Tuesday August 7th, 2012

Novak Djokovic leads the field in Toronto and looks to defend his Rogers Cup title. (Zumapress).

While some of us are still reeling from what was a historic and emotional weekend of medal-winning performances, the tennis world keeps on spinning as it always does, cruelly ignorant of the exhaustion and drain of the last two months. This week the ATP and WTA return to North American and attempt to re-engage in the Emirates U.S. Open Series, which stops off in Toronto (ATP) and Montreal (WTA). As an aside, I've never understood why there aren't separate branding rights for the Toronto and Montreal tournaments, which instead fall under the branded umbrella of Rogers Cup. It's an annoying quirk from a reference perspective, especially because the tours switch cities every year. Anyway, back to the task at hand.

Not surprisingly, a number of big names -- Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams to name a few -- have chosen to either skip the tournaments or withdraw, so the fields will be wide open. If you have the stamina for it, the results should be fun to follow this week.

Toronto: Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray lead the field but it's a wait-and-see game to see if they'll actually play. Djokovic arrived on Monday, while Murray will fly out from London on Tuesday and has already given hints that he may not play. "It's not ideal," he said on Sunday after being handed the keys to the Kingdom, (i.e.: winning the gold medal). "But tennis has its rules. I'll be there, for sure. Whether I play or not, I'll have to see how my body feels on Tuesday."

Both Murray and Djokovic are scheduled to play their second round matches on Wednesday, with Djokovic opening against Bernard Tomic and Murray set to play Flavio Cipolla. Neither man can be too thrilled with his draw as the stacked Masters 1000 field is rough from the get-go. Djokovic's projected route to the final includes Tomic, Sam Querrey or Kei Nishikori, an Olympic rematch with Juan Martin Del Potro (assuming the bronze medalist is fit to play), and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Janko Tipsarevic in the semis. Meanwhile Murray's road includes Milos Raonic, John Isner, and a host of tricky seeds like Tomas Berdych, Mardy Fish, or Richard Gasquet.

(Potential) matches to watch: Tommy Haas vs. David Nalbandian (first round), Sam Querrey vs. Jurgen Melzer (first round), Novak Djokovic vs. Bernard Tomic (second round), Kei Nishikori vs. Sam Querrey (second round), Marin Cilic vs. Marcos Baghdatis (second round), Andy Murray vs. Milos Raonic (third round), Tomas Berdych vs. Richard Gasquet (third round), Juan Martin Del Potro vs. Gilles Simon (third round), Novak Djokovic vs. Sam Querrey (third round).

Montreal: If you're one of those WTA fans who longed for the days when Serena was the dominant force in women's tennis, then boy is Montreal for you. Nine of the top 10 women are in the draw, with the lone absence being defending champ Serena herself. As with the men, we'll see if that holds up. I wouldn't be surprised to see Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova in particular withdraw once they touch down and realize they picked up a crink in their necks -- from the trip or the weight of their Olympic medals -- on the flight over from London, nor would I blame them. This 2012 schedule is a cruel one.

If we don't see any key withdrawals this tournament should be a highly competitive one. Other than Azarenka and Sharapova, the rest of the field took relatively early exits from the Olympics, which means fatigue shouldn't be an excuse. Azarenka and Radwanska anchor the halves (the seeding was done before Sharapova ascended to No. 2 on Monday). Based on current form, Vika definitely got the raw end of the deal, with Sharapova, Kvitova, Lisicki, and Wozniacki all drawn in her half. The seeds on Radwanska's side? Sam Stosur, Anglique Kerber, Sara Errani, Li Na, Ana Ivanovic, Flavia Pennetta and Lucie Safarova. Then again, after Aga's forgettable performance at the Olympics, she probably needs all the help she can get. Matches to watch: Tamira Paszek vs. Julia Goerges (first round), Christina McHale vs. Arantxa Rus (first round), Varvara Lepchenko vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (first round), Victoria Azarenka vs. Julia Goerges (second round), Maria Sharapova vs. Christina McHale (second round), Ana Ivanovic vs. Yanina Wickmayer (second round), Victoria Azarenka vs. Sabine Lisicki (third round), Marion Bartoli vs. Petra Kvitova (third round), Dominika Cibulkova vs. Caroline Wozniacki (third round), Ana Ivanovic vs. Angelique Kerber (third round).

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