First the bad news.
Switzerland’s Roger Federer became the third player ranked in the world’s top five to drop out of the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Federer, the No. 1 player in the world, withdrew Friday, soon after winning a four-hours-plus marathon against Argentina’s Juan Del Potro in the men’s Olympic semi-finals. Federer will play for the first gold medal of his career Sunday, and given the magnitude of that event, didn’t think he could make the quick turnaround to compete next week in Canada.
Federer joins No. 3 Rafael Nadal and No. 5 David Ferrer on the sidelines, alongside American Andy Roddick, the 2003 Rogers Cup champion, who also withdrew Friday. Nadal is out with a knee injury that obliged him to miss the Olympics, where he was scheduled to be Spain’s flag bearer. Ferrer withdrew for personal reasons.
According to tournament director Karl Hale, the good news is that the two other marquee names in men’s tennis, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Britain’s Andy Murray, are still coming, even though Murray will play Federer for Olympic gold Sunday, and will be under some duress of his own.
Hale said he spoke to representatives from both Djokovic’s and Murray’s camps, who “guaranteed” him they would be in Toronto.
“I’m confident both players will be here next week,” Hale said. “I’ll take them at their word.”
For more than a year now, organizers of both the men’s event in Toronto and the women’s event in Montreal were aware that the presence of the Olympics on the 2012 tennis calendar could play havoc with their respective events.
Anticipating the potential overlap between the two, the fields were reduced to 48 players from 56, with the top 16 all receiving byes into the second round in the hopes that it would encourage the elite players to come, even if they made it deep into the Olympic draw.
“With the Olympics, we knew that could be an issue,” Hale said. “That’s why we added the byes for the nine-to-16 players and moved the men’s final to Sunday night. We did what we could, but it is a tough schedule for the players.”
The ATP requires its biggest names to appear in what are classified as Masters 1000 events, but in a sport as physically demanding as tennis, just about every player is playing injured to some extent, so finding a plausible medical reason to drop out is generally not that difficult.
Because of all the withdrawals, Canada’s Milos Raonic has been moved up to the 16th seed and will receive a bye into the second round. Raonic, ranked No. 23 in the world, has previously been seeded in Grand Slam tournaments (because they seed down to 32 players), but this will be his first time seeded in a Masters event.
In a conference call prior to the Olympics, Raonic had hoped that the tournament’s format changes, coupled with its importance on the tennis calendar, would keep the dropouts to a minimum.
“Tennis is played all over the world and all of us have had moments with tight schedules,” Raonic said. “I’ve only been on the tour two years, but I’ve gone back-to-back from San Jose to Memphis, which is nine hours of travel, and you deal with it. You try to get past those first few days and you know it’s just going to get better and better.”
The event offers more than $3-million in prize money and invaluable ranking points. Raonic is in an especially enviable position. Because he missed last year’s tournament recovering from hip surgery, he has no ranking points to defend in Canada or at the U.S. Open, the final Grand Slam of the season, in a month’s time. It means with a couple of good results in these events, Raonic could crack the top 20 for the first time in his career, something no other Canadian man has ever done in singles (though Daniel Nestor is co-ranked the world’s No. 1 in doubles).
Raonic, who lost a marathon four-hour match to world No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France at the Olympics, is scheduled to make his first appearance in prime time Tuesday.
In a statement issued through Tennis Canada, Federer explained his decision this way: “I am very disappointed I have to withdraw from Toronto, as I love the city and the Canadian fans are amazing. I have always enjoyed playing there, but after a long stretch of tournaments, I will need some time to recover.”