Five key storylines that will shape the National Bank Open in Montreal

A stress fracture in her foot cost Leylah Annie Fernandez her entire grass season. Now, she is ready to make her return to the tennis court, including a trip back to the US Open a year after her Cinderella run to the final.

Elite professional tennis is back in the province of Quebec!

The best men’s players have touched down in Montreal as they wrap up final preparations for the Omnium Banque Nationale presented by Rogers.

Daniil Medvedev leads a crowded field as the world’s top player, Felix Auger-Aliassime is keen to play on his home turf, and Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz is set to debut in front of full stadiums in Canada.

Here are five storylines to keep an eye on this week from Montreal.

Medvedev returns to defend his crown

He is the world No. 1, and yet strangely, it feels as if a faction of the tennis world has forgotten about the greatness of Daniil Medvedev.

He will lead the field as the top seed at the Omnium Banque National, and is fresh off his first ATP title of 2022, winning in Los Cabos over the weekend.

After falling in a five-set thriller in the Australian Open final to open the season, Medvedev has had a rather tumultuous stretch.

He missed almost the entirety of the clay court swing due to a hernia surgery before a brief return at the French Open, and then was barred from competing at Wimbledon because of his Russian nationality — a decision made by the All England Club to “limit Russia’s global influence” amid its invasion of Ukraine.

His timing to return could not be better as, historically, Medvedev has played his best tennis during the summer swing.

Last year, he won the Masters 1000 crown in Toronto before breaking through for his first career slam, defeating Novak Djokovic at the US Open.

In 2019, he had an immense stretch of tennis through the summer, reaching four consecutive finals (Washington, Montreal, Cincinnati, and the US Open), defeating Djokovic to capture the Western & Southern Open, and advancing to his maiden major final at Flushing Meadows.

Medvedev’s combination of power, agility and movement on the court makes him one of the most difficult players to play on tour.

At his best, his court coverage is impeccable, he holds serve at ease with mammoth aces, and plays like a human backboard with his rock solid, precision groundstrokes.

His last visit to Montreal resulted in a finals loss to Rafael Nadal.

Wide open field with Big 3 absent

They’re the three greatest players in the sport’s history, sharing 63 grand slam singles titles in total.

Sadly, this year’s edition of Omnium Banque Nationale in Montreal will not feature Nadal, Djokovic, or Federer.

Nadal had been slated to hold the second seed, however he withdrew just days before the tournament, as he’s still working to recover from an abdominal injury that forced him out of Wimbledon.

Djokovic had been hopeful to play in Canada again, but since he is unvaccinated, he was unable to make the trip, and remains doubtful to play Cincinnati or the US Open.

Federer, who has just turned 41, is still planning to make a return to the tour this season, signing up for the Laver Cup and his home tournament in Basel.

The 20-time slam winner has been steadily recovering from knee surgery.

The Big 3 have combined to win 11 of the last 17 Masters 1000 events in Canada.

While their absence is a loss for tennis, it’s a gained opportunity for a deep men’s field eager to breakthrough with significant titles.

No Escaping Alcaraz

He is perhaps the most exciting and electrifying player the game has seen in years.

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz will make his Montreal debut, and his meteoric rise on tour has captured the eyes of tennis fans worldwide.

Alcaraz has won four ATP singles titles this season, with victories in Rio, Barcelona, Miami, and also Madrid, where he became the second player ever to defeat Nadal and Djokovic in succession en route to a trophy.

His baseline power is sublime, his speed and athleticism are off the charts, and his passion and exuberance for the sport are mesmerizing.

Alcaraz has lofty goals and believes he can win a grand slam this year.

He’ll lead the bottom half of the field as the #2 seed in Montreal and has already been gripping crowds in a pre-tournament practice with Italian star Jannik Sinner.

Felix and Denis lead Canadian hopefuls in Montreal

Felix Auger-Aliassime leads the red and white as is the highest-ranked Canadian at this week’s event, firmly entrenched in the top 10, a position he’s more than worthy of based on his strong play this season.

Auger-Aliassime reached the Australian Open quarterfinals to begin his year, won his first ATP title earlier this season in Rotterdam, and also made the final of the Open 13 Provence from France.

It should be a wonderful welcome home for the Montrealer, who often plays his best brand of tennis on the hard court surface.

He’s seeded eighth this week and received a first-round bye.

Thornhill’s Denis Shapovalov arrives in Montreal, desperate to get out of a months-long slump in form.

Shapovalov has lost eight of his last nine matches, including an opening round exit last week to American JJ Wolf.

Shapovalov is overloaded with firepower but harnessing his tools has been a challenge of late.

He has a tough first-round test against Australian Alex de Minaur.

32-year-old B.C. native Vasek Pospisil is also back and competing and has added new coach Flavio Cipolla to the fray to help him make a push to return inside the top 100.

He opens against American Tommy Paul.

Quebec’s Alexis Galarneau was also awarded a wild card to the main draw, and recently made the finals of the Winnipeg Challenger.

He faces talented veteran Grigor Dimitrov.

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Tsitsipas, Ruud, Rublev seek summer success

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece is no stranger to playing peak tennis in Canada.

His breakout tournament came in Toronto four seasons ago, when he defeated four top-10 players in succession — including Djokovic — to reach the finals, before falling to Nadal in the title match.

Tsitsipas won his first ATP title of 2022 two months ago on grass and will now transition to his first hard court event since the Miami Open back in March.

World No. 7 Casper Ruud is much more known for his consistency and brilliance on clay.

The Norwegian has won eight of his nine career singles titles on the red dirt and reached the French Open final earlier this season.

Ruud is making in roads on hard courts as well and broke through to reach the finals in Miami earlier this year.

His precise footwork, pure baseline game, and defensive skills should pose problems for much of the field.

Andrey Rublev of Russia may boast most firepower via kilometres in the men’s draw.

His scintillating forehand, which penetrates the court in sync with his pronounced grunt, is one of the very best in the game.

Rublev has won an impressive 11 singles titles, but is still seeking a first Masters 1000 crown in his trophy case.

We’ll see if a visit to the La belle province inspires him to showcase his very best.

 

Editor’s Note: Rogers Communications Inc., the presenting sponsor of the National Bank Open, also owns Sportsnet.

 

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