A pair of highly refined draws in Toronto and Montreal exemplify the current tennis landscape as the hard court season heats up. A pair of world number ones– Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek — headline tennis in Canada this week, but 22-time Grand Slam Champion Novak Djokovic sits Canada out due to exhaustion.
Several top name stars in the sport had to play qualifying in Canada, including mainstays like Diego Schwartzman and Danielle Collins. It’s crowded with talent at the top these days. In addition to the wild cards awarded in Canada, changes made by the tours at the lower levels of the sport have led to more top players having to duke it out at Challenger tournaments and qualifying draws. That, in turn, has made the draws at the coveted 1000 level events replete with talent. Some might argue it’s a good thing.
Toronto: Men’s Draw Preview and Analysis
Alcaraz, the new king of the tennis world, has not been gifted an easy draw in Toronto. A potential second round match against 20-year-old upstart American Ben Shelton will feature plenty of firepower. Shelton has an audacious lefty serve. Carlitos should win easily, but the match will certainly entertain. Other problematic players for Alcaraz in this quarter include Hubert Hurkacz, Francisco Cerundolo and the always feisty Holger Rune. Canada deserves an Alcaraz-Rune quarterfinal. In a best-of-three, anything could happen, and I like Rune’s chances when grinding and cramps are not as much of a factor.
What an enticing second quarter in Toronto. World number four Stefanos Tsitsipas could get a rematch against American Chris Eubanks, who took him down in a 5-set epic Wimbledon upset. Andy Murray lurks in this section of the draw. Anchoring this quarter is the 8-seed Jannik Sinner, and he might have to stave off fellow Italian Matteo Berrettini, who’s been playing better again and is a yeoman on hard court. Also in the quarter: Felix Auger-Aliassime will face the weight of playing at home. Lowkey Sinner has a 72% winning percentage on hard court. It’s technically his best surface.
Circle a first-round match between Canadian Milos Raonic and world number eight Francis Tiafoe as a must-see. The big-serving Raonic was given a wild card as he attempts one last comeback to the tour after battling injury for years. Tiafoe has made incremental improvement since he turned pro in 2015. Now he faces his toughest battle yet: his own expectations. Should be a fun match, but I see Tiafoe’s current level as in line with the elite in the world at the moment. Other top seeds in this section include Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev. Andrey’s H2H vs. Ruud is 5-2 in favor of the ginger.
In the final quarter, 8-seed Taylor Fritz is an interesting case. He’s playing brilliantly, winning in Atlanta and going deep in D.C., but weather in Washington forced him to play two matches mere hours apart. He’s been playing so much, and that’s something he’ll have to watch as he strives for the ideal U.S. Open prep. If he wins in D.C., don’t be surprised by a withdrawal or an early exit in Toronto, due to fatigue. That presents a fairly open quarter, and the prime contender is the “hard court specialist” himself: Daniil Medvedev. The Russian should cruise.
Players to watch:
QF: Rune, Sinner, Rublev, Medvedev
SF: Rune, Medvedev
Montreal: Draw Preview and Analysis
Swiatek, the defending US Open champion, returns to a surface that suits her rapturous forehand. She could face hard-serving Karolina Pliskova in the second round, but Iga owns the H2H 2-0. Maria Sakkari, who has a first-round bye, potentially meets Elina Svitolina in round 2, which is unlucky for both players. Svitolina has been playing more like a Top 10’er. Sakkari has gone deep in D.C. That’s a pick ‘em match for me.
The second quarter features the return of 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, who will face a qualifier in her first round. Woz is bound to have nerves, and I think she will find that the pace of the game has increased substantially since she retired. Returns are blistered in the women’s game these days. If she can get through her first round, she might hit reality against a potential second-round opponent: Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova. Jessica Pegula tops this bracket, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a quarterfinal featuring Jess and Marketa, which would be a re-match of their Wimbledon contest that went 3 sets. Coco Gauff is also in the mix, but she’s having a deep run in D.C.
2023 is the hard court season where Elena Rybakina has the potential to break out on this surface. Montreal is a great place to start. The next-highest seed in her quarter is Caroline Garcia, and Elena can handle that. Rybakina has the H2H 2-zip. That said, Jelena Ostapenko might lurk for Elena in Round 2. You just never know with JO.
The final Montreal quarter features Aryna Sabalenka as the top seed. If she’s serving well, I like her chances in this tournament. Other notables here include Belinda Bencic, Petra Kvitova and hometown girl Bianca Andreescu. Sabalenka has a doable draw, and she’s rested, not having played since Wimbledon.
My players to watch:
QF: Swiatek, Pegula, Rybakina, Sabalenka
SF: Swiatek, Sabalenka