August 11, 2010 -- Top seeds Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic obviously draw big crowds of fans, as they should. But around the grounds at Rogers Cup, talent pops up everywhere.
Take, for example, Alexandr Dolgopolov. A slight 21-year-old, at least when compared to the giants penetrating tennis courts these days, he first grabs attention because of his androgynous appearance. He has long brown hair tied in a ponytail and uses a headband to keep stray strands of hair from interfering with his vision. His features are confusingly soft, his eyes as blue as washed glass. So, at a quick glance Alexandr could be Alexandra.
The allusion stops abruptly at the ball toss, which is followed by a wickedly quick boomer of a serve and nimble feet that propel him to shots others could have missed. The disgruntled attitude that instantly materializes the moment a point ends could identify either gender, but Dolgopolov's consistent hangdog gestures branded him with fans.
He carried on one-sided conversations, at times, more critical than uplifting it seemed. About to go out in the second set with the score at deuce he faced skyward and prayed, if the reverence on his face was any indication. Wham... he was saved by an ace, adding to a total of 20 in today's match.
On Monday, Dolgopolov, ranked #49, defeated Philipp Petzschner. He's ranked #41, and well recognized for this year's Wimbledon doubles crown he shares with Jurgen Melzer.
Today, the Ukrainian beat #12 seed Mikhail Youzhny 16 76(4) 75, in their first meeting. The scoreline looked familiar. It ran along the same lines as Monday's victory. Dolgopolov sprayed balls in the first set against Petzschner, and then used every tool in his court bag to upset the German while adding drama. The kid acted as if he'd pass out from heat exposure.
He moaned. He bent over and steadied himself on his trusty racquet. He searched for clouds and a reprieve from the sun. At changeovers he covered his face with a bag of ice, then tipped forward in his chair desperately unsettled in his hot skin.
Petzschner was so angered by Dolgopolov's downcast signals, which no doubt lead the German to think that Dolgopolov would retire, that he didn't shake hands at the end of the match. But, heck, it didn't seem to bother the kid much. He never gave Petzschner a second look. 'Dolgo,' as he's known, scribbled a couple autographs and took the nearest golf cart back to the chill of the locker room.
Dolgopolov stunk the first set against Youzhny, played a brilliant tiebreak to take the second, stayed with the Russian throughout the third, and bing bang boom broke him to win the match. With strong support from a large population of Russian fans, who live nearby York University, the change in Dolgopolov's play and match results didn't bode well.
All in all Dolgopolov is a blast to watch. His orange Adidas shoes. His astounding movement. His foreboding serve. And a ruse that he'll melt any moment.
He'll need every drop shot, slice, topspin lob, and ace to get past his next opponent, Tomas Berdych, although they have never met. It's not impossible, as we all know. Dolgopolov had his biggest moment in the tennis sun against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga at Wimbledon this year, when the Frenchman squeaked by 10-8 in the fifth set.
Talented Canadian Peter Polansky wished he had tightened up a couple loose points against journeyman Victor Hanescu today. He might not be packing up his bags and heading home to Thornhill, Ontario.
"I was a little disappointed how today went," Polansky said. "But I played an unbelievable match on Monday. This tournament could have gone a lot worse if I hadn't played so well Monday."
Polansky had a clear sense of himself, coming into Rogers Cup. Last Friday he hit around with Roger Federer and gained some confidence after winning a couple games off the Swiss. He practiced with Tommy Robredo. He splits sets with Arnaud Clement, and lost in a tiebreak against lefty Feliciano Lopez. Polansky was poised to spring forward.
"I think when you're around them and when you're practicing with them, it kind or raises your level and you feel like if you miss a ball then it's kind of subpar and not as good," Polansky said thoughtfully. "It's the focus that is in higher gear. You really want to push yourself."
He marked positive strides this week, though, scoring a huge win over #13 seed Jurgen Melzer Monday night. He came just that close with Hanescu, too, losing 64 76(4).
Polansky's ranked 207 on the ATP World Tour. Next week he plans to train, then head to New York for qualification into the U. S. Open.
"After that, I'm not sure," he began. "I'll play something. We have Davis Cup here in September. After that, maybe some tournaments in Asia."
Polansky's biggest win came early last summer over Chilean Nicolas Massu, who at the time was ranked #100. He also played Novak Djokovic in Montreal last year and lost.
In 2006, Polansky went through a nightmarish ordeal in Mexico City. People don't ask him about it too much anymore, but he doesnŐt mind talking about it when asked. But the incident clearly could have slammed the door on his career aspirations.
He dreamt an intruder with a knife had entered his hotel room. He reacted, smashing a glass window with his feet and badly sliced his legs. He tumbled three stories and landed in bushes. Many told him he'd never walk, but Polansky wouldn't have any of it and returned to tennis four months later.
Polansky's definitely awake nowadays. The soft-spoken native eventually wants to be the player Canada recognizes as number one.
"It's tough," he admitted. "I want to work at it and that's my goal, so hopefully I'm the one."