From the heavy rains and thick, moisture-laden air early in the day to actual sunshine and clear skies later on, there was a weather smorgasbord on display Friday at the Rogers Cup, which turned what was going to be a long day anyway into a veritable tennis marathon. Because all of Thursday’s matches were cancelled for weather reasons, tournament organizers essentially asked every player in the draw except Canada’s Milos Raonic – who had a walkover in the third round – to play two matches Friday to get the tournament schedule back on track.
Accordingly, it was a crazy busy day that began when Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych walked onto Centre Court a little after 11 a.m., and wasn’t scheduled to end until Raonic was to play American John Isner in a late night quarter-final match that had a chance to go past midnight.
In between all the action, there was an interminable 2<AF>1/2<XA>-hour delay that began with defending champion and No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic up a set and a service break against American Sam Querrey and six points away from winning his round of 16 match.
At that point, the downpour sent both players racing for cover. They didn’t get back on court until just before 5 p.m., and then Djokovic needed just eight minutes to complete the straight sets victory.
Djokovic was originally scheduled to return to Centre Court two hours later to play Germany’s Tommy Haas in the first quarter-final, but Haas wasn’t ready to go at that point. Haas took advantage of the rain delay to rally from one set down and eliminate Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic in a lengthy, three-set match.
As per ATP rules, the tournament referee determined that Haas needed additional rest to prepare for the Djokovic match, which is why spectators for the night session were treated instead to a quarter-final match between the 14th seed Gasquet and 11th seed American Mardy Fish.
Gasquet, the runner-up to Roger Federer in the 2006 Rogers Cup, had advanced by knocking off the No. 4 seed Berdych in straight sets. To call that an upset might be a stretch, however, since Gasquet now has a 4-2 career record against Berdych and has won three of their past four matches.
It was just that kind of day – everybody scrambling to keep their minds on the task at hand and not get too distracted by the lengthy delays, or the changing court conditions or the fact that most players generally haven’t played two matches in a day since juniors.
“But it’s happened in the past,” said Djokovic, who also noted that rain delays were always easier to accept when “you’re winning the match.”
If Djokovic prevails over Haas, he is scheduled to play the winner of the Janko Tipsarevic-Marcel Granollers match in one of the two Saturday semi-finals. Tipsarevic, the No. 5 seed, made a breakthrough of sorts at last year’s Rogers Cup event in Montreal, qualifying for an ATP Masters 1000 semi-final for the first time in his career, something that enabled him to break into the top 20 for the first time in his career. Since then, he’s cracked the top 10 and came into the tournament ranked No. 8 in the world.
In the bottom half of the draw, the second semi-final will feature the winner of the Fish-Gasquet match against either Raonic or John Isner, the No. 8 seed. Raonic was the only player who wasn’t taxed to the max, after his round of 16 opponent, Great Britain’s Andy Murray, withdrew because of a knee injury.
Raonic wasn’t sure how the additional time off would affect his game, however, noting: “It helps me; it doesn't help me. But I'm playing pretty well, I'm pretty healthy, so it's a good opportunity. I'm just going to try to make the most of it.”
Isner dropped the first set of his third-round match against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber in a tiebreaker, but came back to win the next two sets 6-4, 6-4 to set up his first-ever career meeting with Raonic.
It was a matchup that many have waited for and wondered about ever since Raonic’s breakthrough – how the two biggest servers in the game would fare when they finally got a chance to go head-to-head against each other.
As an added bonus, the 180 ATP ranking points that Raonic has already earned in the tournament should vault him into the top 20 for the first time in his career, when the new rankings come out next Monday.
Remember too that despite the injuries, upsets and early withdrawals, two things didn’t change in this year’s event – the overall purse ($2.648-million) and the ranking points. In each of the past eight years, a member of the de facto Big Four of men’s tennis – Roger Federer, Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Murray – has won this event.
Djokovic is the only one left from that group and seems impervious to all the doom and gloom surrounding the event, perhaps because he is the defending champion and thus forced to defend the 1,000 winner’s points in the event. With a victory, Djokovic could also potentially leapfrog Federer and regain the world’s No. 1 ranking.
Either way, enough of the big names survived for the weekend’s play, which – barring more thunder, lightning and other foul weather – could actually produce a fabulous tournament finish.