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Top Five Cinderella Runs in Toronto at the National Bank Open

by Pete Borkowski

June 22, 2023

There is nothing like a good Cinderella story in sports; the underdog vanquishing the overwhelming favourite. And Toronto has seen its fair share of surprises over the years.

While the National Bank Open is used to seeing the big names duke it out for the trophy on finals Sunday, there have been a few unexpected contenders when the draw was narrowed down to two men.

And some got their hands on the title.

Here are the Top 5 men’s Cinderella runs at the National Bank Open in the Open Era:

5 – Todd Woodbridge, Runner-Up 1996

Todd Woodbridge is no stranger to big matches and big titles, having won 22 majors and 18 Masters 1000 events in his career. But all of those came in doubles (including mixed).

In terms of his singles career, it peaked in Toronto in 1996 when he got all the way to the title match, by far his biggest singles final.

The run was a bit ironic in that he took out multiple doubles stars to do it, including his own doubles partner Mark Woodforde in the first round. He followed it up over wins over Canadians Sebastien Lareau, future Olympic gold medallist and US Open champion, and Daniel Nestor, a future eight-time men’s double major champion and World No. 1.

Read also: The Dawn of a New Era on the WTA Tour

He beat future major singles runner-up Mark Philippoussis in the quarter-finals and then stunned fourth seed and future singles world No. 1 Marcelo Rios in the semis before Wayne Ferreira put an end to his magic in the final.

4 – Harel Levy, Runner-Up 2000

Marat Safin may have been the first man to lift the trophy in Toronto in the new millennium, but he did not win the most matches in the Ontario capital that year.

That honour goes to Harel Levy, who was ranked 144th in the world but won a pair of qualifying matches to get into the main draw and then added five more victories to become the first and only qualifier ever to reach the final in Toronto. In total he won seven matches that week while Safin, who beat Levy in straight-sets in the final, only six.

Levy did get a bit lucky with the draw, not facing a single seed until Safin in the final, but it was the first of only two ATP Tour finals for Levy and by far the bigger, the other being the (2001 equivalent) ATP 250 in Nottingham. Levy was the first and to-date only Israeli ever to make a Masters 1000 singles final.

3 – Stefanos Tsitsipas, Runner-Up 2018

Stefanos Tsitsipas might be a regular contender for big titles in 2023, but that was not always the case.

Read also: Road to the NBO Toronto - Onwards Towards Wimbledon

The Greek’s breakthrough performance came in Toronto in 2018, when he took down four Top 10 players on his way to a maiden Masters 1000 title. He was ranked just 27th at the time.

First, he upset No. 7 Dominic Thiem in straight sets in the second round. He followed that up with a three-set win over Novak Djokovic, fresh off a Wimbledon title.

In the quarter-finals, he found himself on the brink of defeat in a second-set tiebreak against No. 2-seed Alexander Zverev but took it 13-11 before winning in three sets. With a spot in the final on the line, he again survived, saving match points (which he later admitted to not realizing he was down match point) against the recent Wimbledon runner-up Kevin Anderson in a third set tiebreak.

While he fell to Rafael Nadal in the final, the run in Toronto launched Tsitsipas into a new level of stardom. He moved into the ATP Top 20 as a result and has not fallen out since, while reaching six more Masters 1000 finals, winning two, and a pair of major finals.

2 – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Champion 2014

As Cinderella stories go, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga does not fit the traditional mould.

But in 2014 he was the 13th seed in Toronto, having not gotten past the fourth round of a major in over a year and had not won a title higher than a 250 since 2008.

His draw was particularly brutal, but the Frenchman tore through it. On his way to the title, he beat three of the Big Four. He dominated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-2, 6-2 in the third round, his lone win over the Serb between 2012 and 2019 out of 14 matches.

Read also: Felix Auger-Aliassime Excelling Off the Court

Next up, Tsonga snapped an eight-match losing streak to Andy Murray that dated back to 2008 in the quarter-finals in three tough sets. After beating recent Wimbledon semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov in the semis, the Frenchman capped off his dramatic run wit a straight-set win over Roger Federer in the final.

It was the former world No. 5’s last Masters 1000 title.

1 – Guillermo Canas, Champion 2002

Even when the favourites don’t win in Toronto, the champion is seldom unexpected. Only once in the Open Era was the winner unseeded.

Read also: Road to the NBO Montreal - The Weight of a Nation for the Brits

That was 2002 when Guillermo Canas snuck in during a transition era on the ATP Tour to claim the biggest title of his career. He beat four of the Top 10 seeds on his way to the title and four past or future major champions and world No. 1s.

Canas started against the No. 10 seed, a young Swiss struggling to break through at the big events named Roger Federer. He then beat No. 5 Yevgeny Kafelnikov and No. 2 Marat Safin back-to-back before overcoming No. 3 seed Tommy Haas in the semis. Haas was the only player to get a set off of Canas that week.

In the biggest final of his career at that point, he defeated a young Andy Roddick in straight sets for what would remain his most significant title.

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!