After not one but two thrilling tournaments at the All England Club this summer, the US Open Series has shed much of its allure and some of its star power, especially on the men’s side. Still entered in the post-Olympics hangover week at the Rogers Cup are three of the four players who reached the medal rounds in London. We discuss whether they can repeat that success across the Atlantic or whether some fresher, less battle-scarred rivals might pounce during this lull.
First quarter: Last year, Djokovic consolidated his newly acquired top ranking with a title at the Rogers Cup, one of the less dramatic stages in his ascent. This year, he arrives in Toronto after a period of slight descent, having won only two titles this year, surrendered the #1 ranking, and fallen at consecutive majors to each of his leading rivals. Most bitterly of all, Djokovic failed to win even a single medal at the Olympics after losing four consecutive sets to Murray and Del Potro, the latter of whom never had defeated him in a completed match. The Serb thus could benefit immensely from positive momentum, which he might find in a depleted Toronto draw. Although it lacks Federer and Nadal, though, the Rogers Cup still features a few threatening figures in Djokovic’s section. In the third round might loom Los Angeles champion Querrey, a player clearly below the top seed’s quality but trending upwards this summer as steadily as the Serb has trended downwards. A surprise quarterfinalist at the Olympics, Nishikori also has showcased steady efforts of late and defeated a tired Djokovic in Basel last fall. On the opposite side of the section, the surging Del Potro may face Washington champion Dolgopolov, never a comfortable opponent against whom to start a tournament. A battle of veterans Haas and Nalbandian might produce the most entertaining first-round encounter in this vicinity, but the winner may struggle to outlast Simon a round later. If the two highest seeds do collide in the quarterfinals, Djokovic will face a daunting challenge in attempting to reverse his deflating loss in the bronze-medal match.
Semifinalist: Del Potro
Second quarter: Another man who played an interminable final set at the Olympics (but won it), Tsonga has enjoyed his trips to the Montreal version of this event, where he twice has defeated Federer. His forays to Toronto have proved less sensational, perhaps because he lacks the Francophone support that bathes him in the other Canadian city. Mustering little resistance to Djokovic in an Olympics quarterfinal, Tsonga nevertheless left London with a silver medal in doubles a month after reaching a semifinal at the All England Club. As they did last year, his fortunes already have brightened in the second half after an unremarkable first half. The Frenchman finds himself in a relatively comfortable section of the draw near a group of questionable competitors in Chardy, Stakhovsky, and Florian Mayer. While the last two of that group have quirky, disruptive styles, they need a lethargic effort from the far more athletically gifted Tsonga to ambush him. During his rise to the top 10 last year, Tipsarevic reached a Rogers Cup semifinal in his best showing until then at a Masters 1000 tournament. With plenty of points to defend over the coming weeks, he needs to capitalize on the opportunity of a benign draw, where he holds the fifth seed. Croatian tower of power Cilic might harbor hopes of derailing Tipsarevic in the third round, building upon two titles this summer, and the second-ranked Serb cannot afford to overlook the similarly imposing server Kevin Anderson in his opener. Despite the proliferation of enigmatic talents in this quarter, Tsonga looks like a safe bet to emerge from it—which often means that he won’t.
Third quarter: During this week last year, Fish caught fire as he typically does during the US Open Series and reached the final in Montreal. Although he has recovered from a serious health problem this spring, recurring physical woes like an ankle injury have hindered his attempts to regain his former top-eight status. The aging American did reach the second week of Wimbledon, however, a surprising result in the circumstances. Surrounded largely by Canadians and players best on clay, such as Monaco and Seppi, Fish might settle into the draw without undue friction. But Monaco, a top-10 player for the first time this summer, crushed him in Miami on a day when the less consistent, more powerful man never found his range. Never finding his own range during the grass season, Berdych hopes to halt a three-match losing streak that included losses at Wimbledon and the Olympics to Gulbis and Darcis, respectively. While any reasonable person would favor him over PED abuser Wayne Odesnik, more probable opening challenger Benneteau could cause the Czech anxious moments. Rebounding from a five-set loss to Federer at Wimbledon, the Frenchman won a bronze in doubles at the Olympics with Gasquet, whom he could meet in the third round. A heavier hitter than Gasquet and arguably a less fragile competitor, Berdych has secured only mixed success against him. Both Europeans have faltered lately against Fish, who might have played his way into the tournament before he reaches one of them.
Fourth quarter: Still delirious from the ecstasy of winning a gold medal on home soil, an opportunity that rarely knocks at a tennis player’s door, Murray must recover swiftly to weather the barrage of Raonic in the third round. Searching for that elusive breakthrough, the Canadian serving specialist toppled Murray on the clay of Barcleona, his only win to date against a top-four opponent. Recently, Raonic has lost a series of close matches: third-set tiebreaks to Federer in Madrid and Halle, a three-tiebreak affair to Querrey at Wimbledon, and a 48-game final set to Tsonga at the Olympics. Balancing the brilliance of his serve against the unreliability of his return, he will play many more of these extremely tight matches as his career unfolds, so now he must learn how to win them. Experience will help in that regard, as it did for the similarly gifted and hampered Isner, who could meet Murray in the quarterfinals. Undone by Federer and a bit of ill-timed misfortune at the Olympics, the giant from Georgia could teach Raonic a thing or two about winning an epic set or match. He should tower over each of his early opponents in more ways than one, for he appears to have recovered from his doldrums of the European spring. While Murray normally excels at blunting the raw, one-dimensional power of foes like Raonic and Isner, one hardly could fault him for basking in his golden glory and allowing his focus to ebb ever so slightly this week. Since these servers tend to decide matches by excruciatingly slim margins, any slight ebb could prove decisive.
Final: Del Potro vs. Isner
Champion: Juan Martin Del Potro