The Rogers Cup tournament starts on Monday, and is the first mandatory event for both the men and the women in the summer hard court season.  The men's tournament is held in Montreal, Canada, while the women's tournament is held in Toronto, Canada.  Both events have small, select fields in which only 40 players are automatically entered into the draw via their rankings, while others are required to enter a qualifying tournament prior to the event to obtain a spot in the field.  The events are part of the Masters Series for men and the WTA Premier tournaments for the women, awarding the most points of any tournaments other than the Grand Slams.  A strong showing at the Rogers Cup can catapult a player up the rankings, and is a huge confidence boost leading into the US Open at the end of the month.

What makes the Rogers Cup even more interesting and intriguing is that many of the top players in the field have not played in a tournament since Wimbledon in late June.  Out of the top ten seeded men's players who have entered the Rogers Cup (#5 Roger Federer and #8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have withdrawn prior to the tournament starting), five of them have not played since Wimbledon, while only two have played in a summer hard court tournament (Tommy Haas and Juan Martin Del Potro).  On the women's side, only four of the top ten seeded players at the Rogers Cup have played since the grass court season (#2 Maria Sharapova and #3 Victoria Azarenka have withdrawn), with only Agnieszka Radwanska playing on hard courts this summer.  Combining a small elite field with the lack of hard court matches some of the top seeds have played should make for a very compelling tournament in Canada this week.

Here is my breakdown of the tournament, with a few predictions for players and matches to watch during the week:

Men's Draw

  • Novak Djokovic, the #1 seed and two-time defending champion, should have no problem making it to the quarterfinals.  The only seed in the top section of his draw is #16 Janko Tipsarevic, who has had a disastrous season.  Tipsarevic is just 6-7 on hard courts this year, and will be free falling down the rankings unless he can match the outstanding run he was on this time last year.  I would be surprised if he made it out of the first round in this tournament.  The bottom part of Djokovic's draw has #7 Richard Gasquet and #9 Kei Nishikori.  If the seeds hold out, I would give the edge to Gasquet due to his exquisite ground strokes.  Anyone who wants to learn how to hit a one-handed backhand should cue up some video of Gasquet's because it is a work of art.  Ultimately I see no huge challengers to Djokovic, and he should make another semifinal in Montreal.
  • Rafael Nadal is in the same half of the draw as Djokovic, and is going to have a much harder time making it to the semis.  In the top part of his draw looms #15 Jerzy Janowicz, who has a huge game to match his 6'8" frame.  Janowicz broke through at Wimbledon, making it to his first Grand Slam semifinal before losing to Andy Murray.  My upset special for this tournament would be Janowicz over Nadal in the round of 16.  The bottom part has #10 Tommy Haas, who made the semifinals last week in Washington, D.C.  Haas would be my pick to come out of this section and make the semifinals, due to his solid play on all surfaces.  Haas is another pure ball striker who can compete with any of the top players, and he has another textbook one-handed backhand that I wish I could figure out how to hit (can you tell I love watching guys with one-handed backhands?).
  • On the other side of the draw, the top half should be tailor-made for John Isner to continue his hot play on the hard courts.  Isner won the first tournament of the summer in Atlanta, and followed that up with a finals appearance in Washington, losing in three sets to Juan Martin Del Potro.  While Isner is not seeded in this event (he was just behind Tipsarevic in last week's rankings), his section of the draw is the weakest.  He would likely play #12 Nicolas Almagro in the second round, who has yet to play a hard court tournament since March.  He would then likely face #6 Tomas Berdych, whom he has never lost to on hard courts.  If the seeds hold out he would play #3 David Ferrer in the quarters, but I would not be shocked to see #14 Gilles Simon instead, as Ferrer has never done well in Montreal.  My pick for this section is Isner.
  • In the bottom half of that draw is #6 Juan Martin Del Potro, coming off a big win in Washington.  He should have no problem making the quarters, as the only seed in his section is #11 Milos Raonic of Canada.  Raonic has struggled since early April, going just 7-7 on clay and grass combined.  #2 Andy Murray is in the bottom part of this section, and he will have a much harder time getting to Del Potro in the quarters.  He could face Grigor Dimitrov in his first match on hard courts.  Dimitrov made the quarters in Washington, taking Tommy Haas to two tiebreakers.  This part of the draw also has the best first round matchup on paper, as #13 Fabio Fognini plays Marcos Baghdatis.  Fognini has rode a great clay court season to his career-high ranking, while Baghdatis, a former finalist at the Australian Open, looks as if he is regaining his form, as he lost a tight match to Isner in Washington last week.  I would not be surprised to see Baghdatis make a run here, possibly facing Murray in the round of 16.  Ultimately I can't pick against Murray making the quarters to face Del Potro.
  • My four semifinalists would be Djokovic, Haas, Isner, and Murray.  I see yet another Djokovic-Murray matchup in the final, with the Djoker winning his third straight Rogers Cup.

Women's Draw

  • With #2 Victoria Azarenka pulling out of the tournament on Sunday night after the draw was completed, the women's side is a bit messy.  #1 Serena Williams, #3 Agnieszka Radwanska, and #5 Sara Errani are all on the same side of the draw, with #4 Li Na the highest seed in her half of the draw.  This gives some lower seeded or unseeded players a real chance to make a run at the semis or finals of this tournament (more on this in a moment).
  • Serena's section of the draw is very weak, and she should have no problem making the quarterfinals.  The only intriguing matchup Serena could have is a potential third round match with her sister Venus.  However I do not see Venus making it out of the first round, as she has to face #13 Kirsten Flipkens.  Venus just hasn't played enough tennis this year to make me believe that she can make a run at any tournament, and even if she were to get to face her sister it would not be a fair fight.  Serena would probably face Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli in the quarters, which should be a close match that ultimately would go to Williams.
  • There should be little stopping Radwanska from facing Serena in the semis.  The only possible challenger before the quarters would be #14 Sloane Stephens, but the young American has a tendency to lose early in every tournament that isn't a Grand Slam.  I'm picking #11 Maria Kirilenko to face Radwanska in the quarters, because I think the lack of hard court matches will catch up to the clay-court specialist Errani.
  • The other side of the women's draw is wide open, as evidenced by my four quarterfinalist picks: #16 Ana Ivanovic, Dominika Cibulkova, Jamie Hampton, and #15 Jelena Jankovic.  All four of them have played on the hard courts this summer, with Ivanovic and Hampton making the semifinals and Cibulkova winning a hard court event.  The four top seeded players in this half (#4 Li Na, #6 Petra Kvitova, #8 Angelique Kerber, and #9 Caroline Wozniacki, are very inconsistent with their results, especially when they haven't had any matches on a surface.  Plus Hampton is my favorite young American player.  I just love her game so I am picking her to go far in every event.  Call me selfish that's fine.
  • My four semifinalists would be Williams, Radwanska, Ivanovic, and Hampton.  I'll go for Williams and Ivanovic in the finals since Serena is the best women's player on the planet and Ivanovic is playing really well right now.  I would be a fool to pick anyone other than Serena to win any tournament she enters; she's is just that good and that much better than everyone else.

I hope you enjoyed my first forte into picking tennis tournaments.  Hopefully I don't look like a complete fool and get more of these picks right than I do during March Madness.  I hope I have made you just as intrigued and interested in watching the Rogers Cup as I am.  And lastly, go Jamie Hampton!