The evening session on Day 4 of the Rogers Cup tennis tournament was a highly anticipated one as you had the chance to see Rafael Nadal play doubles, Tommy Haas play singles and doubles, Radek Stepanek play doubles, Gilles Simon play doubles, Roger Federer play singles, Fernando Gonzalez play singles, and two Canadians, Milos Raonic and Frederic Niemeyer, play singles. Due to all that star power it was a sold out night.
All day long I kept my fingers crossed that the weather would clear up as it had been raining on and off all day long. It dried up around 4:00 and stayed rain free (that's all we really ask for!) for the rest of the night.
Arriving at Uniprix Stadium around 6 p.m. I headed over to Court 9 where, due to the rain delays, Tommy Haas of Germany was facing off against the 6'10" Croat Ivo Karlovic. This was a tough 1st round opponent that Haas had drawn. Haas on his way back from a devastating injury that kept him off the tour for a good long while had his hands full with Karlovic. Karlovic has a massive serve that is incredibly had to handle nevermind break. When we got there Haas was already down a break in the first set and ending on the short side of a 6-4 1st set score.
The outside courts are really great places to watch tennis matches from. You are right on top of the players and can really feel the speed of their shots and see the expressions on their faces. Adds a whole other dimension to watching. Speaking of expressions, Haas's were not of the positive variety and got even worse during the 2nd set. He was really having a hard time with Karlovic's serve (he's not the only one) and was constantly yelling (in German) at himself or in the direction of his racket. Neither could break the other's serve, so the 2nd set went to a tiebreaker with somehow Haas being able to break Karlovic's serve a couple of times.
This seemed to turn around the match and (even though I did not watch the whole 3rd set) Haas was able to win the 3rd set 6-4. He was now on to the 2nd round.
We then tried to catch some of Rafael Nadal/Francisco Roig (Spain) vs. Max Mirnyi (Belarus)/Andy Ram (Israel) on the Bank National Court, but it coincided with Roger Federer (Sui) against Quebec's Frederic Niemeyer on Centre Court. All 11,000 seats had a bum in them in anticipation of watching Federer play after a 6 week layoff due to the birth of his twin daughters and the last match for Frederic Niemeyer (retiring despite signs in the crowd pleading with him to stay around). I presume if you had asked anyone at the game, though in their hearts they wanted Niemeyer to win, they did not give him a snowball's chance in hell. Well, Niemeyer's play surprised everyone, even, I'm sure secretly, Federer.
What Niemeyer has always had throughout his career is a big serve. On this night it was firing on all pistons. Both men continued to hold serve until we got to the 6-6 tiebreak. Federer, though we should not be surprised by what he can do anymore, showed no signs of rust. This was not a case of him playing poorly so Niemeyer was able to stay in the match. Niemeyer forced Federer to play some high quality tennis. In the tiebreak, however, some mistakes by Niemeyer and him not taking advantage of some rare mistakes by Federer, Federer won 7-3 and the 1st set 7-6.
Now you might think that getting so close and not winning would crush Niemeyer's spirit, but he continued to play well in the 2nd set. Federer, ever the opportunist, was able to break him once and that was all he needed for a 6-4 win.
Niemeyer's career was over, but he went out on a high note even though he lost. This was a high quality tennis match and for the most part he was able to stay shot for shot with the World No. 1 player. It gave you goosebumps at times watching it.
Next up on Centre Court was a doubles match that saw the French duo of Gilles Simon and Jeremy Chardy face Tommy Haas (again!) and Radek Stepanek (Cze). Though I generally like doubles this was a rather dull game and I could hear all kinds of noise coming from the Bank National Court next-door and curiosity got the best of me so I meandered over.
The Bank National Court was fuller that I had ever seen it. Every seat was taken, people were sitting on the stairs and standing three deep around the top. All, except a sizable number of Chilean/Gonzalez fans, were there urging on another Canadian player, Milos Raonic.
Raonic is ranked (not after this tournament he won't be) in the 690s in the World rankings and he was taken on World No. 11 player, Fernando Gonzalez. To the crowd's delight this 18-year-old was not only holding his own, but he was up one break and eventually took the first set 6-4. Amazing!
Raonic's big serve was on and he was also hitting better quality groundstrokes than he had against Michael Llodra the day before. He was feeling like he belonged in the main draw and it showed in his play.
The 2nd set produced some long rallies that had everyone on the edge of their seats. It went to another tiebreak and it couldn't have been closer. Raonic even found himself serving for the match at one point, but he committed some errors (tired from playing 3 games in 3 days?) and fell 8-6.
Once again the Canadian player could have been crushed by coming so close, but Raonic continued to plug away and forcing Gonzalez to play good tennis. You could tell both players were exhausted and even the 18-year-old's legs were not doing what he wanted them to do any more. After some tense points and moments, Raonic fell 6-4 in the 3rd and deciding set.
Though he lost Raonic once again opened many tennis fans' eyes here that he is going to be quite a force in men's tennis for many years to come!
Photos by Maha Haddad