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Road to the NBO...

Road to the NBO by 407 ETR : Grass Court Season Kicks Off

by Mike McIntyre

June 13, 2023

Presented by

Welcome to the Road to the National Bank Open presented by 407 ETR. Every week, we will keep you updated on all the action on the ATP Tour as we build towards the National Bank Open in Toronto, which takes place from Aug. 5 to 13.

DAYS UNTIL THE NATIONAL BANK OPEN: 51

On-Court Action

With the French Open now in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to look ahead to faster surfaces. While the National Bank Open on hard courts in Toronto is now less than two months away, the grass court season comes first and this week let’s dive right into it!

I’ve said it many times before on Match Point Canada, but grass is the surface that hooked me on the sport as a kid. While I never got the chance to play on it, watching Wimbledon was what captured my imagination while growing up. Becker vs Edberg, Sampras vs Anyone (though I have to admit I was usually rooting against Pistol Pete!) and who can forget Ivanisevic vs Rafter in that five-set thriller of a final in 2001 that finished on the Monday in front of a very non-traditional tennis crowd!

There’s something about the perfectly manicured grass court, the serve and volley style (ok, maybe not as much anymore!) and the fast-paced action that gripped my attention and never let go. While I’ve never attended Wimbledon in person, it’s No. 1 on my list of events to get to in the near future. I did get to cover The Championships virtually in 2021 and was fortunate enough to ask the first question in Roger Federer’s last pre-Wimbledon press conference ever; a moment I’ll never forget to be sure.

The grass court season already kicked off last week with the Challenger event in Surbiton which was captured by none other than Sir Andy Murray. Still one of the best grass court players out there and a two-time Wimbledon champion as well, Murray is still able to compete with the best on this surface and will clearly have the crowds behind him back home in the UK.

Read also: Destination OBN - The Short Story of the Grass Season

The 36-year-old is back at it this week at another Challenger event in Nottingham, while there are two ATP 250 level tournaments happening in Stuttgart at the Boss Open and ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands where a very special Canadian tennis player is making his grand return to action.

Another Canadian, Denis Shapovalov, is in action this week and playing the event in Stuttgart. The draw there also boasts a returning Nick Kyrgios and has Stefanos Tsitsipas as the No. 1 seed.

The Libema Open in ‘s-Hertogenbosch meanwhile, offers Daniil Medvedev as the top-ranked player and Jannik Sinner in the No. 2 slot.

Stories to Watch

If you’re a Canadian tennis fan, is there a bigger story at the moment than the return of Milos Raonic? The 32-year-old hadn’t played an ATP match in nearly two years with his last appearance on the court being a loss to Brandon Nakashima in his opening match at the Atlanta Open. So what better place for Raonic to return with his thundering serve than on the grass courts of ‘s-Hertogenbosch?

Read also: Novak Djokovic Grabs Slam No. 23 at Roland-Garros

In his opening round match Monday, he faced fifth-seeded Miomir Kecmanovic and despite the lengthy layoff, the Maple Leaf Missile came through as if he’d never been away at all with a 6-3, 6-4 victory. I don’t know how many players could miss that length of time and come back looking so fresh and put together, so all the credit to Raonic and his team for obviously preparing him well for this moment. In the win, he dropped 15 aces on Kecmanovic along with an incredible 92% winning percentage on his first serve while also navigating the court looking very much at ease.

A healthy (and very fit-looking) Raonic is still a player who can be very dangerous on the Tour and especially on a fast surface like grass. That being said, Raonic is coming back from a very lengthy layoff and who knows how his body will respond and recover from these first matches back.

When asked by TSN tennis reporter Mark Masters following his win over Kecmanovic about how long his comeback might last, Raonic shared openly that, “If I’m limping in two days before my next match…I will step out on court at Wimbledon and I will step out on court in Toronto one more time. Whatever it takes beyond that I’m not committing to anything at this point.”

Off-Court Buzz

I’m not one to get wrapped up too much in tennis romance stories (I barely survived watching Wimbledon when it came out years ago!) but how could one not notice the newly formed ATP/WTA relationship between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Paula Badosa? The pair have been flooding social media with videos and pictures of the early days of their courtship (pun intended) and both seem to be quite smitten with one another.

Read also: Iga Swiatek Crowned as Queen of Clay at Roland-Garros

I’ve always wondered why we don’t see more relationships between tennis players considering they’re traveling the globe together for basically 11 months of the year. One recent tennis couple that has endured involves another ATP/WTA combo between recent parents, Gael Monfils and Elina Svitolina. Of course, the royal tennis couple of all-time would have to be Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf who collectively own 30 Grand Slam titles and 3 Olympic Medals! Something for Tsitsipas and Badosa to strive for perhaps?

The ATP's best return to Toronto this summer for the National Bank Open August 5 to 13 at Sobeys Stadium. Tickets are on sale. Get your tickets today!