MONTREAL — Youth will be served at the upcoming National Bank Open after a couple of late withdrawals shook up the draw at the ATP Tour's Masters 1000 tournament.
The so-called Big Three of Roger Federer (knee), Novak Djokovic (unvaccinated), Rafael Nadal (abdominal) won't be on hand this year.
Instead the event's headliners will include 20-somethings like top-ranked Daniil Medvedev of Russia, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, Italy's Jannik Sinner and local favourite Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal.
"What's so special this year is the calibre and the level of the youngsters coming in," tournament director Eugene Lapierre said after the draw was finalized Friday afternoon. "We've talked about the changing of the guard for a few years now. I think we're there."
Federer is still out of action after undergoing knee surgery. Nadal pulled out of the tournament Friday, a day after Djokovic's withdrawal was confirmed.
Djokovic isn't vaccinated against COVID-19 and is not allowed to enter Canada. Nadal, meanwhile, is still recovering from a muscle tear that forced him to withdraw from Wimbledon last month.
"I have been practising for a while now without serving and started with serves four days ago. Everything has been going well. However yesterday, after my normal practice, I felt a slight bother on my abdominal and today it was still there,” Nadal said in a statement. “After speaking with my doctor, we prefer to take things in a conservative way and give a few more days before starting to compete."
Nadal has won 22 Grand Slam singles titles over his career, one more than Djokovic. The Spaniard was set to be the No. 2 seed in Montreal behind Medvedev, who will compete under a neutral flag.
Teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz of Spain was seeded second instead in a 56-player singles draw that includes notable entries like Poland's Hubert Hurkacz and Norway's Casper Ruud.
"They're kids and they're going to be making the stories of tennis for the next 10 years easy," Lapierre said. "So that's what we're going to witness this year."
Tsitsipas, who attended the draw at a downtown restaurant with Alcaraz, said the tour's youth movement is exciting and pushes him to work harder.
"It helps me a lot with my mood in terms of how I approach my practice and how I approach my preparation to aim for better," he said. "I'm a very competitive athlete. I do want to prove to others that I am better than them."
The ninth-ranked Auger-Aliassime will have a first-round bye while fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov has a tough opener against Alex de Minaur. At No. 21, the Australian is ranked one position ahead of Shapovalov, who's from Richmond Hill, Ont.
Nadal's withdrawal gave American Mackenzie McDonald a spot in the main draw.
"We are obviously disappointed that Rafael will not be with us this year," Lapierre said. "A five-time champion of our tournament and the last men’s champion in Montreal (2019), fans were obviously eager to see him back in action at the IGA Stadium."
Benjamin Bonzi of France and Australia's Nick Kyrgios moved into the main draw after the withdrawals of Djokovic, from Serbia, and Oscar Otte of Germany.
Kyrgios, who lost to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, could face Medvedev in the second round. Medvedev has a first-round bye as the top seed.
Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., will open against American Tommy Paul and Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que., drew Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov. Both Canadians were given wild-card entries along with Britain's Andy Murray and Belgium's David Goffin.
The National Bank Open returns to full capacity this year for the first time since 2019. The field includes 41 of the top 44 players in the men's rankings.
Qualifying play is set for the weekend and the main draw starts Monday. The US$6.57-million tournament alternates between Montreal and Toronto each year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2022.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press