MONTRÉAL, Canada - The Rogers Cup main draw was completed on Sunday when 12 women won their final round of qualifying.
Though teenagers Katie Boulter and Sofya Zhuk found success on a hot and humid weekend, the majority making through were from the veteran set, including former World No.5 Lucie Safarova and former World No.6 Carla Suárez Navarro, each of whom could cause major upsets with two match wins already over their belt.
Here's how it happened around the grounds:
Safarova settles into tournament mode
A semifinalist in Montréal six years ago, Safarova found herself in a qualifying draw for the first time in nine years. Ironically enough, that was also at the Rogers Cup - albeit in Toronto - and the former French Open finalist made it all the way into the last eight back in 2009.
"It’s been a while since I played qualifying," she said with a wry laugh, "so it was interesting for me. I had to definitely put my focus together because nowadays, the competition is strong. You have no easy matches, even in qualifying."
Off the court for much of the spring with an illness picked up during the Middle East swing, the Czech veteran fell nearly 30 spots in the rankings since January. Seeded sixth in the qualifying draw, she was made to battle in both matches in Montréal: first against Canadian Katherine Sebov and again on Sunday, rallying from a set down to defeat American Jennifer Brady.
"I was trying to tell myself that this could be the first round of Grand Slam, and it was a really nice atmosphere. People come to watch tennis here, even when it’s qualies. I really enjoyed myself today."
It's been an odyssey for Safarova, one that began shortly after a career-best 2015 season that saw her reach a maiden major final in singles and earn a berth at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. Beset by injuries and illness, she split with longtime coach Rob Steckley, and later dealt with the truamatic injury incurred by doubles partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands - the other half of Team Bucie - as her doubles career was hitting new heights.
"It’s life, and there are some obstacles along the way. It happened how it happened; my illness and Bethanie’s injury were both long-term. I really appreciate being healthy again, being able to play my game. I enjoy the moment even more."
Now back with both coach and partner, the 31-year-old aims to kick-start her season after solid results at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, at an event that tends to bring out her best tennis.
"I really enjoy Montreal. I enjoy Canada in general, and that might be a bit because of Rob. He’s Canadian, and he has friends here; they’ve all shown me around the city. It feels like a second home because of him. I obviously have nice memories from these tournaments. I played in the semifinals a few years back, won doubles in Toronto and quarterfinals there last year. I enjoy myself here."
Safarova opens against young Aussie Daria Gavrilova on Monday.
Suárez Navarro forgets regrets in accidental qualies run
Carla Suárez Navarro was always meant to be in the main draw, but it took some getting there after forgetting to enter the tournament by the June deadline.
"My coach was checking the tournaments that we want to play, he said, ‘Carla, you’re not in Montréal!’ I said, ‘Oh, I forgot!’ It’s something rare, but in the end, it was good."
Like Safarova, Suárez Navarro has long been a staple of WTA main draws, playing just one other qualifying tournament in 2018, at the Apia International Sydney. The Spaniard eased into the main draw with a decisive win over doubles specialist Anastasia Rodionova and a retirement from Kateryna Bondarenko after capturing the opening set, 6-0.
"I like this surface because it’s not too fast. I don’t know who I’ll play but all the players in the main draw are really good, and every match will be tough. It’s the same every week, so I’ll try to play my game, relax, and enjoy. This year for me has been a little bit tough; it has felt like I cannot enjoy at all. I’m in the main draw, with one more opportunity tomorrow."
Suárez Navarro has been one to watch on tour since surging into the 2008 French Open quarterfinals, playing a crafty game that relies on sheer willpower and unrelenting attention to detail. A few weeks shy of her 30th birthday, the veteran admitted to feeling her share of mental fatigue as her career enters its second decade.
"It’s been too many years, and the level goes up every week, every month. You have to be focused and ready all the time. All the matches are really tough. It’s a positive thing for women’s tennis, but for me it’s all going too fast. Players are playing faster, really aggressively.
"I lost some matches I didn’t expect to, or I didn’t play as well as I wanted. I started losing confidence and you can’t stop time. You can’t stop playing – well, you can stop and take a rest – but sometimes it’s tough because everyone plays every week, and you need points. You want to be in rhythm and sometimes that’s tough, but this sport is like this. It’s a good thing if you can manage this kind of situation."
A much-needed break came after Wimbledon, allowing her to finally feel refreshed and ready to tackle the second half of the season.
"I've had time to think about the first part of the season and now I’m feeling good. My mind is good and positive. I want to play good tennis here during the hardcourt season. If I feel good, my tennis can be much better."
Suárez Navarro immediately puts her renewed mindset to the test in the first round, facing fearsome big-hitter and BNP Paribas Open champion Naomi Osaka.