By Charles David Mathieu-Poulin
(August 7, 2013) Montreal – In the wake of possibly the best day, week and year in Canadian tennis history, we look back at the top 10 wildest, craziest and loudest performances of local players at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. The victories that led to standing ovations, chants and waves, Montreal-style. The ones no one expected. The ones we all remember.
10. Frédéric Niemeyer, 2009
A seasoned veteran, Frédéric Niemeyer had announced in 2009 that he would retire at the end of the year. When the Rogers Cup draw came out, everyone hoped for him to face Roger Federer, his long-time friend, in the second round as his farewell match in Montréal. After beating Kunitsyn in the first round, Fred played a tight two set match against a classy Federer, who let him enjoy the spotlight. One of those well-deserved feel-good moments we all enjoy.
9. Eugenie Bouchard, 2012
While Eugenie ‘Genie’ Bouchard is now on the brink of becoming one of WTA’s biggest stars, she still was fairly unknown to the casual Canadian fans in early 2012. After winning Junior Wimbledon and the Granby Challenger, she came to the Rogers Cup full of confidence and with all eyes on her. Her first round match on a packed Center Court against Shahar Peer seemed like a tough task, but the Montreal-born blonde kept her composure to win 7-5 in the third, to the delight of the adoring crowd. After a tight two-set loss to Li Na in the second round, everybody knew it was the start of a long love affair between Genie and Montreal.
8. Sébastien Leblanc, 1997
Sébastien Leblanc was best known for his doubles skills: paired with fellow Canadians Sebastien Lareau and Greg Rusedski, he won three consecutive Junior Doubles Grand Slams in 1990 and got up to number 127 in the senior doubles rankings. So when he came out at the 1997 Rogers Cup to face Tim Henman, then ranked 18th in the world, the expectations were low for the 885th ranked Canadian, playing his first ATP match of the year. The first set was decided in a tiebreak, where Leblanc had the lead early and never looked back after a string of unforced errors from Henman. The second set stayed tight until the end, and while the ecstatic applause seemed to get in Tim’s head, he managed to level the match by breaking late in the set. In the third, playing aggressive tennis and rushing to the net, Leblanc broke for a 5-3 lead, and finished the match on a spectacular plunging dropshot volley winner. Leblanc would end up losing easily in the next round and retiring a few months after, but this remains a fuzzy-yellow-ball Cinderella story to be told.
7. Milos Raonic, 2009
When Milos first stepped on the Montreal courts for the 2009 qualifying draw, he was a tall, lanky, a-bit-awkward giant with a big serve. He surprised everyone by beating Gabashvili and Llodra to qualify, and set up a night match against feisty world No. 10 Fernando Gonzalez in the first round. Only experience separated the two, and “Gonzo” ended up winning after saving a match point in the second set tiebreak, but the rowdy National Bank crowd which got the first taste of Milos-mania. It was the first sign of brilliance from Milos, who actually is now a tall, lanky, a-bit-less-awkward giant with a big serve.
6. Aleksandra Wozniak, 2012
Aleksandra Wozniak is the most successful Quebec player ever to step on a tennis court (being ranked as high as 21), but the Blainville native had never really shone at the Rogers Cup, coming in the 2012 main draw with a 3-9 record. After serious injuries, she was on the way back up in 2012, but a tough draw was ahead of her. After scraping through Daniela Hantuchova in the first round, she upset Jelena Jankovic easily in the second round and beat Christina McHale in the third round before losing to her nemesis Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals. It was a great moment for Aleks who got over her mental block in Montreal, and a great moment for the crowd enjoying their protégé’s long-awaited local success.
5. Simon Larose, 2003
Simon Larose was known on the ATP circuit as a talented but party-oriented fellow. Living up to his reputation, rocking a mohawk tucked under a bandana, he came to the Montreal 2003 Rogers Cup ranked at number 315. While everyone was looking forward to his blockbuster first round against Gustavo Kuerten, nobody expected more than a decent-but-outrageous showing from Larose. Outrageous it was, but decent it wasn’t: playing superb tennis, Larose upset the former number 1 and Grand Slam champion in a tight two-setter, falling on his knees in disbelief after match point. Riding the wave in the next round, he beat Jose Acasuso in a thriller, coming back from 1-3 in the third set, setting up a meeting with legend Andre Agassi in the third round. Despite losing 6-4 6-2 after having a 4-1 lead in the first, Larose had the best tennis week of his life and became a household name in Montreal. The after-tourney party was probably epic.
4. Stephanie Dubois, 2008
Stephanie Dubois is a feisty competitor that fuels on the crowd’s energy. She therefore has created over the years a mutual agreement with Montrealers: the more they cheer, the more she fights, the more they chant, the more she wins. After reaching the third round in 2006 due to a Kim Clijsters retirement, Steph brought the crowd to its feet by repeating the feat two years later. While the match wasn’t memorable, her first round against Govortsova was played in a bizarre environment: after waiting for hours to start the match due to a rain delay, the players came out of the locker room well over 10pm, acclaimed by a very small but raucous crowd, excited to finally see some action. At one point, the stadium fire alarm started ringing for a what seems like forever: while the players were seated waiting for it to stop, a smart supporter yelled ‘Steph is on fireeeeeeeee!’, leading to an overall laughter. Dubois kept the fire going in her second round against Maria Kirilenko, arguably her best win ever, a match which had superb shot making, long rallies and will stay in the books as one of the most inspired Canadian performances in Montreal.
3. The 2013 Crew
Mark the dates: August 5th-6th, 2013. In previous years, the Montreal crowd would get excited when one or two Canadians would sneak into round 2. So when five local players won their first match (and the other lost a close three-setter against a top 15 player), there was an overall sense of excitement on the Stade Uniprix grounds. It all started on Monday night, when newly- minted Canadian Jesse Levine upset Xavier Malisse, while Peter Polansky played an inspired match despite losing to Kei Nishikori in front of a chanting and waving Center Court. It was a sign of things to come, as the long, tedious, overdramatic wins kept on rolling the next day: Filip Peliwo, Frank Dancevic, Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic all moved through despite being a few points away from defeat. So who will go the furthest down the draw and make this same list in 2033?
2. Sébastien Lareau, 1999
Sébastien Lareau was the proud flag-bearer through a few dry years for Canadian tennis in the late nineties and early noughties, notably in doubles. The Montreal tournament, which he called ‘My Wimbledon’, saw him get the best single wins of his career. In 1999, he came in the tournament ranked at 116. After winning his first round in two sets against Justin Gimelstob, he had a tough task ahead of him in Richard Krajicek, 5th seed and 7th in the world. When the Dutchman won the first set 6-4, everyone thought logic was followed. But the crowd got into the match, probably as intensely as ever, and when Krajicek doublefaulted at 4-6 in the tiebreak, the entire stadium exploded in strong applause and a standing ovation. The magic atmosphere helped Lareau stay on top of the wave, and after missing three match points while serving for the match in the third, a final service winner handed him the biggest match of his career. He lost in three tough sets to eventual winner Thomas Johansson in the next round in another dramatic thriller, but he rekindled the Montreal love for Canadian tennis, which in itself is the best feat of all.
1. Frank Dancevic, 2007
Everyone agrees that Frank Dancevic is more talented than what his résumé suggests: often injured, the Canadian never really had the chance to blossom into the player he could have been. The best example of this is the 2007 Rogers Cup, where he went on a string of fantastic results, to the delight of the Montreal crowd. Juan Martin Del Potro, Wayne Odesnik and Fernando Verdasco all were honorable victims of Frank’s big serve-and-volley game and all three matches went deep in the third set. The quarterfinal match against none other than Rafael Nadal seemed like just icing on the cake, but Frank had other plans in mind. On this Friday Night, where the entire city had its eyes turned to tennis, Dancevic stormed through the first set, breaking in the last game, to the disbelief of most. With a perfect attacking game and a surprisingly strong backhand, Frank was dreaming of the upset, but the fatigue of the week (and Nadal’s well-known fighting spirit) got in the way, as the last two set went straightforwardly to the Spaniard. It was the first time since 1989 that a Canadian reached the quarterfinals, a feat repeated by Raonic in 2012, but for Dancevic it was ‘the experience of a lifetime’. And we’ll all remember it.
Charles David Mathieu-Poulin blogs for WtaQuebec www.wtaquebec.com, a website promoting local Quebec players. He is covering the Rogers Cup in Montreal for Tennis Panorama News. Follow him on twitter @earthstroke, follow his Montreal coverage on @TennnisNewsTPN.