The announcement of a tournament’s player field – weeks before the event begins – is always the most hopeful of announcements.
And the National Bank Open presented by Rogers definitely delivered that on Wednesday.
Of the top-20 on the WTA side, only the injured Simona Halep and Serena Williams are not entered.
On the ATP side, which will be held in Toronto, every single one of the top 37 players in the world is on the list. Add to that Kei Nishikori, who is using his protected ranking of No. 10 to enter.
If that stretches credulity, now is the time to be hopeful.
Live announcement from Montreal
The women’s event in Montreal broadcast its announcement on Facebook, and then continued the Zoom conference with media asking questions of tournament director Eugene Lapierre.
On the Toronto side, there was no such event. The player list was simply included in a Tennis Canada press release
Here is the official press release quote from Rafael Nadal, who won the tournament in 2018 in Toronto (the last time it was held there) and in 2019 in Montreal (the last time it was held at all).
“I’m very happy to return to Canada to play in Toronto. Toronto is a fantastic tournament and I have had some really great matches there. As a matter of fact, I won there the last time we played and I would love to defend my title this August and be again with my fans in Canada and around the world.”
Federal signoff still pending
As positive as Lapierre sounded Wednesday – he drew a comparison to being up 5-0 in the third set – nothing is yet completely carved in stone.
The federal governmant has in hand the approved plans from both the Quebec and Ontario provincial governments.
But it still has not signed off.
Notably, the feds have jurisdiction on giving the players and entourages exemptions to the mandatory quarantine upon entering Canada.
This is kind of the whole deal.
“Everything’s going fine. Our protocol was accepted by the health authorities in Quebec, and Montreal, who are working jointly. That was the prerequisite for the federal to give the okay,” he said. “They’re analyzing it … it’s only a question of time before we get the official letter.”
Lapierre pointed out that other sporting events – he mentioned the NHL playoffs, the Calgary Stampede and the pre-Olympic basketball competition in B.C. – all had their decisions handed down barely a few days of their drop-dead date.
He said that they were expecting the nod somewhere in the area of July 20-21.
“It’s a matter of time,” he said. “We have no concerns on that front.”
Busy summer for Nadal
It should be noted that Nadal just signed on to play the 500-level Citi Open in Washington, D.C., which will take place the week before Toronto.
To think he will play Washington, Toronto, Cincinnati and then the U.S. Open in the space of six weeks is … well, it’s aspirational.
As for Roger Federer, who is skipping the Olympics because of a setback with his surgically-repaired knee, a schedule of two Masters 1000s, back to back, followed by the US Open – on the hardest surface tennis played on – also is aspirational.
But for now, they’re all in.
Vasek Pospisil on the men’s side, and Leylah Fernandez have already been confirmed for singles wild cards.
WTA Montreal with impressive list
Unlike the men’s event, the WTA event is not a “Premier Mandatory”, and so it doesn’t need to guarantee all of the top-10 players will take part.
Still, the only two who are NOT in so far are players who have dealt with injuries this spring and early summer.
Also not on the list is Kiki Bertens (No. 21) who is calling it a career after the Tokyo Olympics.
No. 41 Svetlana Kuznetsova, who also would have gotten directly in, is not on the list.
No. 47 Qiang Wang, like many of the Chinese players going to the Olympics, is likely to miss the North American hard-court season in its entirety, including Montreal.
No. 51 Ajla Tomljanovic, No. 54 Anastasija Sevastova and No. 55 Liudmila Samsonova are main-draw only. In other words, they have not entered the qualifying. If players on the current list withdraw and they get into the main draw, before the deadline, they might play.
Alizé Cornet and Camila Giorgi also appear to fall in that category.
The last player directly into the main draw right now is No. 48 Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland.
The last into the qualifying is Sara Errani at No. 105.
Qualifying men’s draw still in limbo
The deadline to enter the qualifying for the ATP event in Toronto isn’t until next Monday. The qualifying draw in Toronto will be 24 players.
At the moment, some 17 of the 30 players ranked between No. 50 and No. 80 are not yet on board to play the qualifying.
That includes names like Benoit Paire, Frances Tiafoe, Richard Gasquet, Carlos Alcaraz and Tennys Sandgren.
They still have time. The first three, with the current cutoff for qualifying at No. 54, are pretty much guaranteed to get in.
Up to 5,000 fans per session
The limits for gatherings in Quebec, outdoors, have been raised from 3,500 to 5,000 recently.
And so the tournament in Montreal is planning to have 5,000 for the day session, and 5,000 for the evening session.
That is going to require some significant adjustments to the typical tournament experience.
Lapierre said they hope to get three matches in on the stadium court for the day session starting at 11 a.m.
The evening session begins at 7 p.m.
Lapierre said there needed to be sufficient time to clear out the “day” fans before the night session. So it’s possible there might be only two matches in the day session.
As for Toronto, things are still somewhat up in the air.
“The organization is confident of also being able to host a limited number of fans at the Toronto tournament, especially following the recent announcement regarding Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan. Tennis Canada is in the process of contacting existing ticket holders regarding their seats and is hopeful of releasing a limited number of tickets on general sale closer to the tournament,” the release said.
Best-case scenario – considering
Lapierre said that for much of 2021, Tennis Canada thought it wouldn’t be possible to hold the tournaments, for the second straight year.
But things have turned around.
“The situation in Quebec has improved. So we’re happy with the governmental announcements. On paper, we planned to have the tournament without fans, and get the most revenue possible with the sponsors and the television rights. But now we can have fans; we started with 3,500, now it’s 5,000. So we’re happy on that end,” Lapierre said.
“If we compare it with a normal year, of course it’s not the same. But we’ll live it, we’ll do it, and offer our fans the best show and best experience possible.”
Stade IGA the only place to be
But it carries more weight this year, as the Stade IGA is the only court that the fans will be able to access.
The reason is two-fold. First, that contact be avoided between the players and the general public. And, secondly, to maximize the atmosphere on the main stadium despite the reduced number of fans (capacity is 11,815).
Lapierre said there would be some sort of bridge constructed to allow players scheduled for the outside courts to get there without having to mill about with the public.
Which is going to be quite something.
Fans will be able to order food and drink at their seats. And Lapierre said there might be a couple of concessions open outside where people can get food to bring to their seats.
But there will be no other activities going on, on site.
So the gist of it is that the players will be restricted to the hotel (there will be no other guests in the hotel) and their areas of the site.
And the fans will, for the most part, be restricted to the main stadium.
There also will be no media on site. Which makes for a peculiar situation as local media could very easily just buy a ticket and attend, to get a sense of the atmosphere if nothing else.
Lapierre said that the players and entourages would be tested on arrival, restricted to their hotel room until the negative test is returned.
After that, they will be tested every three days.
The level of vaccination within the WTA family not being close to the level required (Open Court has learned that it’s currently at about 30 per cent), it will make no difference whether the players or staff are vaccinated or not.
All must go by the same strict conditions.
Lapierre said that some of the staff, drivers and others who will have close contact with the player group will also be in the restricted bubble – i.e., will stay at the hotel.