August 7, 2014

Homecourt Disadvantage

It's a little surprising, given how successful Canadians have been on the tennis courts this year, that when they get to the biggest tournaments played in their own homeland, where presumably the crowd support would give them a nice boost, so many are having troubles.

Not everyone has fallen, of course, but even DC champion Milos Raonic had to fight back in Toronto after losing the first set to Jack Sock last night, and needed two tiebreaks to ultimately advance. He next faces Julien Benneteau, a thirty-two year old veteran who is still looking for that first career title, and while he has won two of the pair's three meetings, the fight for the quarterfinals could be quite a battle. The Frenchman dropped just three games against Newport champ Lleyton Hewitt in his opener and then took out eleventh seed Ernests Gulbis in straight sets. If he catches Raonic off guard, he might just pull off another upset.

Meanwhile Citi Open runner-up Vasek Pospisil, whose campaign there pushed him up nine ranking spots to #27 in the world, fell a bit short of last year's semifinal showing at the Rogers Cup. He drew a rematch of his DC semifinal in his opener, and this time fell to Richard Gasquet in straight sets. And the twelfth seed in Toronto kept that momentum with him -- after dropping his first set to Ivo Karlovic yesterday, he didn't allow another break opportunity and finally took out the big-serving Croat in about two hours. He faces Andy Murray next, certainly a big ask, but the Frenchman has gotten wins over the two-time Grand Slam winner in the past and could have the confidence to get it done again.

But by far the biggest upset for the Canadians this week was the opening round exit of 2014 standout Genie Bouchard. Fresh off a second-place finish at Wimbledon, her first Tour-level Grand Slam final, and a climb into single-digit rankings, the twenty-year old suffered a shocking defeat in her Montreal opener, dropping two bagel sets to qualifier Shelby Rogers on Tuesday night. The young American who's only won a handful of ITF titles during her career, stormed onto the scene last month, beating Carla Suarez Navarro and Sara Errani on her way to the Bad Gastein final. Last week she beat third seeded Alize Cornet in DC and, still ranked outside the top hundred, ousted Nanchang champ Shaui Peng to qualify for this event. Her win over Bouchard is her biggest victory to date, and while she'll certainly be tested by former world #1 Caroline Wozniacki in today's third round, there's no reason she can't add one more upset to her r&eacture;sumé.

Sure, it's a little disappointing to see the Canadians struggle this week, even as their stars shine bright on the broader tennis stage. Of course I don't think their performances signal an end to their rise, but those left standing at the Rogers Cup have a huge opportunity to capitalize now. After all, with wins over players who've really come to the forefront of the sport in recent weeks and months, they've shown they've got what it takes to keep on going.

And with just a few weeks left before the U.S. Open, there's no better time to do it.

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