It’s amazing how quickly the week goes by when you’re busy watching the world’s best tennis players. The National Bank Open presented by Rogers is nearing the finish line and the semifinals took place in both singles and doubles on Saturday.
In the first match of the day on Centre Court, doubles took to the show court for the first time this week at the NBO. Marcelo Arevalo and Jean Julien Rojer advanced to the final with a 6-3, 3-6, [10-5] victory over the seventh-seeded tandem of Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos.
This was a big win for the unseeded duo as Granollers and Zeballos had recently played in the finals at Wimbledon and were coming in hot. There was a sizeable crowd on hand to catch the match and the fans were right into the fast-paced action.
The first singles semifinal did not go quite according to expectations, as Alex de Minaur seized the moment and dispatched of fellow unseeded player Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-1, 6-3 in an hour and seventeen minutes.
Both players had their service games affected by the strong winds that descended on Centre Court, although Davidovich Fokina struggled mightily being broken in seven of his eight service games in the match.
De Minaur advances to the first Masters 1000 level final of his career where he will await the winner of tonight’s second singles match between seventh seed Jannik Sinner and 12th seed Tommy Paul.
On court with Sportsnet’s Arash Madani following the victory, de Minaur joked that, “The way I see it, I might have to become Canadian!” He went further by adding, “I’m having a great week but I’m not done yet.”
In the night session, it was a heavyweight tilt between two established doubles teams. Third seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury defeated the sixth seeds Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz 6-4, 6-4. Krawietz and Puetz were just coming off their home title at the German Open, while Ram and Salisbury last won a title in May in Lyon.
Next up were the last two seeded players left in the singles draw, Jannik Sinner and Tommy Paul, who were going to do battle for the last remaining spot in the final and a chance to face de Minaur on Sunday. Their head-to-head coming in stood at 1-1, with Sinner taking their first encounter on clay in Madrid in 2022 and Paul grabbing the follow-up later that year on the grass of Eastbourne.
The pair traded breaks in the early goings of the match before Sinner was able to strike the decisive blow with the American serving at 4-5 in the first set. Sinner then broke to go up 3-1 in the second set.
Later while serving at 4-2, 30-40, Sinner staved off being broken by winning an epic 46-shot rally, the longest of the tournament to date.
Asked after the match what was going through his mind as he caught his breath from the exchange and Sinner replied, “I was hoping my physical trainer was happy with that!”
It looked as though Sinner was going to run away with the match but Paul had other ideas and broke the Italian when he was serving for it at 5-3. Sinner admitted later that nerves got the better of him in that moment and caused him to tense up.
Instead of consolidating on the break and evening the set-up however, Paul badly missed a backhand volley to get down 15-40 in his ensuing service game. While he would win the next two points to get to deuce, Sinner took what was left and Paul ultimately sent a forehand long that brought the match to a close.
“You helped me today, especially when I was in tough moments. Hopefully tomorrow is going to be a very positive thing,” said Sinner to the crowd on court following the match.
Sinner will be the heavy favourite against Alex de Minaur in the final, Sunday at 4pm ET. The seventh seed owns a 4-0 career head-to-head against his Aussie opponent, who oddly enough was his doubles partner earlier in the week at the NBO. Any friendship that exists between them will no doubt be put on hold for this upcoming battle between two talented players of vastly different skill sets. It will be the firepower of Sinner against the hustle of De Minaur, which offers all kinds of possibilities for tomorrow.
Around the grounds
Just because a player has been knocked out of the tournament doesn’t mean they aren’t still hanging around Toronto.
No. 3 seed Casper Ruud fell on Thursday in the round of sixteen to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina but is still here and working on his game in preparation for the ATP Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati beginning Monday.
I caught a light-hearted moment at the end of his practice session this morning where he was playing a quick game of kick-ball with his squad. Professional tennis players are known for their sharp hand-eye coordination and this definitely proved that they’ve got their feet working just as efficiently.
One area of the tournament that I had wanted to visit all week long (but had yet to muster the courage) was the 407 ETR Fastest Serve cage. Not wanting to display my skills (or lack thereof) in front of a big crowd, I made sure to go when the venue opened this morning to see how much I had picked-up from covering Milos Raonic this week.
While I might have only topped out at 119kph, at least I can say that for the briefest of moments I was No. 1 for the day. Check it out if you have the chance located towards the far end of the grounds near the Grandstand. It will either give your tennis game the confidence boost it needs or, as in my case, provide you with some humble pie that will encourage you to hit the practice courts this week!