Photo : Martin Sidorjak/Tennis Canada
Welcome to the Road to the National Bank Open. Every week, we will keep you updated on all the action on the ATP Tour as we build towards the National Bank Open in Montreal, which takes place from Aug. 8 to 14.
DAYS UNTIL THE NATIONAL BANK OPEN: 45
June is a unique month on the tennis tour.
It starts with the peak of the clay season before flipping to the complete opposite on the tennis court spectrum, grass.
Once the trophies are handed out in Paris, the focus immediately shifts to the All-England Club and everything becomes about Wimbledon.
Already the Championships are just a few days away, so how is the ATP Tour shaping up heading into the most famous tennis tournament on the planet?
The week of June 13 was the most critical in the lead-up to Wimbledon, with the two biggest ATP Tour events on grass taking place at the Queen’s Club and in Halle.
These two events have taken on even more importance since the grass season was extended by a week, which allowed for better fields at the two ATP 500 events because of the extra week between them and Roland-Garros.
So far, the grass-court season has been about as unpredictable as grass tennis is. The one constant has been Matteo Berrettini, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the best in the world on the surface.
Berrettini came into the Queen’s Club, where he is the defending champion, on the heels of a title last week in Stuttgart, a dramatic return to the tour after missing the entire clay season with an injury.
He was one of only two seeded players, the other being No. 7 Marin Cilic, a two-time Queen’s champion, to not only reach the quarter-finals, but to even win a match at this year’s cinch Championships. The other six seeds, including top seed and Roland-Garros runner-up Casper Ruud and 2021 Wimbledon semi-finalist Denis Shapovalov, lost in the first round.
The Italian would go on to defend his title, defeating Filip Krajinovic in straight sets in the final. Berrettini is a perfect 9-0 on grass in 2022 and has reached the final of his last four events on the surface dating back to last season, winning three of them.
The event in Halle, however, which featured about as strong a draw as you will ever see at an ATP 500 event, lived up to its billing.
Unlike Queen’s, there were few surprises, with 2021 Wimbledon semi-finalist Hubert Hurkacz claiming the title, defeating world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev in the final.
The Pole had quite the run in Halle, defeating defending champion Ugo Humbert in the second round, a pair of former Wimbledon quarter-finalists who are both very comfortable on grass, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Nick Kyrgios, in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, before taking down Medvedev in the final.
It was Medvedev’s second finals loss on grass in as many weeks, while Hurkacz improves to 5-0 in ATP finals in his career.
Playing a warm-up event before Wimbledon is not a big deal, as proven by six-time champion Novak Djokovic who seldom plays an event on grass before The Championships. That is the case this year, as the Serb’s first grass-court match will be the opening match of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships.
Since 2000, the Queen’s Club champion has gone on to reach the Wimbledon final seven times, with four of them winning the title. Three times the runner-up went on to reach the Wimbledon final, with one of them claiming the title.
Ten times this century has one of the Halle finalists reached the Wimbledon final, with the Halle champion going on to win Wimbledon five times. Every single one of those people was Roger Federer.
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Grand Slam bid continues?
At the end of Roland-Garros a couple of weeks ago, it was a popular theory that Rafael Nadal would announce his retirement following his 14th title at the clay-court major.
Instead, Nadal merely promised that he would “continue to fight” and in his post-match media availability revealed he had played through considerable pain in his foot that he could not continue to cope with, but would seek treatment that he hoped would allow him to continue playing.
This did not really clarify whether or not he would continue his bid for the Calendar Slam.
However, with each passing day it is looking more and more like Nadal will be competing at the All-England Club.
First, his uncle and former coach, Toni Nadal, stated that it was Rafa’s intention to play at Wimbledon. The 22-time major champion was then spotted practicing on grass at home in Mallorca.
In the last week, Nadal himself confirmed his desire to play Wimbledon. He has flown to London and has been spotted practicing at Aorangi Park, the Wimbledon practice facility. He has also been included in the draw and played at exhibition event over the past few days, beating Stan Wawrinka and losing to Félix Auger-Aliassime.
Barring any further setbacks, all signs point to the Spaniard will continue his attempt tennis’ greatest achievement.
Who’s in the mix at Wimbledon?
Considering that Nadal has won the first two Grand Slam titles of the year and is halfway to the Calendar Slam, even if the two-time Wimbledon champion plays he will not be the favourite to win the third leg of the Slam. Far from it.
That honour belongs to the three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic, who will be the top seed.
Djokovic is the overwhelming favourite to bring him a seventh title at the All-England Club and pull within one of Nadal on the all-time men’s Slam singles title list. The perceived gap between him and the rest of the field is huge.
This begs the question; other than Djokovic, who has a chance to lift the Wimbledon trophy?
An unfortunate bit of history will be made at the 2022 edition of The Championships, as it will be the first time since the introduction of computer rankings in 1973 that will not include the top two players in the rankings.
Daniil Medvedev, the world number one, will not be allowed to compete as all Russian and Belarusian athletes are banned from this year’s event. World No. 2 Alexander Zverev has withdrawn from the event due to a severe ankle injury suffered in the French Open semi-finals.
Barring any more withdrawals, the obvious choice for a second favourite behind Djokovic, who as the world No. 3 will be seeded first, is the 2021 Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini, who has won both his grass court tournaments in 2022. He has only lost three matches on the surface in the last three seasons.
After Berrettini, it becomes a little murkier, especially with Nadal a question mark. Assuming the status quo holds and the Spaniard plays, he is near the top of the oddsmakers list given that he is a two-time champion and reached the semi-finals in each of his last two appearances at Wimbledon. Most oddsmakers have him as the third favourite behind Djokovic and Berrettini.
Casper Ruud, the third seed, is unproved on grass, as is the 2022 breakout star Carlos Alcaraz, who will be seeded fifth. Stefanos Tsitsipas, who will slot in between Ruud and Alcaraz, has struggled on grass in his career.
Félix Auger-Aliassime may be one of the safer bets at Wimbledon. He reached the quarter-finals last year, losing to Berrettini, and is one of the few players on the tour who throughout his young career has shown himself to be comfortable on grass, having reached a pair of finals on the surface.
The Canadian has also been great in Grand Slam play over the last 12 months. At the last four Slams, the player he lost to went on to reach the final all four times, with two of them, Medvedev at the US Open and Nadal at Roland-Garros, going on to win the title.
2021 Wimbledon semi-finalist Hubert Hurkacz is another who might make a run, given his strong record on grass and he will have momentum after the run in Halle. The other 2021 semi-finalist, Denis Shapovalov, seems like a long shot to repeat as he is currently on a five-match losing streak, including 0-2 on grass in 2022.
It’s not just Djokovic’s historic dominance that makes him the overwhelming favourite at Wimbledon. It’s the fact that without Roger Federer, Medvedev, Zverev and possibly Nadal in the draw, there are not many players who have shown the penchant for grass to challenge him.
Foot pain aside, what a year Rafael Nadal is having both on and off the court. It’s not just his trophy collection that is growing in 2022.
Not only did the Spaniard become the outright Grand Slam men’s singles titles leader, complete the double-Career Grand Slam, get off to his best start to a season in his career in terms of consecutive wins and win the first two Slams of the season for the first time in his career, he will also become a father later in 2022.
Nadal will be the last member of the Big Three to have a child. Both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic managed to win Slams as fathers.
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