The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, the ATP and WTA are in Canada for the Rogers Cup and almost all of the big names return to competition, including Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Wimbledon champions Andy Murray and Marion Bartoli.
Rogers Cup - ATP
Montreal hosts this year's ATP Masters 1000 event, and though the tournament took a hit when Roger Federer withdrew on Friday, defending champion Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal are back for the first time since Wimbledon to begin their hard-court preparation for the U.S. Open. Rogers Cup is the first of back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 events, followed by next week's Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. Nine of the top 10 men are in the field and the top eight seeds all receive first-round byes.
The two biggest storylines heading into this stretch are Nadal and Murray. This will be Nadal's second hard-court tournament since he returned to the tour in February; he won the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., in March. Nadal has never kept his disdain for hard courts a secret. The unforgiving surface takes a toll on his body and he's forced to play with amped-up aggression to keep points shorter. It should take him a few matches to get his footwork and rhythm down, especially on his forehand from the backhand corner. If he can get through his first few matches without incident, he could face Djokovic in the semifinals, which would be the must-see match of the tournament. The two have not met on hard courts since last year's five-hour, 53-minute Australian Open final.
As for Murray, there's little time to relax after his career-defining Wimbledon triumph. He'll be defending the U.S. Open in less than a month, and a strong summer hard-court season could put him in position to make a charge for the year-end No. 1 ranking in the fall. To do that he has to do well in Montreal and Cincinnati, where he's defending just 180 points (the 750 undefendable points he won at last year's Olympics will fall off Monday). Though Nadal is drawn in Djokovic's half, Murray's Montreal draw is riddled with landmines. He could open against Grigor Dimitrov in a rematch of their three-set Brisbane final in January, then either the streaking Fabio Fognini or the not-streaking but always dangerous Ernests Gulbis, and then possibly Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals. There will be no easing into things for Murray. He has to be on his game from his first match.
Meanwhile, Del Potro, who beat John Isner on Sunday to win his third Citi Open title, is making a darn good case to be named a favorite at the U.S. Open. Keep an eye on him over the next two weeks.
First-round matches to watch: Julien Benneteau vs. Jerzy Janowicz, Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Benoit Paire, John Isner vs. Vasek Pospisil, Milos Raonic vs. Jeremy Chardy, Ernests Gulbis vs. Feliciano Lopez.
Potential matches to watch: Andy Murray vs. Grigor Dimitrov (second round), Novak Djokovic vs. Bernard Tomic (second round), Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Benoit Paire (second round), Rafael Nadal vs. Jerzy Janowicz (third round), Stanislas Wawrinka vs. Tommy Haas (third round), Tomas Berdych vs. John Isner (third round), Andy Murray vs. Fabio Fognini or Ernests Gulbis (third round).
Prediction: Novak Djokovic d. Juan Martin del Potro
Rogers Cup - WTA
Nine of the top 10 women will be in Toronto; the lone exception is Maria Sharapova, who withdrew with a hip injury that she sustained at Wimbledon. No. 1 Serena Williams leads a field that includes Victoria Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska and Li Na. The last time we saw Williams, she was plowing through the field of a small clay-court tournament in Bastad, Sweden, a week after Wimbledon. This will be her first hard-court tournament since winning the Sony Open in Miami in April. Aside from a potential quarterfinal match against Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, who is playing her first tournament since winning her maiden Slam, Serena's half of the draw doesn't feature any of the dangerous hitters who can cause her problems.
Azarenka's half is more wide open. Defending champion Petra Kvitova and last year's finalist, Li, are the wild cards here, with Sam Stosur and Ana Ivanovic coming off confidence-building runs at the Southern California Open. Throw in a few young names who have also shown good form in Jamie Hampton, Urszula Radwanska and Sorana Cirstea, and the bottom half of the draw becomes an unpredictable mess that's ripe for upsets.
The draw also features two notable returns in Venus Williams and Alisa Kleybanova. After withdrawing from Wimbledon to nurse a back injury that's left her compromised for much of the season, it's good to see Venus healthy enough to play again. She has a tough draw, opening against Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens, and a potential All-Williams match could happen in the third round. As for Kleybanova, she's slowly made her return to competitive tennis after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2011. She looked fit and healthy during her summer stint with World Team Tennis, where she won Rookie of the Year honors. The 24-year-old will play her first WTA-level tournament since the Sony Open last year. She opens against Canada's Genie Bouchard.
UPDATE: Azarenka has withdrawn from the tournament, citing a back injury.
First-round matches to watch: Venus Williams vs. Kirsten Flipkens, Caroline Wozniacki vs. Varvara Lepchenko, Sloane Stephens vs. Kristina Mladenovic, Genie Bouchard vs. Alisa Kleybanova, Carla Suarez Navarro vs. Jamie Hampton,
Potential matches to watch: Jamie Hampton vs. Sam Stosur (second round), Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Laura Robson (second round), Dominika Cibulkova vs. Angelique Kerber (second round), Serena Williams vs. Venus Williams (third round), Marion Bartoli vs. Caroline Wozniacki (third round), Agnieszka Radwanska or Laura Robson vs. Sloane Stephens (third round), Maria Kirilenko vs. Sara Errani (third round), Li Na vs. Ana Ivanovic (third round), Petra Kvitova vs. Sam Stosur (third round) Prediction: Serena Williams d. Li Na