Tuesday, August 02, 2016


2016 Rogers Cup-Toronto

Under brilliant skies, the men's semi final matches took place last Saturday at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. There was a hint of rain as I roared along the 407 north of the city. That ceased as play got under way.

In order to get to the semi-final, Kei Nishikori, the third seed, had to move past three opponents: Americans Dennis Novikov (6-4 6-3) and Rajeev Ram (6-4 7-6), and Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov (6-3 7-5). He faced Stan Wawrinka from Switzerland in the semi-final. Neither player seemed to get untracked in the first set. Wawrinka fired powerful backhands down the line that were untouchable. But Nishikori continued to battle, and won the first set 7-6, on an 8-6 tie-breaker.

                                                             Stan Wawrinka

For Wawrinka, in the vernacular, that was all she wrote. He lost the first games, and struggled in the fourth game. He forced Nishikori into a weak high return, only to blow the easy return. He mockingly pulled his shirt over his head in shame. He lost the fourth game. Nishikori blasted two serves to close out Game Five, and went on to take the final set 6-1. That earned him the right to play his first final in Toronto.

The evening semi-final paired first seed Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils. Monfils, the tenth seed from France, bested the last Canadian hope in singles, Milos Raonic, who was seeded fourth. It was a straight set win, 6-4 6-4. Djokovic had breezed through to the semi-final without losing a set. He started slowly on three occasions, relying on his experience to take the first set in a tie break.

                                                             Djokovic, ready to return

Such was not the case in the final. With a service break, Djokovic moved into a strong position at 4 games to 2. Trailing 40-30 in the next game, at a really critical juncture, Nishikori miss hit a return to give Djokovic a 5-3 lead. With little difficulty, Djokovich completed the first set 6-3.

Most observers believe that Djokovic now should be considered one of the top five players of all time. He has a tremendous work ethic, and focus. Even during the break, while sitting at the side of the court, he replays points in his mind, tilting his racket this way and that.

Serbian compatriots were there in force to cheer on their beloved “Nole”. They wave their flags, sporting Serbian caps and shirts. There are plenty of cheers and shouts of encouragement which I do not understand. Preparing to serve, just before going up 3-1, Djokovic heard a fan shout, “Hey Nole, will you marry me?” He smiled, lowered his head, and shook off the interruption. “Definitely not,” was his indication.

Djokovic’s sneakers squeak from side to side on the court, grunts when he serves, and also when he puts a little extra mustard on a shot. In the waning seconds of the match, Nishikori again hit a poor shot to lose the match. Djokovic acknowledged the fans with his traditional salute, and even sent a message to everyone. It is an international game, he said, and it helps keep peace in the world. He asked all of the fans to hug their neighbours at the court. Never a bad thing.

                                                     Simona, last year, with her fans!

Next year, the women return to Toronto, the men go to Montreal. Simona Halep won the women’s final this year, after being runner-up last year in Toronto. Many of the players packed their bags for Rio, for the Olympics. Never a dull moment, on the courts.

August 2, 2016

James Hurst

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