Five storylines to watch at the Rogers Cup in Montreal

Milos Raonic joined the Starting Lineup in-studio to discuss working with John McEnroe, Wimbledon memories, what he needs to win a major, why he's not happy with what he's accomplished so far, and what major would be most special to win.

MONTREAL — We are but days away from (some of) the best players in men’s tennis gracing Montreal with their presence for the Rogers Cup.

It’s a pivotal stop on the road to the U.S. Open; a Masters 1000 event and one of the more prestigious tournaments on the ATP World Tour when you consider that it’s the third-oldest in the history of professional tennis.

As we wait for the final entrants to qualify into the main draw over the weekend, we’re previewing the 127th edition of the Canadian Championship by looking at five key storylines to watch.

Roger returns

It’s been six years since 19-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer last appeared at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, but he doesn’t seem to have aged at all over that stretch of time.

Federer has had a remarkable resurgence in 2017 after missing the last six months of 2016 with a knee injury. He opened the season by adding his 18th Grand Slam—a convincing and dominant performance at the Australian Open, and he has since won four of six tournaments he’s played.

Federer’s last performance—a flawless run in England that saw him capture his eighth Wimbledon title—was la piece de resistance. He skipped the clay court season and the French Open to be at his best on grass, and there’s a strong chance this will be one of his only stops on the North American hard court tour before attempting to chase down his sixth U.S. Open title this coming September.

“I’m happy to be coming back to Montreal, as I have not had the chance to play there in many years,” said the two-time Rogers Cup champion earlier this week.

Rest assured tennis fans in Montreal are elated the 35-year-old Swiss native is making his return to their city.

Federer comes into the action as the third-ranked player in the world.

¡Vamos Rafa!

After an up-and-down start to 2017, Nadal showed his mettle on the clay courts by winning in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid in consecutive weeks. He dropped his first of 18 clay court matches in Rome and then rebounded spectacularly with his record 10th win at the French Open.

It was a masterful performance. The Spaniard dropped just 35 games in the tournament and bumped his ranking up to No. 2 in the world.

Nadal comes to Montreal as a three-time Rogers Cup champion. He’s got a chance to leave the city as the world’s top ranked player—provided he can advance as far as the semifinal. If he can, it’ll be the first time since June of 2014 that he’s held that distinction.

Injuries prevent Djokovic from defending title; Wawrinka, Murray, Cilic not participating

Novak Djokovic couldn’t take the pain any longer.

A right-elbow injury forced him to withdraw in the middle of his quarter-final match against Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon and has effectively ended his 2017 campaign.

“This is one of those injuries where nothing can really help instantly,” Djokovic told reporters on July 26.

“You just have to allow natural rehabilitation to take its course,” he added.

As a result, Djokovic won’t be in Montreal to defend his 2016 Rogers Cup title, and his streak of appearing in 51 consecutive Grand Slams will end when he misses the U.S. Open.

More bad news: the world’s No. 1 ranked player, Andy Murray, pulled out of the Rogers Cup with a hip injury.

Stan Wawrinka, ranked No. 4 in the world, suffered a knee injury at Wimbledon and hasn’t recovered sufficiently to participate in Montreal. He took to Facebook earlier this month to inform his fans of the decision, suggesting he withdrew “to be on the safe side,” as he prepares to defend his U.S. Open title.

Lastly, Marin Cilic, the world’s No. 6 ranked player who had a dazzling run to the 2017 Wimbledon Final, continues to nurse an adductor injury suffered in England.

Raonic out to make history

It was in Montreal in 2013 that Milos Raonic graduated from young hopeful to considerable threat on the ATP Tour.

Raonic was on the verge of becoming the open era’s first Canadian champion on home soil, but he fell just short, losing 6-2, 6-2 to Nadal in the final.

He was a semifinalist at last year’s Rogers Cup and enters this year’s edition as the sixth seed.

The 26-year-old native of Thornhill, Ont. has had an inconsistent 2017, dropping seven spots in the world rankings from 3rd in 2016 to 10th overall. He’s 26-9 and has yet to win a tournament this season.

That said, Raonic reached the quarterfinals at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, plus he fell just short of the mark at the French Open.

He’s coming off a quarterfinal loss to American Jack Sock at the Citi Open in Washington D.C. and will have the home crowd behind him in his bid to rebound at the Rogers Cup and make history in Montreal.

Watch out for Dominic Thiem

About that loss Nadal suffered in Rome: it came at the hands of the 23-year-old Austrian who has surged to seventh in the world on the strength of his thundering one-handed backhand and his exceptional defence.

Thiem is 38-16 this season, and he took home Rio Open back in February. He lost to Nadal in the semi-final of the French Open and had ordinary showings at both the Australian Open and at Wimbledon.

Though he’s known as a clay court specialist, he comes to Montreal as one of the top seeds for the Rogers Cup. He owns one hard court title, won in Acapulco in 2016, and his game is rounding into form to make him a threat on all surfaces.

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