News that Maria Sharapova has been forced to pull out of the Rogers Cup could hinder ticket sales for the event but Al Dannity says the field still looks fearsome.
The commercial impact of Maria Sharapova’s absence from the Rogers Cup will be far greater than the difference it makes on a competitive level. The Russian, who has won all four grand slams in her glittering career, still hasn’t recovered from the hip injury she sustained in her defeat to Michelle Larcher de Brito at Wimbledon. The organisers know their job in selling the event will be made tougher by her absence. After LeBron and Messi, there may not be a more marketable athlete in pro sports. Sharapova knows how to sell her brand and attracts thousands of fans and admirers to every match she plays. If you’re running a WTA tournament, you want Maria Sharapova in it more than anyone else.
Yet for all the marketing buzz the world number 2 could generate, there’s still plenty to like about the field for the event. Serena Williams, probably the best women’s player of all-time, will be there as will Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli. In fact every player rated 1-16 in the rankings, bar Sharapova, is on track for Toronto. This may seem like the norm for a Premier 5 event but the Rogers Cup falls on a spot in the calendar where withdrawals are to be expected. Williams has long played lip-service to mandatory events and it’s only been over the past two seasons that she has made a concerted effort to increase the number of tournaments she plays. The US Open is just around the corner and any player carrying a knock, of which one can expect several after Wimbledon, is likely to be wary of committing to playing.
Yet here we are, less than a week before the tournament is due to start, with only one major absentee. That’s a pretty good place for this competition. There’s also a local heroine to pitch to the public. Eugenie Bouchard would likely get a bigger reception in Montreal, where the men’s event is being played, but she’ll still have a raucous Canadian crowd willing her on in Toronto. Bouchard’s heroics at Wimbledon captured the imagination of Tennis fans in Canada, casual and devoted alike. This tournament will be her homecoming after such a promising performance. Much will be expected and the pressure will be intense. Bouchard’s game is still developing but she could ride that wave to a deep run in Toronto.