It is Montreal's turn to host the ladies this year for the Rogers Cup from August 12 – 20, 2006. Usually the turnout player-wise for the Montreal tournament is good because it a Masters tournament (only 9 of them in a season) that happens just before the U.S. Open. Unfortunately this year because of some injuries (Justine Henin-Hardenne, Venus Williams, Amelie Muresmo, Elena Bovina, Mary Pierce) and fatigue (Maria Sharapova) there will be some high ranking players missing. Using the thinking of the glass half full as opposed to half empty, we will still have the opportunity to see such great tennis players as Kim Clijsters, Martina Hingis, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and the legendary Martina Navratilova.
New at this year's tournament and fairly new on the tour itself will be the use of instant replay, a new centre court video screen, microphones on the players, coaches and umpires during warm ups, pre-game interviews with the players, and the allowing of on court coaching for the players. The instant replay uses new modern technology and allows players to challenge calls they feel are incorrect. Once a player challenges a call, which they are allowed to do twice per set and they retain the number if they are correct, the Hawk-Eye technology will determine whether the line call was correct or not. At the same time the fans in the stands will be able to see the review on the big video screen. A new wrinkle that will be actually debut in Montreal will be players being able to receive on-court coaching. The players will be allowed to call for this once per set and during set breaks. Most of these innovations have been implemented with the fans in mind in order to make the watching of a tennis match more enjoyable.
On Saturday I attended the first day of qualifications for the Rogers Cup. The qualifications might not involve the names that are familiar to tennis fans, but that definitely does not mean that you don't get high quality tennis and some to-the-death battles. There were 48 players in the qualification rounds (2 rounds) and only 12 of them will win their way onto the main draw. The only names I recognized in the qualification side were Australian Nicole Pratt, Spaniard Virginia Ruano Pascual and Cara Black of Zimbabwe. One of the advantages or pluses of watching tennis in Montreal is how close up you can get to the players. On the outside courts you can really watch a game from court level. These courts offer great opportunities to watch players practice as well. Midday for one half hour there was a sizable crowd watching Canadian/Quebecer Aleksandra Wozniak practice. The first match I took in was Ahsha Rolle (United States) versus Anastassia Rodionova (Russia). Rodionova was the favourite as she was ranked 21st out all of the qualifiers and 99th on the WTA rankings. Rolle started off strong going up 2-0, but then she fell apart losing the next four games. Her serve was really inconsistent and let her down and she served several double faults. Rolle called for her coach (new rule) during one of the breaks, but she still ended up losing the first set 6-4. At the beginning of the second set Rolle's frustration was visibly mounting and an outburst earned her a warning from the umpire. The warning seemed to clear her head as she began to show some spunk and broke Rodionova for a 1-3. It seemed it was now Rodionova's turn to let the pressure get to her as she had a little outburst when the umpire called her 'Madame' claiming that she was not a 'madame'. A little childish. Rolle's serve broke down again and Rodionova broke her right back. The seesaw battle continued as Rolle broke Rodionova for a 2-4 score. Rodionova began to yell at herself in Russian and complained to the umpire about a kite that was flying in the park. After a lengthy 9th game which included at least a dozen deuces, Rolle finally held her serve for a 4-5 score. Rodionova served out the second set to win 6-4. She would be going on to the second round.
The second game I saw Shikha Uberoi from India facing the veteran Nicole Pratt of Australia. Pratt is 33 years old, is ranked 23rd amongst qualifiers and has been on the tour since 1989. Uberoi is ranked 163rd on the WTA tour and her younger sister Neha is also a player in the qualifying rounds. Uberoi started off really shaky and Pratt showing her experience broke her in the 1st game. The inconsistent play by Uberoi made it much easier for Pratt. Pratt coasts to an easy 6-2 first set win. To gather herself, Uberoi calls for her coach in between the first and second sets. Doesn't seem to have had any effect initially as Pratt again breaks Uberoi in the 1st game of the 2nd set. Uberoi seems to be relaxing as the game goes on and breaks Pratt in the 4th game to make it 2-2. As her confidence grows she begins to take control of the game and really moves Pratt around the court. The crowd also gets behind Uberoi. After calling for her coach again, she breaks Pratt in the 8th game for a 5-3 lead and served out for the 6-3 2nd set win. The third set was on serve at 2-1 when Uberoi called for a medical time out and got some attention from the physiotherapist. She continued playing but was no longer the player who was able to win the second set and Pratt ended up winning 2 sets to 1.
This was a great beginning to what could prove to be a very intense, competitive and enjoyable tournament – even without all the big names. Maybe this is the week that a younger up-and-comer breaks through!