National Bank Open Toronto preview: Leylah leads Canada, Serena and Venus return

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.

It’s Toronto’s greatest showcase of live tennis.

The National Bank Open presented by Rogers has returned to Ontario’s capital as the superstars of the women’s game descend upon the city for one of the marquee tournaments of the year.

It’s also a feeling of normalcy on the grounds once again, with the on-site event returning to full capacity for the first time since 2019.

The grounds are again fully operational with elite tennis players fine tuning their games across multiple side courts, just metres away from the public.

This year features a loaded women’s field with 19 of the top 20 players competing, several Canadians across the draw, and a return from the Williams sisters.

Here are five storylines to track as the National Bank Open gets underway:

Top ranked Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez returns to action

She is the highest ranked Canadian in the field, last year’s U.S. Open finalist, and one of the feistiest competitors on the circuit.

Quebec’s Leylah Annie Fernandez was on hand for the event’s draw ceremony atop the CN Tower, as she helped unveil the player field and potential matchups ahead from the National Bank Open.

The Laval native will be particularly keen to get in some match play as she competes on the tour for the first time since suffering a fracture to her foot in a three-set quarterfinal loss at Roland Garros to Italy’s Martina Trevisan. After over two months on the sidelines, she was given an all clear from her doctor to compete again.

“We’ve been trying extremely hard to get back into shape as quickly as possible,” said Fernandez.

“It was a tough few weeks, but I have the green light to compete. My foot is completely healed.”

The 19-year-old left hander highlights the Monday night session on Sobeys Stadium and sits in the same bracket as world no. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Fernandez will open against a qualifier.

Iga is a cut above

She’s been a remarkably dominant world number one player, and at 22 years of age Iga Swiatek is the top seed and favourite at the National Bank Open.

How can you not be when you’ve compiled a season like hers?

Swiatek won the French Open for a second time, has four WTA 1000s, six singles titles overall, and held a sensational 37-match winning streak, a stretch that would only get halted in the round of 16 at Wimbledon by Alize Cornet.

Swiatek has greatly excelled on hard courts this year too, notching notable titles in Qatar, Indian Wells, and Miami.

At the draw ceremony above the CN Tower, the soft-spoken Polish star referenced her 2019 tournament in Toronto as a key turning point in her career.

“This was the first tournament where I felt like I could do something special,” reflected Swiatek.

Back then, Swiatek was still a teenager and ranked outside the top 50, but would produce impressive tennis, notably knocking off Caroline Wozniacki to advance to the round of 16 before losing to Naomi Osaka.

Swiatek will have her dynamic athleticism, heavy forehand, and elite lateral movement on display in her first main draw match Wednesday night.

2019 champ Bianca highlights rest of the strong Canadian field

It’s a welcome return to the site of her 2019 title from Toronto.

Mississauga native Bianca Andreescu is an absolute fan favourite across the women’s tour, but particularly at her home tournament where she hoisted a historic title just three seasons ago.

Andreescu’s victory was part of an immense breakout season that saw her capture a title at Indian Wells and become the first major singles champion in Canadian history by winning the U.S. Open from Flushing Meadows later in the summer.

After health issues plagued her in 2020 and 2021, Andreescu took a mental break from the game of tennis this season, before officially returning in April.

Since then, she’s posted notable results with a quarterfinals appearance on clay in Rome, and a trip to the finals of the Bad Homburg Open on grass in June.

Andreescu possesses a smorgasbord of skills on court, that, when utilized, can make her one of the tour’s most exciting and impressive players.

There are concerns again involving her health, after she struggled with back issues in a loss to American Shelby Rogers last week at the Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose.

She meets Daria Kasatkina in a compelling opening round match Tuesday night.

Elsewhere, Toronto native Rebecca Marino returns and looks to continue her excellent hard-court form.

She reached the quarterfinals of the Citi Open this past week, notching impressive wins over Venus Williams and Andrea Petkovic, and has returned to the top 100 of the rankings.

She meets Zheng Qinwen of China in the first round.

Canadians Carol Zhao and Katherine Sebov round out the singles competitors.

Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski will compete in doubles.

She will look to defend her title from last year in Montreal as she plays alongside Giuliana Olmos of Mexico.

Slam champions Raducanu, Rybakina to get acquainted with Toronto crowd

This year’s event is loaded with major talent and look no further than a pair of slam winners who have yet to meet the tennis audience in Toronto.

Britain’s Emma Raducanu, who was in fact born in Toronto, is competing at the National Bank Open for the very first time in her career.

The 19-year-old memorably produced one of the most surprising grand slam runs in tennis history, going through qualifying last year and winning 10 consecutive matches to capture the U.S. Open.

She will bring her potent groundstrokes and on court tenacity into an intriguing opening round match against last season’s tournament winner in Montreal, Camila Giorgi.

Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina is set to play her second event since winning Wimbledon, and despite her quiet, introverted nature, possesses a powerful, all-court baseline game and deadly serve.

She begins her campaign against a qualifier.

Other stars to watch for this week include Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit, Spain’s Paula Badosa, Maria Sakkari of Greece, and Tunisia’s recent Wimbledon finalist Ons Jabeur.

Legends Serena and Venus touch down in the 6

They have a combined 30 grand slam singles titles between them and are the most iconic sister duo in tennis history.

Americans Serena and Venus Williams have both returned to Toronto to compete at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers.

For Serena, it’s a welcome return to an event she’s often felt comfortable.

She’s a three-time National Bank Open champion and was a finalist in her last appearance here in Toronto in 2019.

She’s also had limited match play this season, with only one singles match under her belt – a heartbreaking 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 first round loss to Harmony Tan at Wimbledon.

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Serena has landed in a stacked quarter of the field.

She opens her event Monday against a qualifier, while a victory would line her up to face either two-time slam winner Victoria Azarenka or Tokyo gold medalist Belinda Bencic.

42-year-old Venus Williams is also hungry for more competition after sitting out much of the season.

Last week, she lost a tough three set encounter with Canadian Rebecca Marino at the Citi Open in Washington in her first singles tournament of 2022.

Venus was awarded a wild card to Toronto and will debut Monday against Jil Teichmann of Switzerland.

It very well could be the final opportunity for Canadian fans in the capital to catch a glimpse of two all time greats live.

Even in the twilight of their careers, Serena and Venus transcend tennis.

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