The clay is dried up, the grass has passed. It’s time for the summer hardcourt season to kick off in full this week as the world’s best head to Toronto for the 2018 Rogers Cup. 19 of the world's top 20 will be vying to claim the first Masters 1000 event of the summer and start building momentum in the US Open series on the road to New York.
World number one Rafael Nadal and reigning champion Alexander Zverev lead the way, but the deep field has led to a brutal draw for practically all the favourites. No one will have an easy path if they hope to hoist the trophy next Sunday. Let’s take a look ahead at what to expect at the 2018 Rogers Cup.
First Quarter: Early threats for Nadal
The Rogers Cup is one of Rafael Nadal’s best hard-court events, having won it three times. But if the world number one wants to add title number four, or even improve upon his third-round showing from last year, he could have a very tough run. Following a bye, he will open against either a qualifier or Benoit Paire, but could meet either former world number three Stan Wawrinka or sixteenth seed Nick Kyrgios in the third round.
Wawrinka and Kyrgios are meeting in a blockbuster first-round clash, their first in Canada since the infamous clash in Montreal back in 2015 when the Aussie famously taunted Wawrinka about his girlfriend. Kyrgios posses arguably a bigger threat to the top seed, having beat Nadal during the US Open series last year in Cincinnati, but the Aussie’s health is in question after pulling out of his last two events with a hip injury.
In the quarters, Nadal is lined up to meet sixth seed Marin Cilic. To set that clash, the Croatian will have to run a gauntlet of his own which may start against countryman Borna Coric, should the recent Halle champion advance past 2013 semifinalist and home favourite Vasek Pospisil. Next up could be 11th seed Diego Schwartzman, who has a blockbuster first-round match of his own against Kyle Edmund, the highest-ranked non-seeded player in the draw.
Quarterfinal Prediction: Nadal d. Cilic
Second Quarter: Big hitters on collision course
Juan Martin del Potro was the first big-name victim of Denis Shapovalov’s Cinderella run to the semifinals in Montreal last year. The Argentine will look to avoid history repeating itself this year in the teen’s hometown as del Potro and Shapovalov are on a third-round collision course.
It is hardly a sure thing that they will meet, however, as del Potro could meet the ever-improving Kei Nishikori in his opening match, while Shapovalov starts against Jeremy Chardy and will meet a post-Wimbledon titlist in the second round, either Newport champion Steve Johnson or 14th-seeded Bastad champion Fabio Fognini.
If anyone caught a break in this brutal draw, it was eighth seed John Isner. The recent Atlanta champion will open against either a qualifier or Albert Ramos-Vinolas and could meet 12th seed Pablo Carreno Busta in the third round. That would set up a quarterfinal clash with del Potro or Shapovalov or whoever emerges from that section.
Quarterfinal Prediction: Del Potro d. Isner
Third Quarter: Anderson looking for strong start
In a few weeks, Kevin Anderson will face a challenge he has never dealt with before but will need to twice in the next twelve months: defend runner-up points at a major. That will begin at the US Open, so a strong start to the hard-court season will be key. The fourth seed could face a challenge in the form of NextGen star Andrey Rublev in the second round. His section of the draw will feature three qualifiers and the first seed he could meet is number 15 Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round.
Tenth seed David Goffin probably got the worst draw of anyone, as he will face home-favourite Milos Raonic in the opening round. The Thornhill, Ontario native, who reached the final in 2013, is unseeded this year and his health will be a bit of a question after a leg injury hampered him at Wimbledon.
However, Raonic, who is the not the highest-ranked Canadian at the Rogers Cup for the first time since 2010, will have the home crowd firmly behind him and will be looking to improve on his second-round loss last year. The winner of that match will meet either Marco Cecchinato or Frances Tiafoe in the second round, with Grigor Dimitrov looming in the third.
Quarterfinal Prediction: Anderson d. Raonic
Bottom Quarter: Zverev’s brutal defense
World number three Alexander Zverev failed to defend his first Masters 1000 title back in Rome and defending his second won’t be easy. The defending champion will face challenges right from the start, possibly meeting a fellow former world number three, David Ferrer, in his opening match.
In the third round, he could meet either 13th seed Jack Sock, world number 19 Lucas Pouille, or home-hope Félix Auger-Aliassime. The 17-year-old from Montreal will make his début at his home-nation’s tournament and will hope to follow in the footsteps of his good buddy Shapovalov by beating a top-20 player in his Canadian Open début.
The other part of this quarter is probably the toughest part of the entire draw. Dominic Thiem leads it and could have a hard time turning his form around. The Austrian has struggled since reaching the French Open final and things won’t get any easier as he will face either Damir Dzumhur or Washington semifinalist and NextGen star Stefanos Tsitsipas in his opening match.
In the third round, he will most likely meet recent Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic, who won the Rogers Cup last time it was held in Toronto in 2016. However, the ninth seed has a rough opener of his own, kicking things off against young gun Hyeon Chung, who beat him in straight sets at the Australian Open. The winner of that match would then have to go through either Matthew Ebden or local boy Peter Polansky to potentially meet Thiem, with Zverev likely waiting in the quarters.
Quarterfinal Prediction: Zverev d. Djokovic