Rogers Cup 2014: The Biggest Winners and Losers from Canada

Jeremy Eckstein@!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistAugust 11, 2014

Rogers Cup 2014: The Biggest Winners and Losers from Canada

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    Rogers Cup 2014 offered plenty of excitement in both the ATP and WTA. There was star power with the likes of Roger Federer and the resurgent Venus Williams. And there were plenty of surprises, most of them delivered by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

    The winners and losers column this week is our commentary on contending players. It's a wake-up call for some and a reawakening for others as men's and women's tennis becomes deeper and more competitive.

    Some top players will be eager to turn their flops into flourishes. The Rogers Cup sets up for redemption in Cincinnati and great competition for the U.S. Open, which tips off in two weeks.

Loser: Nick Kyrgios

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    There’s no question that Nick Kyrgios is a phenomenal talent, but two-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray showed him that there is a long road ahead to becoming a top contender. Kyrgios was undressed 6-2, 6-2 in only 54 minutes in the second round at the Canada Open.

    The hype machine on Kyrgios needs to replace a gasket and invest more maintenance in its long-term reliability. It’s going to be awhile, if expectations are met, before the young Aussie rolls along like a smooth, powerful locomotive.

    Kyrgios clearly was unable to have the patience to rally from the baseline with Murray. He wanted to impose his power but unraveled too often against Murray’s stonewall defense. His powerful serve was unable to control the match, and instead it was Murray who dominated with his serve and return of serve. There was nothing Kyrgios did that could throw off the savvy Scotsman.

    It’s another reminder of just how hard it is for young players to move up in the ultracompetitive ATP, where top players have spent years staking out their territory, training and devoting their lives to maximizing their careers. Kyrgios got a lesson in dedication from a champion opponent who knows all about the highs and lows of adversity.

    Eventually, Kyrgios will learn to play with more of Murray’s composure to augment his own powerful talent, but sometimes the only way to get there is to suffer through these kinds of humiliating losses.

Winner: Canada Open Final 2005

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    Tennis fans were all abuzz about young Nick Kyrgios taking on Andy Murray in the second round. It was a measuring-stick match of sorts for Kyrgios, but also an intergenerational match, one of those times that present greatness meets possible future greatness. But there was hardly time for a song and a dance before the speakers were unplugged and the party broken.

    Nine years ago, the final of the Canada Open featured young Rafael Nadal against aging legend Andre Agassi. It was not only an overlap of tennis generations, but the meeting has been validated as a special occasion. Most important, it was a great match.

    Agassi was one of the most accomplished ball-strikers on hard courts. Against Nadal, he was the one dictating most of the offense, several times pulling the Spaniard off the court and looking to set up patient winners.

    But the difference was Nadal’s legs and retrieving. Time and again, he reached out to send back Agassi’s shots and reset the point. Nadal showed a veteran’s patience, spinning the ball back and looking for the optimum time to deal his offense against a player who was less apt to defend than to control.

    Nadal was consistent, and even after dropping the second set was able to lift his game against Agassi's tiring legs. He won the Rogers Cup, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1. Oh, and it was clear that Nadal was not just a clay-court specialist.

    And that was the final takeaway in the match. Nadal’s composure and mental strength were already being honed by his mature concentration. There have been countless rising stars, but only a few have understood how to execute their gifts to arrive at the top. For Kyrgios, Dominic Thiem and other young guns, it remains to be seen if they will possess the kind of special tenacity that Nadal already had a decade ago.

Loser: Maria Sharapova

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    True or false? The better Serena Williams plays the more likely it is that Maria Sharapova will lose.

    Well, if this were a head-to-head question, it would certainly be true with Serena dominating at a rate of 16-2.

    A win against Carla Suarez Navarro would have set a quarterfinal match of Sharapova against Venus Williams (Sharapova has had much more success with this matchup, leading 5-3). Instead, Sharapova fell in three sets, after 49 unforced errors and only six of 19 break-point chances. Was the thought of defeating Venus and Serena too much at this point?

    Sharapova dominated the clay-court season, but her baseline slugging needs the support of sharper serving and more variety. There are more players who can give her problems on hard courts, specifically Serena, who has superior serving, power and variety. Someone like Suarez Navarro used a lot of spin and angles to make Sharapova feel that she had to hit bigger shots. She was too erratic. 

    So maybe the Serena effect is plausible. When Serena loses, Sharapova is bashing her way to victories. When she wins, Sharapova fades.

    In the end, Serena probably wishes she could have played Sharapova rather than Venus. Venus was the surprise finalist from their half of the draw.

Winner: Williams Sisters

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    What a match. World No. 1 Serena Williams battled older sister Venus in three high-octane sets of power vs. power from every conceivable place on the tennis court. And unlike many of their past matches that could show tight play and plenty of errors, this one had plenty of quality tennis shots and some uber-competitive fire.

    Maybe both players, even with their decorated signatures in the record books, could feel a greater sense of maturity in playing each other. There was nothing to lose from the standpoint of pride or proof, but rather a chance to take it to each other like it was 25 years ago on the courts in Compton, California.

    It was their 25th professional encounter, and it was Venus who snapped a five-match losing streak over five years to her younger sister, pulling within 14-11 in their rivalry. She rallied after losing a tough opening set to dominate the final two sets for the 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-3 victory.

    Best of all, we got to watch Venus' beautiful backhand. Her tall, athletic frame reaches down and delivers a compact but powerful stroke, producing one of the great shots in history. She was on, and she attacked with relish.

    Venus is also back in the top 20 and showed the world that she can be a contender at the U.S. Open, and at least able to upset any of the top seeds on a given day. No doubt her play will inspire younger sister Serena to defend her U.S. Open title.

Loser: Novak Djokovic

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    We have to give Novak Djokovic a loser tag this week for his crushing 6-2, 6-2 defeat to an inspired Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Then again, this might have been the best thing that could have happened to the world No. 1.

    After a draining match against Gael Monfils, Djokovic had a murderer’s row of opponents lined up and waiting on his way to the Rogers Cup title. To endure and win would have certainly been a greater physical cost that perhaps would have added up more fatigue by late August and reduced, even slightly, his chances of winning the U.S. Open.

    Furthermore, Djokovic will be more rested to tackle Cincinnati, the one Masters tournament that he has not won. His draw will be kinder, and a great effort here would be followed by a week of rest before the U.S. Open kicks off.

    Following the U.S. Open, Djokovic has big titles to defend in the fall season, and he at least wants to win one or two of them to ensure that he holds off any challenges to his No. 1 ranking.

    Djokovic is a gamer, and he has often exhausted himself the past few years trying to win everything. This is admirable and he certainly has the mentality to keep fighting. So, losing Canada might be the proverbial blessing in disguise, a sort of reverse Pyrrhic defeat.

Winner: Agnieszka Radwanska

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    Out of a quiet and disappointing season, Agnieskza Radwanska may have announced again her candidacy as a Grand Slam contender. She rolled along against streaking Venus Williams, 6-4, 6-2, with the control that has made her one of the premier shot-makers in tennis.

    Prior to the Canada Open, Radwanska had flown beneath the accomplishments of Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Simona Halep, Eugenie Bouchard and Serena Williams. It seemed that more powerful players and younger players would keep her from being a dominant player.

    Consequently, it was easy to overlook Radwanska's week after the war of the Williams sisters.

    But she earned her Rogers Cup with steady and efficient play, and maybe it's enough to signal that she is still a contender.

    However, the questions are far from over, and it really boils down to one important theme: Does she have enough offensive clout to win a major and continue her journey as a second (albeit late blooming) version of Martina Hingis?

    All in all, it's great for fans to see her play well. More variety and tennis spice makes her an intriguing matchup with whomever she plays. She should feel great about her chances to make a run at the U.S. Open for that elusive first major title.

Loser: Grigor Dimitrov

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    Grigor Dimitrov has earned the right to be critiqued. Welcome to the world of expectations.

    Dimitrov was hardly great in his opening matches, but by Friday the draw had opened up for him to win his first Masters tournament. Novak Djokovic was long gone, Andy Murray was packing for Cincinnati and Rafael Nadal was wearing a cast. There was every opportunity for him to go to the finals and face Roger Federer in what would have been must-see tennis.

    If we take the glass is half full approach, we recognize Dimitrov's clutch efforts in defeating sturdy Kevin Anderson, who has quietly been playing the best tennis of his career in recent months. Dimitrov staved off match point and won a third-set tiebreaker. He's performed in the clutch well enough that it seems he indeed does have the stuff to be a great champion.

    But Saturday's semifinal against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga exposed a big problem in his game, one that will need to be solved if he does rise to the next level.

    Dimitrov's opponents recognize that his forehand is much more powerful and aggressive than his backhand. And now Dimitrov has apparently decided that he is going to hit slice (underspin) shots as if he were the male version of Steffi Graf. Against Anderson, it was designed to get the big man to reach and produce errors, but against the quicker Tsonga, it was setting up cupcakes in front of a starving mob.

    Tsonga murdered Dimitrov's methodical slice backhand. It was not a weapon at all, but merely a way for him to play longer rallies. The detriment to this strategy is that it takes away his more aggressive mentality and he shrinks to the back of the baseline like a schoolboy at a formal dance.

    Dimitrov must find more topspin power. He can hit the ball on the rise, but has rarely learned to be offensive with this wing. Instead, his backhand slice lacks pace or surprise, and anything short is like standing on the curb and waving at gangsters with Tommy guns.

    "It's not an easy loss for me considering that I had played such a good match yesterday," Dimitrov said, per "I thought he played a good match, but I think I didn't raise the bar."

    Will he adjust at Cincinnati? If not, Dimitrov will be hard-pressed to win the U.S. Open.

Winner: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

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    Welcome back to the ATP Tour, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. We know that it's been a long time since we last saw you play inspired tennis in your run to the 2013 French Open semifinals. But how in the world did you take the toughest portion of the Canada Open draw and make it your personal punching bag?

    What switch did you turn on that transformed you into someone resembling a hybrid of 2006 James Blake and 2010 Robin Soderling?

    Was it just as simple as blistering serves, big groundstrokes and purposeful footwork, as if you had decided that caring and winning must be merged together?

    You just obliterated Novak Djokovic, outlasted Andy Murray, punished Grigor Dimitrov and finished off Roger Federer. Has there ever been such a conquest? It was like defeating the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

    The amazing thing is that none of us saw this coming. For months, you had done little to reverse a sluggish decline, and we wondered if your days as a dangerous prospect were truly over. Not that you're getting any younger, but it's nice to know you still have the raw materials to wreak havoc at big tournaments.

    This doesn't mean you've suddenly found the road to Newport, Rhode Island. For one week, you overwhelmed, perhaps surprised, the best players in the world. The question will be, as always, if you have gained the toughness and mental strength to compete for big titles. We'll start with the U.S. Open. Is this your time to emulate Stanislas Wawrinka's rise to the 2014 Australian Open title?

    For now, let's enjoy this one. Your second Masters title is worthy of two Golden Breadstick awards. See you in Cincinnati.

Loser: Roger Federer

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    Understand that Roger Federer had a terrific week in getting to the final of the Canada Open. We are not branding him a "loser" for this accomplishment and a 7-5, 7-6(3) defeat in a Masters final.

    But this was a match that he really needed, a match that could have galvanized him for the U.S. Open. He has been very good this year, but has continued to fall short for big titles. He was runner-up at Indian Wells, Monte Carlo and Wimbledon. Add Canada to the list.

    Federer's draw was also not too tough. We surmised earlier this week that Marin Cilic would be his toughest match until the final. He did arrive in the final, but ran into a buzzsaw with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga serving and playing at perhaps his finest level since Australia 2008.

    Federer can still win a Masters 1000 tournament and a major. He needs a good draw, efficient and energy-saving wins and someone who is not firing on all cylinders in the final.

    Federer is right there, but this week had to feel like another lost opportunity. Yes, he is contending, but that's small consolation to the legendary champion. And right now his progress has been stalled and he will need to get over the hump if if he wants to win one of those trophies that used to seem so easy to win.

Winner: Western & Southern Open

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    Next week, there are great draws in both the women's and men's brackets for the Western & Southern Open at Cincinnati.

    For the men, Novak Djokovic will have a much more manageable path in chasing the one Masters title he has not won. He is sure to play with unrestrained energy and motivation. Andy Murray and Roger Federer in the bottom half of the draw could lead to another interesting battle in the quarterfinals.

    For the women, Simona Halep is back, but could face Venus Williams in her second match. Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova bring more power to the bottom of the bracket. On the top, Agnieszka Radwanska would most likely have to get through Serena Williams.

    With many of the top seeds in the Canada Open falling early, expect Cincinnati to be a forum of redemption, more fire and and perhaps greater matches ahead.

    It all sets up for a very competitive U.S. Open at the end of the month.