Photo : Peter Power
Hello tennis fans and welcome to “Inside the Lines,” a column I’ll be writing for the National Bank Open presented by Rogers each week that features news and storylines from the world of men’s tennis.
T Minus 100 Days!
That’s right Canadian tennis fans, we’ve just passed the 100-day mark until the start of everyone’s favourite week of tennis at the National Bank Open. With the top male tennis players in the world from the ATP playing here in Toronto and the best of the female crew from the WTA playing in Montreal, it’s the time of the year where all of the focus on the sport falls upon us here in Canada!
The last time the men were here in Toronto, we saw Daniil Medvedev crowned champion at Sobeys Stadium in 2021 with a 6-4, 6-3 win over big-serving Reilly Opelka. A year ago in Montreal it was Pablo Carreno Busta who emerged victorious with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Hubert Hurkacz.
Not only is the National Bank Open the biggest tennis event that we have in our country but it’s also the oldest professional tennis tournament worldwide aside from Wimbledon, having begun all the way back in 1881 at the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club.
Looking back over the years at previous champions will reveal that Ivan Lendl is the most decorated men’s winner here in Canada, hoisting the trophy six times between 1980 and 1989. Those were my formative years as a young tennis fan and the eight-time Grand Slam champion seemed almost invincible during that time period.
In recent years, Rafael Nadal has hoisted the trophy five times with Novak Djokovic close behind with four National Bank Open victories. Here’s hoping that both legends are healthy when August rolls around and are able to compete once more here for the title. There are only so many years they both have left as they move into their late 30s, so it would be truly special to see them work their magic here in person yet again.
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Might we get a Canadian to hoist the singles trophy in Toronto this summer? Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian woman to accomplish the feat in the Open Era in 2019 and of course fans here would love to see Felix Auger-Aliassime or Denis Shapovalov follow in her footsteps. We’ve never had a male tennis player attain that achievement, although Milos Raonic came close when he reached the finals in 2013 before falling to Nadal. Nothing would send Canadian tennis fans into more of a frenzy than witnessing one of our own be the last man standing!
While tennis fans here at home obviously appreciate and look forward each year to the National Bank Open, the event also attracts fans from all over the world who come to support their favourite players. And don’t think the players from abroad don’t appreciate all the attention they receive while they are here. Toronto has become a favourite for many.
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But don’t take my word for it, have a look at what some of the biggest stars of the game have said in recent years.
I asked World No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas on his last visit why he seemed to play so well here in Toronto and he replied without hesitation that “It’s gotta be the (CN) Tower!” He acknowledged that having a strong Greek contingent here in the city is also very special for him.
“This location has to be one of the most special locations to play tennis at,” he revealed to me. Between his finals result in his first-ever appearance at the tournament in 2018 and his semifinal in 2021, he surely has to be considered one of the favourites when he returns.
I asked World No. 6 Andrey Rublev about his thoughts on playing in Canada and he replied that, “I really enjoy actually Canada, I’ve been here a couple of times as a junior. Hopefully the finals next time and I will see really close and good Toronto as well.”
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In terms of our tennis fans and knowledge, we received high praise from none other than respected Chair Umpire Marija Cicak, who shared with me that, “I love coming to Canada, it’s one of my favourite places, Toronto and Montreal both. Different cities but they offer a lot. I’ve been in a lot of places in Canada and always felt welcome. Your fans, if you ask me, one of the best in the world. They can create atmosphere but they as well have tennis knowledge, so they know what to do and when to do it.”
No doubt that fans will once again show they know what to do and when to do it in roughly 100 days time when the spotlight once again shines on us here in Toronto!