The 2016 Canadian Masters are scheduled to start next week with a final on the last day of the current month. Despite offering 1000 ranking points to the winner and significant prize money, three of the biggest names in men’s tennis have already pulled out of the tournament. Those three players are Andy Murray, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal.
Murray, the recently crowned Wimbledon champion, indicated on Monday that he would not be participating in the Rogers Cup (i.e.,. the Canadian Masters). Murray, who is now 29 years old, said that his “body needs some recovery time” following his efforts at the All England Club.
That announcement should probably be initiating some injury gossip. After all, the Wimbledon final was played on July 10th and since then Murray has already missed Great Britain’s Davis Cup quarterfinal. The top seeds at the Canadian Masters won’t see any court time until July 26th or 27th. The point with that is that Murray pulled out well ahead of his next match. In order for him to do that, he must have an injury, and he must know that its timeline for recovery will pass through the relevant time frame.
In regard to his goal of becoming the World No. 1, missing Toronto is a pretty big blow toward those efforts. Even though Murray gained 1280 ranking points at Wimbledon 2016 relative to Wimbledon 2015, in missing the Canadian Masters, the Scot will lose 1000 ranking points. He was the champion in Canada last season and all he earned there will now go undefended. Basically, he took a big step forward at the All England Club, but will now take almost as big of a step backwards when it comes to ranking points.
Murray’s fans will recall the problems that the Scot went through after winning Wimbledon the first time. In 2013, Murray defeated Novak Djokovic at the All England Club’s final and did little else that season before going for back surgery. He’s definitely a player to keep an eye on with the Olympics his next expected event.
The marketing for the Canadian Masters took another blow on Tuesday as both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal pulled out of the event. Federer took to Facebook to make his announcement:
“I have made the tough decision to withdraw from the Rogers Cup. Toronto is one of my favorite events on the calendar, and I am disappointed that I won’t be able to compete in front of the great tennis fans in Canada. Looking ahead, it is best for me that I take more time after Wimbledon.”
Federer fell down in his Wimbledon loss to Milos Raonic earlier this month. The Swiss Maestro also asked to talk to the trainer during that match, and he went out in pretty short order afterwards with a hurt knee.
While his Facebook announcement doesn’t mention his knee, I don’t think Federer would just up-and-miss a Masters Series tournament given how vulnerable he is to a ranking slide in the months ahead (he’s on the bubble for the World Tour Finals). Furthermore, I find it hard to believe that Federer, who has missed a lot of events this season already, would miss a Masters Series event that Murray had already pulled out of without some serious merit. After all, Murray missing the event would severely lighten the draw to the title.
Nadal, who has been sidelined since the French Open’s third round, also pulled out of the Canadian Masters on Tuesday. His reason for missing the tournament is a little less mysterious: “I only started practicing a week ago after my wrist injury,” he claimed, “and I am not ready to play such an important event.”
But, even if he clearly mentions his wrist, I still find his statements a little dodgy. Nadal saying he’s not ready for “an important event” begs some questions: does it mean that his wrist is good enough for less-important events? What’s the relevant difference between “an important event” and one that isn’t except for quality of competition? It’s almost like he is saying that his wrist is good enough to beat bad players, but not good enough to beat the good players. Either he is match ready or he’s not, and I don’t like the insinuation that the importance of the event determines that.
With other withdrawals from David Ferrer, Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon, and Andreas Seppi the players remaining as contenders are Raonic, Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, and Dominic Thiem. But Raonic, Canada’s No. 1, himself hinted at problems earlier this month when he pulled out of the Olympics. His reasoning for that move had to do with Zika Virus concerns, ones that were echoed by Berdych as the Czech pulled out. However, in Raonic’s case, he also mentioned “a variety of health concerns” without getting more specific about them.
It would be a major marketing speed bump for Tennis Canada if the Rogers Cup did not feature either Murray, Nadal, Federer, or the top-ranked Canadian. You can already strike the first three out so, keeping in mind that Canadian Vasek Pospisil is having a terrible season, interest in the Rogers Cup could plummet if Raonic’s “variety of health concerns” mean he’s going out early in Toronto.
In regard to the other contenders, Djokovic grudgingly admitted he was “not really” at 100% after losing to Querrey, so who knows what’s going on with that situation, one the Serb didn’t “want to talk about” only a couple weeks ago. Berdych is playing well, and there is not much buzz about fitness problems with him right now that I know of. There’s also no buzz about Wawrinka being injured, yet he still hasn’t beaten anyone in the Top 10 this season. In regard to Nishikori, when last we saw him he had a rib problem at the All England Club. Lastly with Thiem, he’s still a more proven clay-courter than a hard-courter, and he’s probably going to be tired in Canada as he’s playing in Kitzbuhel this week.
Looking ahead at next week’s Master Series in Canada, it certainly isn’t going to feature all Big-Four semifinals as only Djokovic could possibly make it that far from that group. But I don’t think we should be surprised if the late rounds were dominated by players like Berdych, Marin Cilic, David Goffin, Nick Kyrgios, and/or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. In many ways, the event looks more wide open than it has in years and maybe we’ll see even an Andrei Pavel kind of champion, the worst player to have the tournament this century (2001).