Monday was a big day for Canadian tennis.
The official start to the Rogers Cup was a showcase for the latest crop of up-and-coming stars from across the country.
It also served as a reminder of the skills of one of its talented veterans and one of the game’s biggest stars.
Here are five takeaways from the opening day of the Rogers Cup:
Milos Raonic was on his game Tuesday, and — as is usually the case when the 28-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., is at his best — that means his serve was nearly untouchable.
The No.19-ranked Canadian defeated Lucas Pouille 6-4, 6-4 in first-round action in Montreal on Monday, firing 16 aces as he cruised past the Frenchman in one hour, 12 minutes.
The six-foot-five veteran, who made the final of the 2013 Rogers Cup in Montreal, won a dominant 89 per cent of his first serves, as well as 63 per cent on his second.
And Pouille, who holds a 1-4 record against Raonic, didn’t know how to handle it.
“It’s really, really tough because when he’s serving like this, I think something about 70 per cent first serve, I guess, he’s really tough to read and to return,” he told reporters.
Raonic will be pitted against a fellow Canadian in the second round, either soon-to-be 19-year-old phenom (No. 21 ranked) Felix Auger-Aliassime on his home court, or Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil, who face off Tuesday.
From friends to foes
The aforementioned Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil did some first-hand scouting before their head-to-head matchup, pairing off in men’s doubles Monday.
The duo fell 7-6 (7), 7-5 to Frenchmen Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin, and they’ll both be hoping for a better result Tuesday.
“Now we are friends. We will be less friends for two hours tomorrow,” Auger-Aliassime told reporters.
“But after, things will be back to normal. It’s a good thing. What we both do is we play the best we can, we compete the best we can, and this is the best respect we can show for our opponent.”
The young Montrealer will be looking to follow in the footsteps of his compatriot.
“I mean, it’s a dream come true for a kid from here,” he said of playing at home.
“I came so many times to watch this tournament. I have a big memory actually of watching Vasek beat (Tomas) Berdych (en route to semis in 2013) here. It was a big moment.”
And then they were two
With the loss of Leylah Annie Fernandez, the number of Canadians who could break the country’s 50-year title dry spell on the women’s side was whittled down to two, and that’ll drop to one when Bianca Andreescu and Eugenie Bouchard face off on Tuesday.
The 16-year-old lefty from Laval, Que., showed flashes of powerful groundstrokes, with a low, blistering backhand, but struggled to find consistency and her serve in a 6-0, 6-1 loss to qualifier Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic.
The No. 260-ranked Fernandez only managed to win 37 and 29 per cent of her first and second serves, respectively.
Fernandez, a wild card, was coming in hot to her Rogers Cup debut, having captured the women’s junior title at the French Open in June and earned her first two pro titles, the women’s singles and doubles competitions at the Gatineau National Bank Challenger. She also was a finalist at the Granby Challenger at the end of July.
However, it isn’t the end of Fernandez’s run in Toronto as she’ll be partnered up with Simona Halep in doubles action Tuesday.
The extra tennis alongside the world No. 4 meant she couldn’t attend Drake’s OVO Fest in Toronto — oh well, she joked.
“Bummer, but no. Just train hard and get ready for doubles,” said a smiling Fernandez.
“Yes, I am very excited (about playing with Halep). Once I heard the news, I just couldn’t stop smiling for maybe the whole day, day and a half. I don’t know,” she added.
The streak is over
May 22. That was the last time 20-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., had won this season.
But the streak ended Monday as the promising Canadian, who is ranked No. 32 in the world, snapped his five-match losing streak by beating 38th-ranked Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France, 6-3, 7-5.
The skid was so mentally taxing that Shapovalov took some time away from the game to clear his head, skipping the Citi Open in Washington.
It’s safe to say, Shapovalov was pumped about his change in luck and was loving the fan support in Montreal.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 6, 2019
“Today, it was just fun to be able to play. Every point, they’re so engaged. Like I’ve always said, I feel that brings the best out of me. I’m able to play more freely and just enjoy myself. I had that fire back today that I’ve been missing, especially the last couple weeks. Maybe it’s been longer than that,” he told reporters.
“It’s good to kind of get back on the right track.”
Shapovalov is looking to repeat his storybook run to the semifinals of the 2017 Rogers Cup.
Sharapova goes down swinging
The five-time Grand Slam champion may be more than five years removed from her last Grand Slam title, but at 32 years old, Maria Sharapova still has some gas left in the tank.
Sharapova’s injury struggles have prompted some prognosticators to wonder if she’s closing in on the end of her 18-year career.
She has been limited to 11 matches heading into Monday night, and retired for the first time in her Grand Slam career in the opening round of Wimbledon last month.
But the 2009 Rogers Cup finalist put up a huge fight on Monday night, including a 16-minute game in the third set, as she was ousted by world no. 19 Anett Kontaveit 6-4, 3-6, 4-6.
Anett Kontaveit takes a titanic 16-minute game to break Sharapova!
— WTA (@WTA) August 6, 2019
Despite the frustrations keeping her off the court, Sharapova said she had no trouble finding her fire for the game.
“I mean, in matches like tonight, I mean, you know it’s easy to say losing it and losing a few in a row and withdrawing from Wimbledon, obviously that was really tough,” she said.
“But, yeah, I believe in myself and I believe in my ability. And I think you can see I really love what I do, so as long as I still have that. If I go out on the court and I’m just moping around and not giving a few, ‘Come ons!’ out there and pumping my fists, that’s when that’s gone.