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Cashmere Wrap: Qualifying and Top Star Practices Kick-Off 407 ETR Family Weekend

by Mike McIntyre

August 5, 2023

Presented by

Saturday was the opening day of action as the 407 ETR Family Day Weekend kicked off the National Bank Open here in Toronto and tennis fans were eager to see their heroes in action as they came to Sobeys Stadium.

There were 28 men vying for seven spots in the qualifying competition around the grounds and of course all the top players in the game were fine-tuning their games in practice.

Live Blog: Follow the Results from NBO Qualifying in Toronto

It’s the most exciting opening weekend of any sports event here in the city as it allows families the chance to catch world-class tennis for free along with some great entertainment for the kids as well.

Saturday boasted fan engagements including Canadian Alexis Galarneau partaking in some Yoga on Court 5. Galarneau has a main draw wildcard fresh off his Challenger title in Granby.

Read also: Alcaraz, Rune on Toronto Collision Course - Men's Draw Analysis

At 12:30, sixth seed Andrey Rublev signed autographs at the National Bank Activation Centre and shortly thereafter at 1pm, Hubert Hurkacz did the same on the main stage.

Photo : Gyles Diaz
Photo : Gyles Diaz

One of the main draws of opening weekend is getting to watch the top players practice with one another as they prepare for the start of the main draw on Monday. Saturday was no exception. World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz hit on Centre Court from 11am to 1pm with No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev, drawing a massive crowd that nearly filled the lower bowl.

Read also: Meet the ATP Top 10, the Canadians, and the dark horses in the Toronto draw

Alcaraz has never played a match in Toronto and was ranked outside the top fifty on the ATP the last time the men played in Toronto. Medvedev, of course, was champion here in 2021 with a dominating performance against Reily Opelka in the final.

Photo : Gyles Diaz

Canada’s highest-ranked male player Felix Auger-Aliassime conducted his pre-tournament press conference with the media this morning and was happy to report he’s been pain-free for the past three weeks following a lingering knee injury. I asked Felix about what coming to Canada could do for his season given his recent struggles and he shared that he hoped it might lead to a change of fortune for him.

“Of course I was dealing with injuries, now I’m good. I had a tough loss last week but I’ve been practicing well and feeling really good so hopefully I can use this week to turn around my season. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, I just need to stay cool and practice well and try to play good tennis. I would love it if I had a great week and I could look back and think I kind of turned around my year in Toronto.”

Felix will open his campaign here for the night session on his 23rd birthday Tuesday night against a qualifier. He finds himself in the very competitive top half of the draw that could see him face seventh seed Jannik Sinner if they meet in the round of sixteen.

Photo : Mike McIntyre

Veteran Canadian and an important member of the championship Davis Cup team Vasek Pospisil stopped by to talk to us on Match Point Canada this afternoon about his return from injury and what he hopes he can accomplish in the second half of the season.

Pospisil returned from nearly five months away from competition due to an injury although admitted he was not yet completely healthy when he played the qualifiers at Wimbledon earlier this summer. He’s feeling better now and has drawn a qualifier in his first National Bank Open match which will take place Monday night. No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev looms as his second-round opponent should he advance. I asked Vasek about the importance that the National Bank Open occupies for him at this stage of his career and he expressed the importance he now feels of enjoying the moment.

Photo : Mike McIntyre

“It’s still the most special tournament for me. It was my breakthrough event in 2013. Playing in front of your friends and family. I know I only have a few years left of that, and regardless even if I do have a healthy 3-4 years it’s not going to be longer than that. So it’s more and more special in that sense because I know there are fewer of them [remaining] and fewer events where you can play in front of friends and family. My parents are flying in so that will be nice. And you have to realize how lucky you are to be able to play this sport and be out on this court and enjoy it a little more. It’s definitely shifted, where I’m inching closer to retirement and to try to enjoy it a bit more where maybe in previous years putting quite a bit of pressure on yourself to perform well at home. So just trying to be good to myself.”

Aside from the singles draw, Vasek is also playing in doubles where he and partner Nicolas Mahut will try to recapture some of the magic that led them to titles in Rotterdam in 2016 and Marseille in 2020. The experienced duo will be up against a pair of Canadians in Benjamin Sigouin and Kelsey Stevenson.

Canadians had mixed results in Toronto on the opening day of qualies including Liam Draxl bowing-out to Diego Schwartzman after holding a 5-1 lead in the opening set and Peter Polansky falling in the final singles match of his professional career to Max Purcell. A bright spot was certainly the win from Brayden Schnur who came back from a set down to shock American Maxime Cressy 4-6, 7-6(2), 7-5 in front of an enthusiastic crowd on the Grandstand. He’ll be the lone Canadian left on Sunday as he tries to make the main draw!