Time for Toronto: First US Open Masters bursts into life
The first Masters of the US Open Series got underway in Toronto this week, but perhaps not as smoothly as expected.
The conditions for the North American swing are always challenging: it is notorious for its heat and humidity. But opening Monday threw an extra spanner into the works: torrential rain.
It was scheduled to be a day of tasty match-ups: world No40 Richard Gasquet against the steadily rising No48 Sergiy Stakhovsky; the classy Ernests Gulbis against a Thomaz Bellucci newly in the top 20; the young, promising Thiemo de Bakker against the serve-and-volley fire of Feliciano Lopez; the mature skills of Tommy Robredo matching those of Jarkko Nieminen; all great match-ups.
With the first day’s schedule broken apart by the weather, several of the bumper crop of first round matches had to squeeze their way into the second-day action. Two of them were worth the wait.
The first involved Marin Cilic, who started the year on a wave of success with wins in Chennai and Zagreb and a semi-final place at the Australian Open. The Croatian was up against Victor Troicki, who he beat as recently as July in the Davis Cup. Indeed he had won all five of their previous encounters.
But this was a drained-looking Cilic struggling to cope with the heat and humidity. He stuck it out to a second set tie-break but was a spent force. He lost it comprehensively and with it the match.
So the No11 seed was out in the first round, and Troicki moves on to meet Philipp Kohlschreiber who benefited from a walkover against Janko Tipsarovic.
The second highlight of Tuesday pitted No10 seed David Ferrer against last week’s Washington champion David Nalbandian, and it proved to be a compelling match. The question on everyone’s lips was, could Nalbandian retain both his fitness and form against the terrier-like Spaniard?
The Argentine has arrived in Toronto with his first title in 18 months from the Washington 500 on Sunday. Coming back to the tour from surgery last year and two injuries this year, he lacks match fitness, and against the work-ethic of the industrious and speedy Ferrer, it was a big ask to get the Nalbandian body and the brain working again so quickly.
There were echoes of his final against Marcos Baghdatis in Washington, with a strong first set, a loss of concentration in the second, and a strong run to the tape in the third. Ferrer didn’t give an inch, served the better, and made the fewer mistakes. But the penetrating hitting of Nalbandian was just a little more than even the fast legs of Ferrer could contain. The Argentine won through in three to face Robredo.
That should be a second-round match to savour as the attractive net-attacking game of the Spaniard tries to break through the variety and shot-making of a Nalbandian in formidable form.
The other half of that Washington final, Baghdatis, was on the losing side once again after rushing to an early lead against Jeremy Chardy. He frittered away his advantage in the first to lose it 7-5, pulled back the second, but finally lost in a bad-tempered tie-break in the third.
This is a challenging phase for followers of the tournament, with some major players still waiting to complete their first round matches in the late Canadian evening.
Fernando Verdasco was the last man on Grandstand court while Tomas Berdych was already safely through a second round match played eight hours before. The Czech, one of the form players of the year, was firing on all cylinders in a straight sets win over Stakhovsky in the first match of on Tuesday.
At the same time as Sam Querrey was battling through to a three sets win over Michael Russell in Round One, Robin Soderling was overcoming the threatening attack of the talented young Gulbis to take his place in the third round.
Meanwhile, news filtered through that not only had the injury-blighted Fernando Gonzalez withdrawn from Andy Murray’s quarter of the draw but, more significantly, Andy Roddick had pulled out of the Rafael Nadal quarter.
So everyone -players and spectators alike -need to keep their wits about them to follow the unfolding stories in Toronto. And the top seeds haven’t even started their campaigns yet.
Roger Federer, still acclimatising to his No3 ranking, plays in the early hours of Wednesday by UK clocks. Nadal and Novak Djokovic have put in a brief appearance together in a surprising doubles pairing, but made a speedy exit. They play their first singles matches on Wednesday evening.
Andy Murray, defending champion, will also enter the fray in the late hours of Wednesday against Xavier Malisse. He has as much at stake as anyone, for if he falls early, he could slip to No5 in the rankings.
It really is all to play for.