The 2013 Rogers Cup has suffered with disappointing withdrawals from stars such as Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, and speedy one-match exits from Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki.
But few can complain about the compelling matchups in Saturday's semi-finals.
Top-seeded Serena Williams, the world No.1 and 16-time Grand Slam champion fuelling the event, will face No.4 and third seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland. Chinese star Li Na, a 2012 finalist in Montreal and the world's fifth-ranked player, will take on the tournament's biggest surprise contender, giant-slayer Sorana Cirstea.
A little-known Romanian player and world No.27, Cirstea has pulled off three upsets in as many days at Rexall Centre, none as impressive as Friday's elimination of the defending tournament champion, world No. Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic. The unseeded Cirstea knocked off No.10 Wozniacki last Wednesday, No.14 Jelena Jankovic last Thursday, and sent Kvitova packing 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Cirstea played Friday afternoon, with the gumption of a determined youngster who had nothing to lose. She made some dramatic shots by attacking the net with winners, while Kvitova struggled with double-faults and made more than 40 unforced errors. Against Cirstea, the 2011 Wimbledon champion known for her killer forehand seemed hesitant and tired, later complimenting Cirstea's play, but saying he had a poor night's sleep.
It's been the most exciting consecutive results yet for Cirstea, a player with one WTA title to her name. She has been working with the adidas development group, a team of talented coaches dedicated to adidas AG-sponsored players.
She has been working with Australian coach Darren Cahill, who, she said, during an on-court meeting during the match, pointed out a child in the stands and said to Cirstea: "Where do you think that girl wants to be right now?"
He urged the young Romanian to realize how lucky she is to be a professional tennis player with a huge opportunity before her.
"[This success] may come as a surprise for many, but it's not a surprise for me, because I know how hard I have been working," Cirstea said. "If you are better than me, then you have to beat me. I'm not going to give it to you."
Her Saturday opponent, Li, easily defeated Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 7-6, 6-2. Li and Cirstea have met five times before, with the Chinese star winning all but one – a 2012 meeting at Wimbledon.
Williams has won all five of her previous meetings with Radwanska, most recently a 6-0, 6-3 semi-final in Miami in the spring. Of the 11 sets they have played, Radwanska has only managed to win one.
Radwanska advanced to the semis with a 7-6 (1), 7-5 victory over fifth-seeded Italian Sara Errani, while Williams won her third lop-sided contest of the tournament – a 6-1, 6-1 trouncing of Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova before a sizeable crowd on Centre Court. The American star last won the tournament in Toronto in 2012, despite being unseeded and in the early stages of a comeback after a year away from tennis.
"I'm definitely feeling pretty good, playing much better than I had in the past month or so, so I'm glad I'm getting back to feeling and hitting in rhythm," said Williams, who had an early disappointing loss at Wimbledon. "It's a good matchup [with Radwanska], she does everything very well and is playing better now, too. Actually, having a much better year. It's going to be interesting."
While there are no Canadians left in women's singles, a doubles team lives on.
Sharon Fichman of Toronto and Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa beat the Italian team of Errani and Roberta Vinci, 7-6(4), 2-6 (5), and will face Jankovic and Slovenian partner Katarina Srebotnik in Saturday's semi-finals.