Canadian Open 2022: Defending champ Medvedev pursues another hot North American summer
Former winners Nadal and Djokovic miss Montreal, along with fellow champion Zverev
The last time tennis’s stars hit the hard courts on the 11-month tournament treadmill, it had just crowned two new Masters champions, first Taylor Fritz in Indian Wells and then Carlos Alcaraz in Miami.
The ‘sunshine double’, as that gruelling double-header in the heat of North America is known, is one of the toughest phases in the tennis calendar. But with the return to the hard courts for the first time since, another demanding swing looms.
The US Open Series, which offers multiple tournaments across the USA in the run-up to the last Major of the year at Flushing Meadows, builds towards the Masters in Cincinnati, but it has already ticked off Atlanta, while this week, the Washington 500 has posed its ever-stern test. The hot, humid conditions, of course, are perfect preparation for what lies ahead, not least the rigours of the first week in New York in late August.
Meanwhile, though not part of ‘the Series’, the other Masters in this second hard-court double-header is the Canadian Open.
One of the oldest tournaments in the tennis year, the event alternates for the men and women between Montreal and Toronto. But while the women’s draw has a near full-house—missing just one woman from the top 20, and only one from seven active former champions—the men’s draw has suffered some significant losses.
Montreal has seen five-time champion Rafael Nadal pull out to continue the rehabilitation from an abdominal tear he picked up in his five-set win over Fritz at Wimbledon. Four-time champion Novak Djokovic, whose vaccination status prevents his travel to Canada, is also out, as is 2017 champion Alexander Zverev—still recovering from his ankle injury during Roland Garros.
Roger Federer, another former champion, continues to delay his return to competition following double knee surgery, while the man who beat him in the 2014 final, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, retired at this year’s French Open.
And that has left just two former champions in the mix. Andy Murray, three times the Canadian champion, lost his first hard-court match of the summer in Washington in a tough three-setter against Mikael Ymer. However, the Briton has recently edged back inside the top 50 for the first time in four years, during which stretch he has gained a metal hip, suffered several further injuries, and suffered a Covid infection.
A wild card he may be but no-one will want to face Murray. The first to try their luck will be Fritz, but these two men are in a deadly quarter topped by No2 seed Alcaraz and No5 seed Andrey Rublev.
And then there is world No1 Daniil Medvedev, who won last year in Toronto and went on to win his first Major at the US Open. It took his tally to four Masters titles, three of them on outdoor hard courts. And if there is any doubting his preferred surface, Medvedev has been runner-up at the last two Australian Opens, and was already a runner-up in New York in 2019.
Yet despite an outstanding 2021 season, he has yet to win a title this year, though as well as the final in Australia, he was also runner-up in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Halle. However, like his fellow Russians, he was banned from playing Wimbledon, so there is ground to make up and points to defend in the coming few weeks. He has started well with a final run in Los Cabos.
Unlike Medvedev, several players headed back to clay after the brief grass swing, where the likes of Jannik Sinner and Casper Ruud won titles—as did the wily Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut. But the only hard-court winner so far, in Atlanta, was Alex de Minaur, though he lost to the energetic Yoshihito Nishioka in Washington. The Japanese man went on to beat Dan Evans, who had impressed against Fritz to make the quarters.
Other men to watch in Montreal will be Cam Norrie and Felix Auger-Aliassime, who faced off in the semis in Los Cabos. Norrie, who is the defending champion there, won in three sets, to face Medvedev in the final. The super-fit Briton also won his first Masters in Indian Wells last autumn, and is now enjoying the psychological boost of reaching his first Major semi in Wimbledon a month ago.
As for Auger-Aliassime, he turns 22 during the Montreal Masters and has made strong runs at his last US and Australian Opens. Add in winning his first title from 10 finals this year, and he will hope for a better performance at his home Masters than he has managed thus far. As luck would have it, these same two men could meet in the third round next week.
Big names, big ambitions
There will be others hoping to get their US campaign off to a strong start. Stefanos Tsitsipas was a runner-up in Canada a day before he turned 20 in 2018, and could face the ever-improving 20-year-old No7 seed Sinner in the quarters. The young Italian, who also has a mid-August birthday, won his first title this summer, and is a Miami Masters runner-up.
Andrey Rublev counts the Dubai 500 among his three titles this year, and made the final of the Cincinnati Masters last year. He is into the semis of the Washington 500 this week having warmed up on clay following his enforced Wimbledon absence.
Perhaps the stand-out of the year, 19-year-old Alcaraz, is sure to rise to the next challenge. After all, he has two Masters titles this year already, among four titles from six finals, and made the quarters at the US Open last year. He is making his Canadian debut, at a new high of No4 in the ranks, but could face Rublev in the quarters.
And no-one should discount the fire-brand that is Nick Kyrgios. Unseeded, but drawn for a possible Medvedev showdown in the second round, he has made the Washington semis via three American seeds, and that after an outstanding grass season that culminated in his first Major final at Wimbledon. All his titles and finals bar Wimbledon and Estoril, have come on hard courts, and if he maintains his winning mind-set, he could upset many an apple-cart.
First-round matches to catch
· Norrie versus 20-year-old Brandon Nakashima will be their third meeting in 12 months. The young American, up to a career-high this summer, now 61, put some strong results together through the grass season, losing to Kyrgios in five sets in the fourth round of Wimbledon. He also reached the quarters in both Atlanta and Los Cabos, so has acclimatized to the hard courts. However, Norrie is again showing his fondness for the North American courts this week to reach the final in his Los Cabos defence.
· De Minaur versus Denis Shapovalov, ranked 21 and 22 respectively, are both 23 years old, yet with only two main-tour meetings. De Minaur won both, but in three hard sets, and while the former arrives with that Atlanta title, and the latter with a string of opening-round exits since his strong Australian start to 2022, Shapovalov made his break-out run in Montreal as a teenager back in 2017. He beat Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro along the way, too, and will certainly again draw on strong home support.
· Fritz versus Murray, the former now an American Masters champion, the latter with three Canadian titles among his 14 Masters, but Murray has not gone beyond the third round at any Masters since 2016, held back by his catalogue of hip surgeries. The two men, separated by more than a decade in age, have never met before, and much may depend in Montreal on how well Fritz bounces back from his retirement against Evans in the gruelling conditions in Washington.
Others to watch
· Stan Wawrinka has also played only spasmodically since 2017 due to knee and foot injuries, but plays the young Finn, Emil Ruusuvuori, with a protected ranking.
· Borna Coric, too, appears with a protected ranking, having played largely on clay before Montreal. As luck would have it, he has drawn compatriot Marin Cilic in his opener.
· There is room for an upset of No11 seed Matteo Berrettini by the unpredictable Pablo Carreno Busta, who can turn on the form on any surface. The Italian has hardly touched a hard court since his Australian Open semi run, first undergoing hand surgery and then picking up a Covid infection before Wimbledon.
2022 winners on outdoor hard courts
ATP Cup: Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov
Adelaide 1: Gael Monfils
Melbourne Summer Set: Nadal
Sydney Classic: Aslan Karatsev
Adelaide 2: Thanasi Kokkinakis
Australian Open: Nadal
Pune: Joao Sousa
Doha: Bautista Agut
Delray Beach: Norrie
Indian Wells: Fritz
Washington: semis Rublev, Nishioka, Kyrgios, Ymer
Los Cabos: finalists Norrie, Medvedev
Former champions in draw
Medvedev [defending], Murray [three times]
Absentees from the 16 seeds
Nadal, Zverev, Djokovic
Also withdrawn: Nikoloz Basilashvili, Lorenzo Musetti, John Isner, Oscar Otte, Tallon Griekspoor
Draws: 56, including 16 seeds (eight with first-round byes)
Top half, headed by Medvedev
R2 Kyrgios or Sebastian Baez
R3 First seed Grigor Dimitrov; de Minaur/Shapovalov also here
QF If seeds hold, Diego Schwartzman/Hubert Hurkacz; Wawrinka and David Goffin also here
SF If seeds hold, Ruud/Auger-Aliassime; Norrie/Bautista Agut also here
Bottom half headed by Alcaraz
R2 Tommy Paul or Vasek Pospisil
R3 First seed Cilic
QF If seeds hold, Fritz/Rublev; Murray/Frances Tiafoe also here
SF If seeds hold, Tsitsipas/Sinner; Gael Monfils/Berrettini/Maxime Cressy also here