Tennis will stage its own "Game of Thrones" this week in Montreal and Toronto, the equal-opportunity cities where the WTA and ATP alternate staging their simultaneous versions of the Rogers Cup -- or the Canadian Open. In recent months, Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard have established themselves as, respectively, the king and queen of Canada, and this will be their homecoming.
But certain sinister forces, including but by no means restricted to Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, have ambitions that would spoil the week for Canadians. Williams won the Stanford WTA event Sunday; she'll be in Bouchard's hometown of Montreal, top-seeded and hoping to usurp the throne. And Djokovic, the Wimbledon champ, leads the parade of ATP seeds in Toronto, where the U.S. hard-court circuit begins to truly matter, building critical mass until the big bang in New York. He knows that if Raonic isn't brought down a peg or two, who knows what damage he might wreak in the coming weeks?
Bouchard is the No. 5 seed in Montreal, partly because WTA No. 2 Li Na and No. 3 Simona Halep are both sidelined with injury. Ordinarily, that elevation in seeding would be a good thing. As luck would have it, though, Bouchard still fell short of the seeding (No. 4) that would keep her from meeting one of the top three seeds before the semifinals. And the upshot is a potential quarterfinal with Williams.
Bouchard can console herself with the fact that Williams looked somewhat ragged this week in her win at Stanford, or she can freak out because Williams looked ragged -- and still won the tournament with a straight-sets triumph over Angelique Kerber. Given that Bouchard is so combative and ambitious, I imagine she’ll focus on the glass that’s half full rather than the one that’s half empty.
The only woman to make at least the semifinals at the first three Grand Slam events this year, Bouchard also may be scheming to extract her pound of flesh from Petra Kvitova. The beating Kvitova gave Bouchard in the Wimbledon final must still be fresh in the Canadian’s mind, and she certainly has had plenty of time to brood about it -- having played no competitive matches in the interim.
Kvitova is seeded No. 2 and entrenched in the opposite, lower half of the draw, where her sternest test may come from either rusty Victoria Azarenka, flighty Jelena Jankovic or out-of-sync Agnieszka Radwanska.
If the draw gods weren't particularly kind to Bouchard, they certainly smiled upon the ATP No. 6 seed, Raonic. The 23-year-old world No. 7 couldn’t be rolling into Toronto in better form. He won in Washington, D.C., on Sunday over his fellow countryman Vasek Pospisil. That latter name may not have the same ring as Rafael Nadal, who ended Raonic's terrific run in the Montreal finals last year, but it was a difficult situation for the favorite and he handled it with aplomb.
Raonic is in the bottom half, his main potential antagonists hardly the most antagonizing guys on the tour: No. 4 Tomas Berdych, who always finds a way to lose a big match; No. 5 David Ferrer, who no longer grinds as enthusiastically and consistently as in the past; and No. 2 Roger Federer, who is … Roger Federer, but still subject to veteran's blues and more easily overpowered than the three big guns in the top half.
That trio would be Djokovic, No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka and No. 8 Andy Murray. And don't forget the one player who seems capable of spoiling the Canadian party before it even begins: feckless, raw-boned and powerful No. 11 Ernests Gulbis, who could be waiting for Raonic in the third round.
Murray's seeding position is laughable, and Djokovic may be in a position to affirm that as the two could meet in the quarterfinals. But don't count out Wawrinka, who likes the hard courts. And No. 7 seed Grigor Dimitrov is a big win waiting to happen.
I don't know what the oddsmakers say about a Raonic-Bouchard double, but these two are making history for Canada (long a hapless giant in tennis) on a daily basis. They've demonstrated that they're unlikely to go to pieces under the press of expectations, but the big serves of a Serena Williams or the sledgehammer forehands of Novak Djokovic are a different thing altogether.