The second big step on the path to the US Open gets underway on Monday. It’s a Master Series 1000 tournament, meaning it’s mandatory for the vast majority of the players on tour and the field is a solid 56 players deep.
The Canadian Open is unique in that it rotates venues (kind of like a golf tournament), moving back and forth between Toronto and Montreal. That factor makes judging conditions and court speeds difficult. Court speeds are a much-debated topic in tennis circles and CPI numbers don’t always match up with players experiences. One way to verify court speeds is to see how often players hold serve and make it to a tiebreak and Montreal has had less than 40% of its matches include a tiebreak in the last two stops here. That should mean lots of breaks of serve and a shot for some upsets.
Of course, a slower hard court also means players who thrive on outdoor hards vs indoor hards and players who enjoy clay vs grass may be successful this week (the last winner in Montreal was Zverev in 2017, someone who enjoys clay as his best surface; Nadal has also won this event twice in Montreal). In addition to court speeds, it is important to note, as with all the Slams and many of the Masters Series 1000 events, it is extremely hard to find value in outright picks, as these events are dominated by the ‘Big Four’. Since Federer ushered in this era in 2003 the last fifteen Canadian Opens have been won by one of the Big Four thirteen times. The two exceptions were Tsonga in 2014 and Zverev in 2017 (Federer was, in keeping with Big Four dominance, the finalists both times). And those two exceptions weren’t even large deviations from the norm — Zverev was #8 in the world at the time and Tsonga was #15.
So, this week we are looking for elite players who can break serve often on a hard court and who have a decent record against Big Four competition. Let’s dig in.
Nadal looms over the top of the bracket and he casts a dark shadow. He’s won this event four times, including last year and twice in Montreal. A slower surface means he could be even more dominate, as he is obviously the greatest clay player of all time and someone who has won the US Open (a slower hard court event in this block of the season) three times and as recently as 2017. Nadal’s quarter does not look daunting as he will be faced with Borna Coric, Fabio Fognini and David Goffin as the seeded players. Coric may not be 100% healthy, as he missed Wimbledon with a hamstring injury and has only made one appearance since, a first-round loss in Umag. David Goffin is 1–4 lifetime against Nadal and that one win came on the fastest of surfaces at the Nitto ATP Finals. Goffin is also 6–5 lifetime in Canada, losing in the first round last year, which is hardly an intimidating record. Fognini is 4–11 lifetime vs Nadal and does have the requisite ability to break serve. The question with Fog is always one of motivation. His price is big, at 50/1, but, having already beaten Nadal in 2019 it is hard to see him doing so again. Fog hasn’t won more than two matches in a row on hardcourts yet in 2019 and this quarter feels like Nadal’s to lose.
The second quarter has some very, very interesting names in it. The seeded players are Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roberto Bautista Agut, Gael Monfils, and Kei Nishikori and they are joined by exciting floaters like Hubert Hurkacz, Taylor Fritz, and Diego Schwartzman. Let’s look at the negatives and see if we can’t cross some of these guys out. Hurkacz and Fritz play each other in the first round and that is a bit of a coin flip. Hurkacz is a great, young player but, someone who hasn’t made a semi-final on tour yet. Fritz is maybe one of the hottest players on tour, making back-to-back finals in Atlanta and Los Cabos.
What are the odds he can make a deep run for a third straight week? That seems like a lot to ask, especially with a draw where he most likely will have to go through Hurkaz, Tstsipas, Monfils, RBA/Nishikori, Nadal. That’s a gross path. Monfils is off the list, like Coric, with health concerns. Monfils has a big hardcourt title this year (in Rotterdam, had an outright on him that week!!) and has the requisite ability to break serve on hard courts. But, he injured his achilles tendon in Indian Wells earlier this year and hasn’t been the same since- he pulled out of Wimbledon with a related injury and health is a major concern for him. Schwartzman is coming off a title in Los Cabos and in its short time on tour, Adrian Mannarino is only player, in 2017, to play Los Cabos and make it past the third round in Canada. So, players travelling from Mexico should be fade candidates all week. Both Nishikori and RBA having similar make-ups when considering their chances here this week. They both have great hard court pedigree (Nishikori won Brisbane this year, is #8 in the world and breaks serve over 25% of the time on hards… RBA won Doha this year, is #15 in the world and breaks serve 23% on hards) but also have very average records in Canada. Nishikori hasn’t played since Wimbledon and RBA lost in Gstaad to Joao Sousa. Not to mention, they’ll have to go through each other and Tsitsipas, then Nadal.
That leaves Tsitsipas in the top half of the bracket as an outright option. He doesn’t break serve as often as you’d like, coming in just under 20% but, he does hold serve almost 90% of the time and when he plays the inevitable tiebreaks… he is winning them 56% of the time, which is pretty good. Tsitsipas had success here last year making the final in Toronto, and he has had success against the Big Four already in his young career (he beat both Nadal and Federer this year and he beat Djokovic here last year). He showed great form last week in Washington, losing a tight third set tiebreak to eventual champ Nick Kyrgios. He is #5 in the world and he is defending 600 points, so motivation should be high. At 12/1 he is the choice in the top half to oppose Nadal.
The bottom half of the bracket should be wide open. The big seeds in third and fourth quarters, the ones with byes, all look vulnerable. Khachanov has had a very inconsistent 2019, switching racquets and exiting in the third round or worse in all but two tournaments so far. Zverev has, likewise, looked all over the map in 2019, struggling with off-the-court issues and choking in big moments multiple times, including his last appearance in Hamburg. He has seldom been able to win with ease and asking him to get through six rounds, playing three sets every time, in summer Canadian heat, seems a big ask. Medvedev is coming off a final in Washington and most likely has to play Kyrgios again in the second round, while Thiem has never, ever won a match in Canada. This makes the bottom half seem ripe for a flyer. The Canadian contingent of FAA, Raonic and Shapo would all be appealing, based on stats alone, if they didn’t have to fight the history of Canadians under-performing in Canada. The home pressure has seemed immense in the past and it looks like Raonic and FAA will have to play each other in round two. Shapo has lost six straight matches dating back to the clay season and doesn’t seem in form to challenge for a deep run. Kyrgios is in the bottom half but, like Fognini, he is mostly about motivation and seeing as he is coming off his biggest title ever it is highly doubtful he’ll be 100% for this week.
So, if the big dogs in the bottom half all have marks against them let’s look for someone who has a draw that could be considered beatable. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga has won the title here before, he has a winnable first two matches, in a portion of the bracket with Jan-Lennard Struff, Dusan Lajovic and Nic Bashilashvili, three guys who would consider clay their best surface. His seeded player is Zverev, who as mentioned above is having a tough 2019. There is a good chance Tsonga could make the quarter-finals and at 33/1, that seems like a good bet. In the fourth quarter, it is best to look to oppose Thiem. In his little subsection of the draw, there are a few options. Berrettini is someone who should be able to really ramp up his game for outdoor, slower hard courts. He is coming in less than 100% fit though, so he’s out this year. Cilic, like Khachanov, is having a bizarrely bad 2019. And neither has a price befitting their current situation. The long shot that sticks out here is Pierre Hugues-Hebert. He’s already beaten Shapo on hard courts in 2019, Thiem’s never won a match in Canada and Cilic is beatable (he’s only been past the second round of a tournament three times in 2019). PHH holds serve over 80% of the time, breaks serve just less than 20% of the time, and is approaching 0.500 in tiebreaks. At 150/1 to win or 66/1 to take the quarter, he is worth a flyer.
Tsitsipas 12/1, x1
Tsonga 33/1, x 0.5
PHH 66/1 to win 4th quarter, x0.5