Day three of the National Bank Open presented by Rogers is always a special day at the tournament. It was the first day that practically all singles players are in competition including seven of the top eight seeds and the courts were jammed with the highest calibre of tennis that the ATP Tour has to offer.
World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz made his Toronto debut tonight at 7 pm on Centre Court against promising American Ben Shelton, winning in straight sets. Alcaraz has played once before in the Canadian Masters 1000 event, last summer in Montreal, falling in his opener to Tommy Paul. This year he is very much a favourite and judging by the response of the fans here it would be a real thrill to see him still standing come Sunday.
Tuesday was also Pride Day at the NBO, an inclusive initiative that we’ve seen in the past here at the event. Rainbow wristbands were being given out when the gates opened this morning and it’s great to see those along with the Pride flags being proudly displayed as well. My kids still rock the wristbands from years ago and it’s a great message to share year-round, not just during the tournament of course.
In other big off-court news, the Unmatched Gender Equity in Sports Conference took place featuring former World No. 1 and five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova. Although she never won the event here in Canada, Sharapova was the runner-up in 2009 where she lost to Elena Dementieva. The conference aims to “inspire attendees to make equity a priority and to effect long-term, sustainable change within their communities.”
Read also: Follow the Results from Round Two Live
In the first major upset of the day Wednesday, American Mackenzie McDonald defeated sixth seed Andrey Rublev 6-4, 6-3. Rublev struggled on his serve, putting only 40 per cent of his first ones in play while McDonald didn’t seem phased at all about playing one of the tournament’s biggest names.
McDonald now advances to the third round where he will face Milos Raonic in a match that few would have predicted to see in the third round.
Raonic faced little adversity in his win over qualifier Taro Daniel and advanced with a 6-4, 6-3 victory. Asked about how he’s feeling with his game at the moment Milos replied, “To be honest, after playing well in the first round, having not played back-to-back matches in a very long time, I really didn’t expect to play that well today. I knew it would be difficult…But I thought I did things pretty well and I think I can play better tomorrow. So hopefully, I can build off that.”
With Rublev gone from this section of the draw, could this be a big opening for Raonic to make a deeper run than expected at his hometown tournament so soon after returning from a two-year absence? He’s certainly enjoyed success in the past making the quarter-finals three times in Toronto and of course his memorable run to the finals in Montreal back in 2013.
Fast forward to the night session and the match everyone seemed to be waiting for. It was the debut match in Toronto for 20-year-old World No. 1 and recent Wimbledon champ Carlos Alcaraz. Across the net stood fellow 20-year-old phenom, American Ben Shelton. It was a real glimpse of what the future of the sport looks like and it looks good!
Centre Court was jam-packed for the match and Alcaraz received a thunderous ovation as he walked out. Shelton tested him early and stayed with the Spaniard throughout the match and although Alcaraz prevailed 6-3, 7-6(3), it was a closely contested affair. Each player had three break opportunities during the encounter with Alcaraz converting once in the opening set.
Shelton impressed with his booming serve that regularly passed the 230 kph mark and for a big man displayed great foot speed too. A future Top 10 potential for sure.
Alcaraz meanwhile summed up his first Toronto experience as follows, “It was really, really good. Honestly, I enjoyed a lot my first match here in Toronto. It seems like I’ve played here for many, many years.”
Tennis fans hope he will be playing here for many, many days in this edition of the event but he will have to get through his next obstacle, 15th seed Hubert Hurkacz, in the opening match of Thursday’s evening session.