Tennis players rarely talk publicly about their draws – and how, sometimes, your chances in a tournament can be greatly enhanced by when and where your name comes out of the hat. For all of his success on the ATP World Tour this year, Canada's Milos Raonic hasn't had a lot of luck with his draws this year, and frequently found himself facing the biggest names in tennis – especially Roger Federer – earlier than he might like in a tournament.
Better sometimes – for ranking points and for prize money – to be in the middle, softer portions of the draw, to postpone those tough matches until the later rounds.
Raonic is seeded 16th in the Rogers Cup and for that he gets a first-round bye (a good thing) and a meeting with either Serbia's Viktor Troicki or Russia's Alex Bogomolov Jr. in the second round (a winnable match, but not a walkover).
From there, if it goes well for Raonic in his opening match on Tuesday night, he would then play Britain's Andy Murray, the second seed and a player coming off one of the most emotional weeks of his tennis-playing life – a win in Sunday's Olympic gold-medal final at Wimbledon.
Murray is a two-time Rogers Cup champion, but the tournament represents the start of the summer hard court season and the first step toward the U.S. Open.
If ever Murray is going to be vulnerable – physically, psychologically – it will be this week, after his shockingly one-sided victory over world No. 1 Federer on Sunday.Federer isn't here, and a host of other top players – Spaniards Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Verdasco and American Andy Roddick – all withdrew from the tournament, for reasons ranging from injury to fatigue.
It lessens what is usually a top-heavy draw and Raonic sees that development as a double-edged sword. Yes, he will concede that the path to a championship may be simpler if it doesn't go through a Federer or a Nadal. But in his mind – ranked 23rd and rising – he welcomes the chance to prove himself against the game's elite.
"For myself, it makes the opportunities better," Raonic acknowledged, "but the way I want to compete and the things I want to achieve, I want to play against those guys and win against those guys. Those opportunities missing and especially here, where I grew up and play well, it's a little disappointing."
Even with defending champion and top seed Novak Djokovic still in the field, Murray represents the new top draw in the tournament. Murray looked oddly out of sorts during last year's event, losing in the first round to South Africa's hard-serving Kevin Anderson, and who knows how much the next 48 hours of his life might take a toll on his concentration levels?
Rogers Cup organizers expected him to arrive on Monday, but at his post-Olympic press conference Sunday, Murray said would arrive in Toronto on Tuesday. Murray also acknowledged that his busy Olympic schedule was probably "not the best preparation" for this tournament, but he went on to say: "Toronto, the plan is to go there and play. … It's not ideal, but tennis has its rules and I'll be there for sure. Whether I play or not, I'll have to see how my body feels on Tuesday."
Murray's caveat, along with the emotionally draining tennis played in the last 24 hours by some of the world's top players, could make the 2012 Rogers Cup a wholly unpredictable event.
None of the Canadian men playing in the weekend's qualifying tournament made it into the main draw. Vancouver's Filip Peliwo, the defending Wimbledon boys champion, had an especially tough draw – losing to Croatia's Ivan Dodig, a player who upset Nadal in the opening round in Montreal a year ago.
It leaves just Raonic, plus the three Canadians who received wild cards into the tournament – Frank Dancevic, Vasek Pospisil and Peter Polansky – all of whom will be featured in opening-round action.
Dancevic is now 27 and five years ago made it to the quarter-finals of the tournament amid a couple of years of injury frustration, mostly to do with a problematic back condition. He won a Challenger tournament in Dallas back in March and had a win over world No. 24 Marin Cilic to do so – and had a good run in Vancouver this week. He opens against Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan.
Polansky, 24, is coming into Rogers Cup at his career-high ranking of No. 155 in the world. The last time he played in Toronto, in 2010, Polansky advanced into the second round following an opening victory over world No. 15 Juergen Melzer. He will play a qualifier.
As for the 22-year-old Pospisil, he also hit a career-high world ranking of No. 85 last Monday after winning the $50,000 Granby Challenger in Quebec. He secured his first ATP World Tour main-draw victory at the Rogers Cup last year, when he beat world No. 22 Juan Ignacio Chela in the first round. Pospisil will play Italian Andreas Seppi in his first match.