By Max Gao
On a sunny and sweltering Monday at the Sobeys Stadium, tennis fans in the GTA braved the heat to witness the kick-off of main-draw action for the 2021 National Bank Open presented by Rogers. 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic made a winning return to Toronto, while the wild-card pairing of Félix Auger-Aliassime and Alexis Galarneau fell in a spirited first-round battle.
Cilic, Fognini, Bublik Record First Wins of the Week
In the first match of the week on Stadium Court, former World No. 3 Marin Cilic battled past Spain’s Albert Ramos-Viñolas, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, in two hours and 13 minutes. Cilic, a two-time former quarterfinalist in Toronto, sprinted out of the blocks, dominating the early exchanges with his serve and forehand and breaking twice en route to securing the opening set. While Ramos-Viñolas was able to battle back and restore parity, Cilic was able to earn a break in the fourth game of the decider that would later prove decisive. Dropping just one point on his first serve in the final set, the Croat booked his place in the second round, where he will face No. 6 seed Casper Ruud, who is in the midst of a breakout season.
“Today was brutal conditions, very humid, very hot,” Cilic told Sportsnet’s Arash Madani after the match. “[In the] second set, I just missed a few balls — easy ones, a few forehand sitters — and just lost my serve a couple of times there because of that. [Ramos-Viñolas] is really solid from the back, gets a lot of balls back, lefty, plays always tough … But I’m happy that I managed it.”
But Cilic wasn’t the only one who survived a three-set battle under the sun on Stadium Court. Italian veteran Fabio Fognini recovered from a poor first-set tiebreak to edge out Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-4. The match was largely characterized by a number of momentum shifts, but it was ultimately Fognini who was able to recover from a break down in the final set before breaking to win in two hours and 24 minutes. The World No. 32 will now meet Russia’s Andrey Rublev, who is coming off a run to the Olympic gold medal in mixed doubles.
In the final match of the day session, Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik served eight aces and won 86% (24/28) of his first-serve points en route to earning a solid 6-4, 6-4 win over Daniel Evans of Great Britain in an hour and 40 minutes. The Kazakh, who recorded a career-high ranking of No. 37 in the world a few months ago, will now square off against No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev, whom he lost to at the Tokyo Olympics a couple of weeks ago.
Humbert, Duckworth Brave Heat to Advance; Canadian Qualifier Schnur Falls to Harris
Over on the Rogers 5G Grandstand, France’s Ugo Humbert — fresh off a run to the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics — needed an hour and 39 minutes to knock out Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego, 6-3, 6-4. The French lefty will now face No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, whom he defeated a couple of weeks ago in Tokyo.
Joining him in the second round will be Australian qualifier James Duckworth, who overcame American Taylor Fritz, 7-6(2), 6-3. Having failed to qualify in his last three appearances, Duckworth has already bested his best-ever finish at this tournament and will be looking to take things one step further against No. 16 seed Jannik Sinner.
After two solid wins in qualifying over the weekend, Canada’s Brayden Schnur was looking to make a statement in his fourth main-draw appearance at his home tournament. But the Pickering native met his match in South Africa’s Lloyd Harris, who defeated the Canadian, 6-3, 6-2 in an hour and 17 minutes. Harris has now set up a rematch with two-time defending champion and No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal, whom he stunned in three sets at the Citi Open in Washington last week.
Auger-Aliassime, Galarneau Fall in Doubles
On Court 1, the all-Russian pairing of Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev staved off a valiant effort from the all-Canadian pairing of Félix Auger-Aliassime and Alexis Galarneau, 6-4, 7-6(6). Khachanov and Rublev will now meet No. 2 seeds and two-time Grand Slam champions Juan Sebastián Cabal and Robert Farah while also preparing for their respective second-round matches in singles.
Other doubles matches on Monday all came down to the wire in a final-set match tiebreak. The winners include Aslan Karatsev and Dusan Lajovic, who defeated Alex de Minaur and Cameron Norrie, 6-4, 6-7(4), 10-8; Matwe Middelkoop and Luke Saville, who defeated Jamie Murray and Max Purcell, 6-7(5), 6-1, 13-11; and Oliver Marach and Philipp Oswald, who defeated Gonzalo Escobar and Ariel Behan, 5-7, 6-3, 13-11.