Preview: Red-Hot Kyrgios Ready For Montreal Campaign
Nick Kyrgios recently spoke of that “small window” of opportunity that comes part and parcel with a deep, second-week run at a major, that sudden locker-room swagger that can win you matches before you’ve even stepped out onto the court.
As the surging Canberran heads into the National Bank Open, he’s thrown that window wide open, sash and all.
A first-time Grand Slam finalist at 27, the Wimbledon runner-up is playing the most inspired tennis of his career. In addition to his exploits at SW19, where he became the first unseeded entrant to reach the final since countryman Mark Philippoussis in 2003, he notched consecutive semi-finals in Houston, Stuttgart and Halle, and on Sunday snapped a three-year-long title drought via a 6-4, 6-3 triumph over Yoshihito Nishioka in Washington. He also became also became the first player in the tournament’s 53-year history to sweep the men’s singles and doubles (with Jack Sock) in the same week.
“I felt like I was one of the best players in the world this year by far,” said Kyrgios, who opened 2022 at No. 93 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, but has since jumped to No. 37. “I feel like I have really kind of reinvented myself this year."
When the Montreal draw was released, all eyes went to a potential second-round convergence between Kyrgios and the reigning World No. 1 and defending champion Daniil Medvedev, who last week bagged a title of his own in Los Cabos. But for that to come to fruition, Kyrgios will first have to get past promising young Argentine Sebastian Baez on Tuesday.
Kyrgios claimed their only previous encounter, a 6-4, 6-0 opener earlier this year in Indian Wells, but the 21-year-old Baez has since gone on to a career-high No. 31, claiming his first ATP title in Estoril (def. Frances Tiafoe, 6-3, 6-2) and reaching the final in Bastad (l. to countryman Francisco Cerundolo, 7-6(4), 6-2).
It’s already been a memorable summer for Brit Cameron Norrie, who in July punched through to his first major semiifinal at Wimbledon, and as the defending champion again reached the Los Cabos final (l. to Medvedev, 7-5, 6-0). Now one spot behind his career-high No. 10 ranking, the former Texas Christian University standout will look to break new ground on Canadian soil, where he has yet to advance beyond the second round.
Norrie will open his campaign when he takes on the talented 21-year-old Brandon Nakashima for the second time in a matter of weeks, having topped the American in the Round of 16 in Eastbourne, 6-4, 6-2, to up his ATP Head2Head advantage to 2-1.
Like Norrie, the former University of Virginia star Nakashima broke new ground at Wimbledon when he advanced to the fourth round of a major for the first time, and followed that with consecutive quarter-finals in Atlanta and Los Cabos.
It’s been nearly a decade-and-a-half since 13th seed Marin Cilic made his National Bank Open debut. The two-time quarter-finalist, 33, will open against Borna Coric in an all-Croatian affair on Court 9. He’s a spotless 7-0 versus his compatriot, his most recent win coming in the second round of this same event in 2018. A Roland Garros semi-finalist, Cilic returns to the court after sitting out Wimbledon due to Covid-19.
For the second year in a row at the National Bank Open, Canada’s Vasek Pospisil finds himself matched up against Tommy Paul in the first round. The home favourite hopes to exact revenge from a 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-3 loss to the American in that encounter, their only other meeting at the tour level.
Fellow Canadian wildcard Alexis Galarneau is matched up against 15th seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. American Frances Tiafoe and Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi will go head to head for the second time in 2022, Tiafoe having claimed a tight 7-5, 7-5, 7-6(5) first-round win at Roland Garros.
Other notable matches on the schedule include: Gael Monfils vs. Pedro Martinez, and Newport champion Maxime Cressy vs. Aslan Karatsev, as well as the continuation of the rain-called Denis Shapovalov vs. Alex de Minaur affair, deadlocked at 3/3 in the second-set tiebreak. Originally scheduled for Monday, the much-anticipated match between Andy Murray and Taylor Fritz will kick off the night session on Centre Court.
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“I’m really looking forward to playing my first match here,” said the 26-year-old Italian ahead of Tuesday’s opener against Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta. “I always joke with my team that I never had the chance to play here.”
“In a way, you should expect that in a 1000 like this all the matches are really tough,” said Berrettini, No. 14 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. “The tricky part is going to be my first opponent. Pablo is a great player. It’s also a new tournament for me. Until you step on the court, you don’t really feel the atmosphere and everything. I’m curious about it.”
Berrettini topped Carreno Busta in their only previous encounter earlier this year in the Round of 16 at the Australian Open, winning, 7-5, 7-6(4), 6-4.
It hasn’t been an easy year for Berrettini. After Indian Wells, he sustained an injury to his right hand that necessitated surgery, forcing him to withdraw from the clay-court swing. Then, just when he was rediscovering his momentum — nine straight wins and back-to-back titles in Stuttgart and London — he tested positive for COVID-19 and was ruled out of Wimbledon.
“I started to think it was like a prank or something, a joke, because I was feeling pretty good,” said Berrettini. “It was really tough…I was by myself. I was quarantined. There wasn’t anybody to hug or watch a movie with. It was just me in my room trying not to think about what would happen, think about the future.”
In the end, Berrettini says he used the time to recharge and mentally prepare himself for the North American hard-court summer.