By Max Gao
The boys are back in town.
Three years after their last appearance in Toronto, the men of the ATP Tour have returned to the grounds of the Sobeys Stadium to vie for the prestigious National Bank Open presented by Rogers title. But first, 24 players will have to fight through two rounds of qualifying this weekend (sans fans) to secure a coveted spot in the main draw.
Toplining the qualifying weekend is American rising star Frances Tiafoe. A former quarterfinalist at the Australian Open, the 23-year-old, who earned his first top-5 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas at Wimbledon and made his Olympic debut in Tokyo earlier this summer, will be looking to build on his third-round showing in Toronto from three years ago. He will kick off his campaign against compatriot J.J. Wolf in the second match on Court 1, with Canadian wild card Steven Diez and No. 7 seed Emil Ruusuvuori also in his section of the draw.
Joining Tiafoe is No. 2 seed Tommy Paul, who made his top-50 debut just a couple of months ago. After successfully qualifying for the last edition of the tournament in Montreal, where he went on to reach the second round, the 24-year-old will make his debut in the Ontarian capital against Canadian standout Liam Draxl, who, after finishing a career-best season at the University of Kentucky, will be making his debut at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers. If he gets past Draxl in the second match on Stadium Court, Paul will need to fend off British left-hander Liam Broady or No. 8 seed Alexei Popyrin to punch a ticket to the main draw.
At the age of 19, Lorenzo Musetti is enjoying a breakthrough year on the professional tour after the Covid-19 pandemic stalled his progress in the abbreviated 2020 season. After beginning his season with two runner-up finishes on the ATP Challenger Tour, the young Italian reached the semifinals of the Abierto Telcel in Acapulco, defeating Tiafoe, Grigor Dimitrov and Diego Schwartzman along the way. Musetti was also two sets up on Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros before the World No. 1 stormed back and went on to win the tournament. He will take on Ecuadorian Emilio Gomez, who is making his first appearance since qualifying for the tournament in 2016, in the final match on Grandstand.
With a decade spanning nearly 25 years, World No. 12 Feliciano Lopez, 39, will be making his 16th appearance at Canada’s largest professional tennis tournament. Lopez famously made a run to the semifinals of this tournament in 2014, losing to Roger Federer. But in his four appearances since that inspired run, the Spaniard has been unable to progress past the second round of the main draw. He will begin his bid in the final match of the day on Stadium Court against Maxime Cressy, with a potential match against No. 3 seed Yoshihito Nishioka potentially looming on Sunday.
In addition to hometown heroes Diez and Draxl, Canadian wild cards Brayden Schnur and Peter Polansky — who have played in the main draw before — will be faced with a tall order on Saturday. Schnur, a big-serving Tar Heel from Pickering, will open his campaign against No. 6 seed Marcus Giron, while Polansky, a longtime veteran of Canadian tennis, will face No. 4 seed Dominik Koepfer.