The summer hardcourt season kicks into full swing this upcoming week with the Canadian Open Masters event. In an astounding flip from last year when Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were healthy and the favorites, they are now the wounded while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who had injury issues last summer, are back in control of the game as the second half of the season begins in earnest.
And with Djokovic, Murray, Stan Wawrinka and even Marin Cilic all out of the event, the two legends figure to continue their dominance of 2017 in Canada.
On to the 56-man draw.
Rafael Nadal Quarter
You have to go all the way back to 2010 to find the last time Nadal was the top seed in Canada, and this year he could not only leave with his fourth title but also the No. 1 ranking. If Rafa reaches the semifinals he’ll do just that. The problem is, he’s got a dangerous draw. Potentially Borna Coric to start on Tuesday, then either Juan Martin Del Potro or John Isner in the third round (I like Delpo) followed by Milos Raonic in the quarters. On what should be a quick court, those are some tough customers. But Rafa’s been up to the task this year on the hard stuff and he plays well in Canada. Delpo’s been languishing, Raonic hasn’t done much and Isner is just Isner.
The pick: Rafael Nadal
Alexander Zverev Quarter
Washington finalist Alexander Zverev is probably the favorite in this second quarter which is also home to the ailing Nick Kyrgios and former champion JW Tsonga. Tsonga’s been a mystery for much of the season – which one will show up and how healthy is he? Kyrgios is talented but this summer the Australian cannot even finish matches let alone win them. Richard Gasquet, Los Cabos winner Sam Querrey and Zverev’s opponent in the D.C. final today Kevin Anderson are also in the there making for a rough section. Among Zverev, Querrey, Anderson, Gasquet, Gilles Muller and Tsonga, it’s hard to choose. But I’ll go with the young kid Zverev because he’s in form and he’s got the best draw in this section – avoiding the likes of Muller, Querrey and Anderson early.
The pick: Alexander Zverev
Dominic Thiem Quarter
Easily the weakest quarter with Dominic Thiem and Grigor Dimitrov the top seeds. I just don’t like Thiem’s long-winding groundies on a quick court and Dimitrov continues to struggle. That leaves Lucas Pouille who has a tough opener against Jared Donaldson. Maybe Mischa Zverev or perhaps Tomas Berdych. Yuck! Berdych would be the guy but he’s never made the Canadian SFs, so without much conviction I’ll just go with Thiem over Berdych in the quarters in a rematch of their Wimbledon 5-setter won by the Czech.
The Pick: Dominic Thiem
Roger Federer Quarter
With the No. 1 ranking back in play, Roger Federer has added the Canadian Open to his schedule. He hasn’t won in Canada since 2006, but like that matters anymore – the guy bends time. And I thought going in Federer would lose early here somewhere, but looking at the draw I don’t see it. Polansky or Pospisil on Wednesday? Then Jack Sock or David Ferrer in the third followed by Kei Nishikori or Gael Monfils in the quarters? Nope. Roberta Bautista Agut played him tough in Miami but like most this season, fell short in the end. And I think everyone will do just that against Roger in the week ahead.
The Pick: Roger Federer
Nadal d Zverev: Young Zverev likely gassed after Washington run.
Federer d Thiem: Federer too strong, too focused while Thiem happy to make the semifinals against his hero.
Federer d Nadal: Why not? Have they ever played in Canada? I don’t think so. Rafa gets the No. 1, but Federer wants the year-end No. 1.
One thing I hate about making picks is when I end up with the Top 4 seeds in the semifinals. In the Big 4 days, you could do that, but not anymore. So at least one, maybe two Top 4s will get picked off. Federer has the best draw. Rafa could lose early – remember he tends to struggle the second half of the year and he’s already played a lot of tennis this season. Zverev and Thiem are no sure bets.
And then in the past you had a guy like Tsonga get hot and run the table in Canada. Maybe Dimitrov can do the same since he’s in a very opportunistic quarter. If Nadal does stumble, can Raonic or Isner or even Del Potro take advantage?
But all that said, this year has been about two players: Roger and Rafa. Why change now?
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