If your name/nickname started with an S last week, you had a pretty good chance Succeeding at last week’s Rogers Cup.
Elina Svitolina and Alexander “Sascha” Zverev took home the titles at the two-city Canadian event, which is a pivotal stop just mere weeks away from the final Grand Slam event.
Sloane Stephens and Denis Shapovalov each made unlikely runs to the semifinals, as one was coming off an injury that kept her out for the majority of the year, while the other was coming off an embarrassing incident and knocked off two of the biggest names on the men’s tour.
I’m going to start with the 18-year-old Shapovalov. Prior to this week, the only time I (and most other tennis fans) had ever heard of him was due to a shocking incident earlier this year at a Davis Cup match. The youngster was playing for Canada against Great Britain, and was disqualified from his match (which gave GB the victory) after he took a ball and struck the chair umpire in the face. Shapovalov was frustrated after being down two sets and just losing his serve, and angrily struck the ball into the crowd, but missed and injured the umpire, which drew an immediate default and eventually cost him a suspension and a fine.
Shapovalov was mentioned as one of the next stars of the game, and the future became the present in Montreal. He knocked off former US Open champ Juan Martin del Potro in the second round, which set up a huge matchup with Rafael Nadal. Nadal could have claimed the #1 ranking in the world with a semifinal appearance, but was stunned in a lengthy three-set duel by the Canadian lefty, sending the home crowd into an absolute frenzy. Shapovalov followed that win up with another victory over fellow unlikely quarterfinalist Adrian Mannarino (who knocked off top Canadian player Milos Raonic) before the magical run ended thanks to the eventual winner Zverev. Shapovalov vaulted from #143 to #67 with that semifinal berth at a Masters Series event, and is the youngest player inside the Top 100.
Zverev is just two years older than Shapovalov, and is now on the verge of cracking the Top 5 after picking up his fifth title of the season. His finals showdown with Roger Federer ended up being pretty lackluster, as the GOAT seemed to be hampered with a back injury which produced more errors and less magic on Sunday. But Zverev took full advantage, displaying the form that has currently shifted him from being regarded as the “next big thing” to a legitimate threat at every Grand Slam, including the one starting in just two weeks.
Sascha ran up against some quality opponents before the title, as he barely escaped a three-set thriller in the second round against former Top 10 player Richard Gasquet. The last hour of that match was sublime tennis, especially during a 49-shot rally at the end of the third set that would have clinched the win for Gasquet. Zverev also took out good friend Nick Kyrgios and one of the hottest players on the tour Kevin Anderson before beating Shapovalov in the semis and the Maestro Federer in the finals.
In Toronto, Svitolina was the winner but Stephens was clearly the story. The 24-year-old American missed nearly a year with a stress fracture in her right foot, which did allow her to do some fantastic commentary work for the Tennis Channel earlier this spring. She made her return to the tour at Wimbledon, losing in the first round, and also suffered a tough first-round defeat at the hands of Simona Halep in Washington prior to the Rogers Cup. She got through a tough three-setter in the first round before defeating Grand Slam champions Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber to make the quarterfinals, with her win over Kerber a straight-sets rout. Stephens overcame multiple match points to take out Lucie Safarova in the quarters before Caroline Wozniacki ended her chance at her first Premier Series finals appearance. Stephens, who reached #11 in the world in 2013, entered last week ranked #934, but jumped up an amazing 783 spots and could be a threat in the unpredictable women’s side of the US Open.
Speaking of the US Open, Svitolina could be the #1 ranked woman on the tour by the start of the final major, thanks to her stunning run to the title in Toronto. Svitolina had to defeat four of the top nine players in the world to claim her fifth title of the season, dispatching #9 Venus Williams, #4 Garbine Muguruza and #2 Simona Halep before easily downing Wozniacki in the final. She lost nine games total against Williams, Halep, and Wozniacki, and is now one of five women (Karolina Pliskova, Halep, Kerber and Wozniacki) that could vault up to #1 after this week’s tournament in Cincinnati.
I’ll have a recap of the final key tune-up in Cincy next week, which could crown two brand-new #1 players. Nadal will return to the top spot on the men’s side, as Andy Murray and Roger Federer have recently pulled out of the event while both Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are out indefinitely. Pliskova could retain her top spot on the women’s side, but has to hold off the quartet of ladies chasing her.
If last week was any indication, I’d put my money on Svitolina or Simona… since success does start with an S.
Written by: Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)