The summer holidays are well and truly over and it is back to the serious business of preparing for the US Open for the world’s top tennis players.
This week’s tournaments in Montreal and Toronto see the likely contenders in New York go head-to-head for the first time since Wimbledon, although the women’s event is weakened by the absence through injury of Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova.
That leaves Serena Williams as an even bigger favourite than she would have been otherwise, while Marion Bartoli is back in action a month after her stunning Wimbledon triumph.
The main questions revolve around the men’s event and how the top players will fare as they begin their hard-court campaigns. There is no Roger Federer, the Swiss ruled out by his troublesome back, and he will desperately hope he is fit for next week’s tournament in Cincinnati. Federer is the defending champion there and faces sliding further down the rankings from his current unfamiliar position of fifth if he cannot turn around his poor form.
Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal are in action, though, and close attention will be paid to the performances of all three.
Murray, of course, will play his first match as Wimbledon champion, and Montreal is no place to ease yourself back in. He faces Spain’s world No 36 Marcel Granollers, who defeated Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-4 last night.
Djokovic and Nadal may be on the other side of the draw but the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, Ernests Gulbis and Fabio Fognini are tricky early-round opponents, and Juan Martin Del Potro, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych are also in his half.
Murray looks serious about doing well here, though. He took a full two weeks off following Wimbledon but was then back on court in Miami and has coach Ivan Lendl with him in Canada. The Scot has prioritised the grand slams over the past few years and not always focused fully at the Masters events, which is largely why he is still so far away from Djokovic’s number one ranking.
But with US Open and Wimbledon titles under his belt, consistency is the new watchword for Murray. He told reporters in Montreal: “That’s something the last few years I haven’t been good at. I’ve always looked ahead to the slams and sometimes not played my best tennis in the Masters series, which wasn’t the case at the beginning of my career. I want to try and do well here.” Djokovic has been Mr Consistency over the past couple of years, although there have been a few shock defeats this season. Losing the Wimbledon final was a major blow, but it would be a surprise if he did not respond in the right manner at a tournament he has won the last two years. Knowing what to expect from Nadal is more difficult.
The Spaniard is playing only his second hard-court tournament in nearly a year and a half. He won the other one quite brilliantly in Indian Wells in March, in many ways the high point of his run of six titles and two final defeats in his first eight tournaments back after injury. Doubts about his dodgy knee have re-emerged since then.
In last night’s other action in Montreal, Canadian wildcard Vasek Pospisil stunned American John Isner 5-7, 7-6 (7/5) 7-6 (7/4), while Wimbledon semi-finalist Jerzy Janowicz battled some internal demons before edging Frenchman Julien Benneteau 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 .