Rogers Cup Recap

August 11, 2013

By Lyra Pappin

MONTREAL —  It was a historic week for Canadian tennis in Montreal, as hometown players became heroes in front of loud and proud fans.

After Vasek Pospisil thrilled Canadian tennis fans with two incredible upset victories – first over American John Isner, then an unbelieveable third set tiebreak win over world no. 6, Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, he landed in the first semi-final between two Canadians the tournament had seen since 1989. His focus and stamina was remarkable and his energetic embrace of the love he got from crowds was genuinely moving.

Losing a tough three set semi to compatriot Milos Raonic left Pospisil in tears as he walked off the court, but in the end, he knew he’d had a truly special run. He’ll be ranked inside the top 40 for the first time in his career, blowing out his goal to be top 50 by the year’s end.

For Raonic, the win guaranteed him a top 10 ranking – becoming the first Canadian, ever, to hold that distinction.

The Usual Suspects

It was no letdown when world no. 1 Novak Djokovic met world no. 4 Rafael Nadal in the semis on Saturday night in Montreal. Incredible angles, rallies, and shotmaking saw the second semi also go to a third set tiebreak. Nadal ultimately powered through, wasting no time and keeping Djokovic on the defensive to take the match, allowing the Serb only two points in the tiebreak.

The quality of tennis displayed by both certainly bodes well for the upcoming hard court season and the US Open.

Andy Murray, making his first return to competition following his Wimbledon title, looked solid despite going out to Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis in the third round. While making an earlier exit than he hoped, he lasted longer than expected in doubles, going to the final with partner Colin Fleming before losing to Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares in straights.

Quotes of the week:

They’re used to hockey here.  It’s okay.
- Ernests Gulbis on fans booing him.

No.  There was more frustration within myself.  There was somebody in the bathroom beside me so I didn’t want to scare them.
- Milos Raonic on whether he yelled at himself during the bathroom break he took in the SF.

Next time I won’t shave before the match.  I shouldn’t have shaved this morning (laughter).  I knew it.
- Vasek Pospisil on what made the difference in the Pospisil and Raonic semi.

A lot of pressure on that baby.
- Andy Murray on Royal baby

In these hot and humid conditions, all the sweat coming to your hands – sometimes this is tougher to play than the opponent.
- Tomas Berdych

Hypothetically yes.  Technically no.
- Milos Raonic, on the missed net call

As close to the perfection as you can be really.
- Novak Djokovic on his 51 min quarterfinal win over Richard Gasquet

Six Canadians through to the second round

August 6, 2013

By Lyra Pappin

TORONTO – Everyone who was supposed to win, won. And everyone who wasn’t supposed to win… also won.

While it was expected that Milos Raonic would get through his opening round match at the Rogers Cup against Jeremy Chardy of France, he did make it interesting by going deep in the third. Not that it made a difference to him how he did it, saying after his match that winning was all that mattered.

“I created my opportunities,” Raonic said. “I think I did the right thing by staying aggressive. Going to stick to it.”

Raonic will face Mikhail Youzhny next, the Russian player who gave Raonic his first win against a top 10 player at the Australian Open in 2011.

“It was a big moment at the Australian Open. Back then, I was playing with no fear, playing aggressive tennis,” said Raonic. “Got to go out and do the same thing.”

In Toronto, the new poster girl for tennis in Canada, Eugenie Bouchard, made good on the hype, calmly delivering a 6-3, 6-1 win over Russia’s Alisa Kleybanova to a hometown crowd at the Rexall Centre. The 19-year-old admitted she was a bit nervous before the match but was able to maintain her composure and get a win out of the way.

“I got broken a few times, and I just decided to go for it and started to play aggressive,” said Bouchard.  “That definitely helped me.”

Next up? Only defending champion and six-seed Petra Kvitova.

“Time to take the defending champ down,” laughed Bouchard.

“I’m just really excited I will play at home on center court in front of the crowd.  It’s always so fun for me.  I’m going to try my best and we’ll see what happens.”

Other Canadians in action at Rexall were 22-year-old Sharon Fichman and compatriot Stephanie Dubois, forcing at least one Canadian loss on the day. Fichman took a three set victory, and the win puts her in the top 100 for the first time in her career.

“I’m really excited that things have been going well for me,” said Fichman. “My main goal is just to be better as a tennis player.  I want to be the best I can be, and numbers aside, I just want to keep improving and get to what I feel my potential is.”

Back in Montreal, where there’s definitely something in the water, every Canadian who played won his match.

Vasek Pospisil took arguably one of the biggest wins of his career with a three-set victory over American John Isner in a tiebreak. Isner, who was coming off the finals at the Citi Open in Washington, didn’t have enough in the tank to fight off the strong play from Pospisil, who himself had just won the VanOpen title on Sunday.

“It was tough, but emotionally difficult as well from last week, because I played two matches on Saturday, a very emotional rollercoaster match in the final on Sunday in front of friends and family,” said Pospisil. “I flew overnight with no sleep. So, obviously, mentally it was a couple very draining days but amazing at the same time.”

Filip Peliwo, who won his Junior Wimbledon title alongside Bouchard in 2012, got his first win at the Rogers Cup after Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen retired with the 19-year-old leading in the third set.

“I did notice he wasn’t 100%, that’s for sure,” said Peliwo after the match.

The way he won didn’t put any kind of damper on the excitement for advancing to the second round, however.

“Unbelievable,” he said. “Definitely the best feeling I’ve had in a while. It’s such a big win for me.”

Veteran and Davis Cup teammate Frank Dancevic also won, moving past qualifier Yen Hsun-Lu in a three sets. His next match is Tuesday night against the dangerous Pole, 6’8” hard-serving Jerzy Janowicz.

“Last time we played it was in very different conditions,” said Dancevic. “It was indoors, a challenger, and he was top 200 in the world… He’s been improving a lot since then.”

Janowicz made his first appearance in the semifinals of a grand slam this year at Wimbledon where he lost to eventual champ Andy Murray.

For more Rogers Cup coverage, follow @lyrapappin.

Rogers Cup Preview: Men’s Draw

August 3, 2013

by: Lyra Pappin

Since Wimbledon taught us nothing about predictions, let’s take a look at what lies ahead for the men in Montreal.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic won’t face a lot of heat before the semifinals, if all goes according to plan. He’ll likely play upstart Bernard Tomic in his first match. Tomic will probably say something along the lines of, “I’ll definitely beat him” or “I’m the greatest tennis player ever”, and then Djokovic will continue on, possibly against compatriot Janko Tipsarevic. Tips has been out with injuries and his results have been uneven this year, so whether he makes it to the third round is questionable, making it even likelier that Djokovic should cruise through before meeting either Kei Nishikori or Richard Gasquet in the fourth. Gasquet has performed particularly well at the Rogers Cup, but it’d be an epic upset if he could pull off a win against the world number one.

Djokovic’s trouble will begin “if” he meets Rafael Nadal in the semis. Nadal’s path to a potential semi-final has a mix of interesting characters including Jerzy Janowicz, the “Pole-veriser”, whose on-court antics are setting up a bit of a bad boy rep for the 6’8” Wimbledon semi-finalist. Nadal also has a possible meeting with Tommy Haas, whose ascension to the top 10 at age 35 continues to be a feel-good story on tour.

On the other side of the draw, Wimbledon champ Sir Andy Murray (knighting date TBD) likely opens his quest for a third Rogers Cup title by facing “BabyFed”, Grigor Dimitrov, who surely hates that nickname as much as the other one – Maria’s boyfriend. Despite drawing a lot of attention for those two factors, Dimitrov hasn’t really done much on tour this season and though it’d be a fun match to see, Murray will likely move on to face his mom’s favourite, Feliciano Lopez. Murray’s potential quarterfinal opponent, Juan Martin Del Potro, would be improving on his second round loss in last year’s post-Olympic bronze Rogers Cup, including taking out Canada’s big hype, er, hope, Milos Raonic. If Raonic does face DelPo, it’ll be a battle of giants, but the Argentine’s better movement and overall arsenal will make it very difficult on the Canadian.

Barring an upset (if we’re following rankings), Murray could face either Tomas Berdych or David Ferrer in the semis. Neither top five player will have an especially challenging route to their potential match up, and on hard courts, I would give Berdych the edge despite Ferrer flying up to the number three seed and rank with the struggles of the absent Roger Federer.

According to this unscientific analysis, I see Djokovic and Murray in a final, with the defending champ making it three straight on Canadian soil.

Prognosis Canada:

Junior Wimbledon 2012 champion Filip Peliwo faces Finland’s Jarko Nieminen in his first match. Peliwo has a bright future and with hometown support, could rise to the occasion.

Frank Dancevic, Davis Cup hero, will face a qualifier, getting a great chance to move into the second round. He’ll likely face Janowicz there, who is definitely a tough opponent, but always entertaining.

Vasek Pospisil, who gained some attention for upsetting Juan Ignacio Chela in the first round of the 2011 Rogers Cup, only to face childhood hero Federer in the second round, will take on tall tree John Isner. Rough draw for Pospisil but with Isner going deep at the Citi Open, maybe Pospisil can push through to advance.

Raonic will look to satisfy some expectations with a win over the unseeded Chardy, who can be a difficult opponent, but has a losing record on hard courts. The Canadian would face Jurgen Melzer or Mikhail Youzhny next, two more unseeded players. Losses in either round would put a major dent in the Raonic hype machine.

For more from Rogers Cup, follow @lyrapappin.

Is there a favourite at Wimbledon?

June 25, 2013

By Lyra Pappin

Rafael Nadal was the man with the skeleton key that worked against all the top players, undoing their game plan, regardless of rankings and form. He was always more of a threat against Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray than those three ever have been against each other. But now he’s out of Wimbledon.

The immediate impact to Nadal’s bracket is clear: Murray and Federer’s chances both increased the second Steve Darcis completed his unlikely ousting of the two-time champion. Djokovic should be relieved as well, though odds were in his favour on grass but with Nadal, the threat of defeat always managed to feel nearer.

However, in a season where mixed results and untimely injuries prevented a clear favourite from standing out at Wimbledon, and coming off a year that saw each of the big four pick up a slam title, the path to the finals has never seemed so up in the air.

And frankly, a bit dry.

Unless you’ve got a long-time personal favourite, the storylines that follow any of the remaining top three to win Wimbledon seem equally worn. Of Djokovic, Federer and Murray – really, any one of them could win. Is it awful that that’s a tad boring?

All apologies to Djokovic, but rooting for the favourite seems to go out of style each time Federer loses the number one ranking. If Djokovic were to win Wimbledon, nobody would be too surprised, and the matches will likely have gone pretty much according to plan.

Federer, on his favourite surface, going for his eighth title at the All England Club, caught a huge break with nemesis Nadal’s exit. Sounds fun for the monogramed man to take an eighth, and I guess he’ll want to match Rafa’s magic eight at Roland-Garros, but if he were to get there, it’d include another defeat of Murray in London, something that took some wind of out last year’s victory. Does that ultimately matter to Feds? Of course not, but waning fan support is something that seems to irk the Swiss champ.

Side note: Orange is not gold. I guess it was getting a little sad either way, but Federer abandoning the gold trim on his Wimbledon set seems a little deflating, too. Even Tiger Woods kept stubbornly wearing red each Sunday.

Back to the contenders…

Sometimes-hometown man Andy Murray almost seems like a sleeper cell this year. Maybe all that buildup to his breakthrough grand slam took some gusto out of his underdog status as the guy who could usurp the favourites because the pressure seems less urgent now.

His injury-prompted absence was felt at the French, which also left question marks about his health going into Wimbledon. While winning another Queen’s title should have addressed that concern, the potential for both excitement and disappointment feels dampened. If he were to make the final and lose, well, he’s losing to Djokovic, the number one seed. He’d also have been coming off an injury, so that’s forgivable. Plus, he has his title to defend in New York, and proved himself on grass at the 2012 London Olympics, where he won gold on the very same courts. And if he wins? England would celebrate, for sure, but it’s definitely less shocking than it would have been last year. It’d still be an incredible moment for Murray, something arguably more meaningful to him than Djokovic and Federer, who have won it before, but that doesn’t make him the favourite.

As the rounds go on, the pressure on the top three will build, and hopefully, anticipation with it. Although the homing missile that is typically Nadal took some danger out of the equation for the usual suspects, Wimbledon won’t be spoiled by parity.

What we’re actually spoiled by, is that the level of tennis played at Wimbledon climbs higher every year, and whoever remains standing at the end will surely deserve it.

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Tomic and Raonic learning from Federer

January 20, 2013

By: Lyra Pappin

During Roger Federer’s smooth beatdown of upstart Bernard Tomic in Melbourne Friday night, Patrick McEnroe said at one point, “Is Federer even breathing?” He then added, “I mean, heavily?”

He could have stopped at the first question. There has always been a curious otherness about Roger Federer, regardless of rankings or match results. When Federer’s on, he’s a whole other Matrix-level on, where bending a spoon with your mind seems less impressive than what Federer can do on the court.

On the trippy occasions when Federer is struggling, his bewilderment is palpable and infectious. It’s weird to watch him lose because he rarely looks like he’s doing anything wrong and he’s not used to doing anything wrong.

Prior to Federer’s third round match of the year’s opening major tournament, his 20-year-old Australian opponent was confident. Tomic had just won his first ATP title in front of a hometown crowd in Sydney, and he felt he had momentum coming into Melbourne. Tomic said that it was “the perfect time to play him,” in reference to Federer, the 17-time Grand Slam champion.

Tomic’s confidence proved to be false, however. All that Federer was, is and can be was on full display for the young player, who noted that the adulatory intro the Swiss slam champ got was enough to rattle him.

“You lose belief before you even get to the match,” said Tomic, after the match. “They mentioned all these Grand Slams leading up, Wimbledon champion six times, six time times US Open champion… and then I was just, aw crap, it’s Roger. I try to block out who’s on the other side of the net but I couldn’t quite do it after that announcement.”

Tomic’s facts might be off (Federer won Wimbledon seven times and the US Open five), but the effect is understood. Milos Raonic of Canada will have to keep that in mind while also shaking it free when he takes the court against Federer in Melbourne on Monday night for their fourth round match. Raonic is 22 and tall, known for his serve. He’s got swagger but doesn’t appear as brash as Tomic, who perhaps got a lesson in growth on and off the court from his straight set loss to the 31-year-old star, saying, “I learned a lot…He is the best player and greatest of all time, and I’m gonna continue to work hard and it’s just a matter of time before I get up to the big group of boys in the top ten, I’ve gotta believe.”

Raonic had his own version of big stage growing pains when he lost in straights to Andy Murray at the 2012 US Open.  Raonic was a little dazed after that loss. “Not much I could do,” he said. “I tried everything. … When I did get far ahead on criticial moments and on quite a few moments, he just did something I really have no answer for, something I haven’t really experienced.”

Much ado is made over Federer’s age but he has exactly what Tomic and Raonic point out they are still acquiring – belief and experience.

Raonic and Federer have played each other three times but never in a Grand Slam. All three matches have gone three sets (ATP events are best of three) and have been close. Federer’s 4 and 0 result against Tomic was more lop-sided, with Tomic managing just one set in all of their meetings. When Raonic and Federer played back in March of 2012 in Indian Wells, another hard court tournament, Federer won, but lost the first set in a tiebreak. After the match, he described Raonic as someone who will, “install himself very easily and nicely in the top 30, and then make his move up the rankings.” Raonic’s progress has been fast; he’s seeded thirteenth in Australia, and is fifteen in the world.

Federer had similar musings on Tomic, who entered the tournament unseeded, “He knows I guess, I hope he knows, what he needs to do over the few weeks,  months, and years ahead because this ain’t just a two months tour…but he seemed like a very good player today to me, so you would definitely expect him to rise in the rankings…get more consistent and confident.”

Federer, the man with the most weeks at number one, is practiced at making difficult things look easy, belief and confidence included. He rattles off lines of insight and analysis the same way he glides a backhand crosscourt winner into the corner. As he said in Indian Wells last year, “I guess my experience helped me to stay calm and just weather the storm.  If that’s experience, I guess that’s what it is, you know… My confidence got me through as well…  I think that was maybe the difference tonight.”

Raonic will have to hope that something else  makes the difference this Monday night in Melbourne instead. Or, if he can, actually believe.

Follow @lyrapappin for more Australian Open coverage.

Murray sets the stage for Raonic clash

August 8, 2012

By: Lyra Pappin

TORONTO — Ivan Lendl doesn’t mess around. Before Andy Murray made it to court on Wednesday afternoon in Toronto, Lendl was doing the prep work for his pupil’s eventual easy win over underdog Flavio Cipolla. In a morning practice session, Lendl openly scouted the Italian qualifier, telling him that he was watching him to see his weaknesses. Advantage, Murray.

Not that the gold medalist needed any extra advantages over the unseeded player, but hey, that’s beside the point. Under the Lendl regime, sentimentality and distraction have no place in his focused universe. Lendl’s creed: do whatever it takes to destroy the opponent. Murray, while unquestionably competitive, is just now beginning to harness the emotions that would sometimes get in his way and translate that passion into cold, unforgiving victories over opponents ranked anywhere from Cipolla’s 97 to Roger Federer’s current number one status.

Though temporarily hindered by an aggravated left knee in the second set, Murray looked solid and assured throughout his opening round match, winning 6-1, 6-3. At times, the focus that Murray leveled at the ball was reminiscent of the otherworldly fire Djokovic possessed during his superlative 2011 season. The comparison is no coincidence; confidence breeds confidence and with Murray’s bridesmaid status temporarily lifted after his decisive victory over Federer at the Olympics, the Scot is riding momentum that dwarfs anything he earned from his past 22 ATP titles.

What is still yet to be seen, yet to be tested, is Murray’s resolve down the stretch in a slam setting now that he’s won on a larger stage. Murray himself acknowledged the ambiguity of the gold factor, “I’ll need to see over the next few weeks whether it’s changed my mindset going forward…confidence in individual sport comes and goes very quickly. I hope it helps me in the long run, but have to wait and see.”

Yes, “Will Murray win a slam?” is a tired storyline, but its perpetual presence is a testament to Murray’s frustratingly clear potential. For a few other would-be contenders, asking whether they think they can win a slam becomes a default question from time to time and others aren’t asked at all; with Murray, it becomes an accusation. It’s no longer whether he will win a major, but why he hasn’t done it yet. Murray’s next opportunity for a meaningful title is now on the horizon,  and as the US Open draws near, the world number four will first have to continue making his way through the rounds of Rogers Cup before he gets another chance to answer this demand.

A back-to-back champion of this tournament in 2009 and 2010, the Scot will be tested physically and mentally in his next match against hometown hero, Milos Raonic. After Murray’s pressure-cooked summer, including a loss to Raonic earlier in the year, whether the timing is right for the Olympic champ to push hard in Toronto is a valid consideration. “It will be tough. He’ll obviously be very motivated playing in his own country,” Murray said. “My opponent today was serving around 150, 160 kilometres an hour and Milos can serve 100 kilometres faster than that…So very, very different match to today.”

In addition to Raonic stealing thunder under a patriotic atmosphere amplified by the Olympics, all season Murray has discussed the importance of raising his level to coincide with majors rather than tour events, trading battles for the war. With General Lendl on hand, odds are increasing that Murray will rise to the occasion and silence his doubters on one New York night. Until then, Toronto awaits the clash between Golden Boy and Home Boy, a fiercely hyped match that will eventually become just a tiny piece of two fascinating puzzles.

For more Rogers Cup talk, follow @lyrapappin on Twitter.

Raonic on quest to be best in the world

August 7, 2012

By: Lyra Pappin

TORONTO — Milos Raonic collected his first Canadian Masters 1000 win today in Toronto in an all-business straight set decision over Serbia’s Viktor Troicki. The lumbering, lanky Canadian looked calm and thoughtful in victory, coolly stating a bold ambition: “I hope I can be the best in the world.”

Raonic made it clear that he is looking to become the top player, not just a top player. Weight hangs in the air with that kind of statement, though not the dubious sort, it just took a moment to digest. Here is this 21-year-old tennis player, fresh off a loss at the Olympics, who has just two ATP titles in his young career, plainly professing that he wants to be the man at the top of the game. And it’s not far-fetched. Far from it actually.

Perhaps the Olympic glow is at play here, but Raonic articulating his goal to become the best in the world felt decidedly unCanadian, in the best possible sense. It’s the kind of ambition that is often sorely lacking in Canada, particularly in Toronto, where the city’s sports woes are well-documented. Framed by the Olympics, with a spotlight shining loudly on the continued underachievement in the category of unquestionable elite, there’s a haunting back-of-mind whisper that in Canada, we’re simply not accustomed to the number one status. The more familiar goals are those of “top 100”, “top 50”, “bronze” – all of which come with thrilled exaltations.

While Raonic has a lot to prove in terms of realizing his goal, the attitude is beyond refreshing – it’s contagious. The crowds are showing up for Raonic and so far, he is delivering. He’ll face an enormous test in his second round match if seeds hold up and Gold medalist Andy Murray comes through as his next opponent. Not that Raonic is too concerned, and with good reason; he beat Murray in straight sets earlier this year in Barcelona. Four months later, Raonic remains confident when assessing his chances against the Scot and said, “I  know if I play well, I’ll have my opportunities.”

Raonic’s swagger isn’t aggressive, it’s seductive. He discussed his match with a measured intellectualism that bodes well for his game, discussing his appreciation for being “surrounded by so much greatness” during the Olympics, and his endeavours to find new ways to experience the world while travelling (holding baby tigers in Johannesburg was one). As on court, he doesn’t have a temper, even a thinly concealed one, and he isn’t offended that hallmarks of his game are becoming cliché descriptors. When asked if he wants to be known for something other than his serve, he remained pragmatic. “That’s definitely the plan. That’s what I am going to need to do if I am going to achieve the things I want to achieve. But no matter what, my serve is going to be my best part.”

There are always more stages of growth for any athlete, even when every goal has been achieved and every record seems surpassed – just ask Roger Federer. For Raonic, too, there is no end in sight, there will always be something more. So as Raonic continues to ascend the tennis rankings, fans not just in Canada, but everywhere, can count themselves lucky to be part of the climb, part of the evolution. Expect excellence and you might just get it.

For more Rogers Cup action, follow @lyrapappin on Twitter.

Pospisil and Raonic thrill crowds to open Rogers Cup

August 6, 2012

by: Lyra Pappin

Look out Milos Raonic, here comes Vasek Pospisil. With an upset win over Italy’s Andreas Seppi, Pospisil could also be making a play at another upset: becoming the new fan favourite at Toronto’s Rogers Cup. After taking six match points to get to the second round of the Masters 1000 event, Pospisil thrilled hometown fans with a win, rather than how he rose to attention during last year’s event, which came strangely – in defeat. Ideally, careers aren’t defined by memorable losses, but last year in Montreal when Pospisil was able to push his childhood idol, Roger Federer, to 5-7 in the first set, the Canadian made waves as a legitimate up and comer. Federer ultimately went through, but as far as losses go, being taken out by a legend in competitive fashion ain’t bad at all.

Fortunately for Pospisil, this year he’s grabbing the spotlight with a statement win, beating Seppi, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 in his opening round match for the hometown crowd. The 22-year-old Canadian, ranked 104th, rose above the gap between their rankings, as the world 26 Seppi, dropped his level under pressure from Pospisil’s powerful game and mental grit. Pospisil also credited the crowd to helping him push through, saying, “It’s my third top 30 win… to do it here in Toronto, for a hometown crowd… it’s pretty awesome.”  Awesome for Pospisil, but a big loss for the Italian, who had been enjoying a solid season and was riding a touch of notoriety after forcing five sets in a first round match against Novak Djokovic at the 2012 French Open.

Pospisil’s win softened the blow for what was a tough loss earlier in the day for Canadians, as Thornhill’s Peter Polanksy somehow managed to lose a match that he kicked off with a first set 6-0 win. After a commanding start, Polansky lost the next two sets to Australia’s Matthew Ebden 4-6, 3-6. “You can call it a disaster, I guess,” Polanksy said after the match. “It wasn’t a very good performance… but you got to move on and hopefully learn from this.”

Around the courts, Milos Raonic continued to draw bigger crowds to his practice sessions than most of the tournament matches. The freshly christened “Milos Raonic Grandstand Court” accompanied by masses of fans that gather, gawk and grab autographs, the 21-year-old is facing a vibrating hype and hunger that is only increasing in intensity. The frenzy will reach new heights if seeds hold up and a third round match with Gold medalist Andy Murray comes to a head. It’ll be interesting to see how the lanky Lacoste-wearer adjusts to his star status. So far, it seems to suit him just fine. He hung around signing autographs and entertaining fans after some practice play with Serbian Janko Tipsarevic.

The final Canadian in the singles mix is wildcard Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, currently ranked 123 after falling from his career-high of 65 in 2007. Hometown advantage will have to count for a lot to help the Davis Cup team member make waves beyond the opening round, where he’ll face a tough opponent in Mikhail Kukushkin.

Pospisil is also back in action Tuesday, playing Argentina’s Juan Monaco prior to Raonic’s opening match against Serbia’s number three player, Viktor Troicki.


For more Rogers Cup action, follow @lyrapappin on Twitter.

Andy Murray’s Olympic Catch-22

August 2, 2012

by: Lyra Pappin

Last time Andy Murray played at Wimbledon the montage to open his match told us that the Scot “toiled under the weight of Great Britain’s collective desire”.  American television isn’t exactly known for its subtlety, but the London 2012 games have shown that the Brits aren’t interested in understatement either. While drama and tension are prime goals for the games, the UK is safely on board with 15 medals, so perhaps the “collective desire” has been slightly alleviated. Of course there’s still the personal desire of Murray, which should be raging on into his semi-final match against world number two, Novak Djokovic.

While a win for Murray would be terrific, if not surprising, how much will it mean for his legacy as a tennis player? Not enough, I’d argue. If Murray gets past Djokovic, he gives himself a shot at a gold medal, a shot that’s long at best. Plus, regardless of the outcome at the Olympics, the reality is that until Murray wins a major, there will always be an asterisk beside his name, even if he wins in London. Taking Olympic gold is a real feather in your cap, sure, but it would be endlessly noted that his path there was built on best of three matches, rather than best of five. The final is played as a best of five, but every betting man puts Roger Federer in that match, the “Greatest of All Time”, who is especially bent on proving his ongoing greatness these days, and not having much trouble doing it. With Olympic gold being the only remaining empty spot in the litany of achievements in Federer’s career, it seems like Murray would have to pry gold out of the Swiss champion’s dead cold hands before he gets to have his moment under the British sun.

Another intangible to consider: is it worse for Murray to lose back-to-back finals against Federer or for him to lose in the semi-final to Djokovic? Putting silver or bronze aside, the ongoing midgame that is men’s tennis puts me more in the camp that Murray thinking he can’t beat Federer when it counts is an enormous problem. The silver lining of not being the silver medalist might be that Murray wouldn’t face Federer in a heavy match again until the US Open, a tournament the Scot loves and one that suits his game.

It’s also a rather big assumption that Murray has an edge on Djokovic, going into this semi-final and their first meeting on grass. Djokovic has something to prove at Wimbledon, after he was prevented from defending his title a few weeks ago, being taken out by Federer. Djokovic’s remarkable consistency in 2011 has been MIA in 2012 and going all the way at the Olympics would deliver a much needed confidence boost. The chances of Djokovic beating Federer are greater than Murray beating Federer, as the Serbian is exceptionally motivated by playing for his country, as evidenced by his strong Davis Cup play, and the pride he took in winning with his compatriots last year.

Federer’s semi-final opponent Juan Martin Del Potro has not been mentioned; sometimes you say more by saying nothing at all, you know?

Predictions:

-          Federer d. Del Potro in two (Confidence: 100%)

-          Murray d. Djokovic in three (Confidence: 65%)

-          Final: Federer d. Murray in three (Confidence 85%)

For more tennis talk, follow Lyra Pappin on Twitter at @lyrapappin.

Federer wills Djokovic out of Wimbledon

July 6, 2012

by: Lyra Pappin

The story didn’t have to go this way. It didn’t have to be that Roger Federer is entering his eighth Wimbledon final and landing a chance to become world number one. There could have been an upset. He could have lost in the second round, like long-time rival and French Open champion, Rafael Nadal. He could have pulled out with an injury; he is turning 31 soon and his body simply can’t take it. He could have lost in the semi-final to world number one Novak Djokovic. He’d never done that before, he had never lost in a Wimbledon semi-final, so it would have been perfectly acceptable. His game is on the decline, his age is a hindrance and his will is worn.

Except, it isn’t.

Against the odds and one year shy of the 10th anniversary of his first major win, his first Wimbledon title, Roger Federer will again appear on centre court on Sunday afternoon in England where he could win his seventh Wimbledon title and a record 17th major.

Entering the tournament, Federer didn’t bother with humble predictions or false modesty. Telling reporters, “It’s my time of year now,” at the onset of the fortnight, Federer made his intentions clear. He followed suit on court, moving with typical ease and grace through opponents. A brief hitch by way of Frenchman Julien Benneteau saw Federer make an uncharacteristic dig into a five set match, proving further that he was not interested in taking a spectator’s view of the trophy ceremonies. He wasn’t sweating it, either. “It was like he’s still such a long a way from the finish line,” Federer said of Benneteau’s two-set lead. “There is no reason right now to go crazy about it. Let’s see how the third starts and then we’ll take it from there.  Like I said, I have been there so many times that I also know how to handle the situation.”

Frightening news for his opponents: confidence drawn from the domination of his winning record has been bolstered by experience with losing. In direct contrast to Federer’s disdain with what he deemed a “lucky shot” from Djokovic on match point during the 2011 US Open semi-final, he is embracing a looseness that results in a tighter stranglehold for those facing him. “I’m pretty relaxed, you know… Maybe I am the way I am today because I used to be completely nuts on the tennis court before.  So I was able to turn that around and now, yeah, I know it’s just a tennis match.”

Whatever he says, anyone who sees Federer play finds it hard to describe what he does on the courts as “just a tennis match”. During the surprisingly efficient handling of Djokovic in the 2012 Wimbledon semi-final, Federer did everything right. He served with precision, exercised control in his shot selection and moved through the court with speed and vigour. Djokovic looked flustered, unprepared and bewildered. At times, he looked resigned. It would be a mistake to chalk this up to a bad day for the world number one. Djokovic is fit, dangerous and skilled. Questions as to whether he could surpass Federer in records, titles and perhaps take a run at the Greatest Of All Time moniker were asked with legitimacy during his superlative 2011 rise to number one. Djokovic looked bad on the court during that semi-final in London on Friday because Federer made him look bad; he took a page from the Serb’s will to succeed and set his mind to it, a novel approach for the Swiss champion. Federer, for all his talent, is stubborn. He expects to win and he expects his opponents to comply. During this Wimbledon semi-final, he set that attitude aside and took to defeating Djokovic with hungry determination. For Federer, the relentlessness paid off.

In his post-match interview, there was no trace of coldness and Federer looked a decade younger, his eyes teary with a raw gratefulness not often seen from the most famous man in tennis. For so long, Federer was used to getting what he wanted. Winning is a reward that became harder to hold and as the trophies and finals began to elude him consistently, he was transported back in time, back 10 years when he was climbing the rope to number one, two steps forward, one step back. Talent never questioned, but results never guaranteed. Finally, he’s reached a point where the goal is again in sight: a Wimbledon title, and with it, a second chance at a number one. Or as Roger puts it, just another tennis match.

For more on Wimbledon, follow Lyra Pappin on Twitter at @lyrapappin.

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