "He took the same path that I'm taking right now to become where he is now."

Auger-Aliassime, who's just four years older than Weekes, is the lone seeded Canadian in the 56-player main draw starting Monday.

Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., is also in the field along with wild-card entries Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., and Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que.

More results

In other qualifying results, Italy's Fabio Fognini defeated Toronto's Kelsey Stevenson 6-3, 6-1 and Montreal's Gabriel Diallo beat Australia's James Duckworth 6-3, 7-6 (5).

Montreal's Juan Carlos Aguilar dropped a 6-3, 6-7 (8), 6-4 decision to Arthur Rinderknech of France and Japan's Taro Daniel posted a 6-4, 6-2 win over Liam Draxl of Newmarket, Ont. Australia's Alexei Popyrin defeated Toronto's Steven Diez 6-3, 7-6 (4).

Diallo, 20, is a six-foot-seven player from the University of Kentucky. He's scheduled to play 74th-ranked Hugo Gaston of France on Sunday for one of seven qualifier berths in the main draw.

The National Bank Open returns to full capacity this year for the first time since 2019. Top seed and defending champion Daniil Medvedev of Russia headlines a field that includes 41 of the top 44 players in the world rankings.

Play continues at the $6.57-million US tournament through Aug. 14.

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