Toronto features interesting matchups

When Tennis Masters events roll around and I look at the draw, I feel like we're getting ready to see a major. Every player whose ranking allows him to get directly into a Tennis Masters event is required to play unless he is out due to injury. Consequently, you get a great field that has the intensity of a major.

Andy Roddick started this summer's U.S. Open Series in the same fashion he started last summer -- with a win. It isn't easy to defend a championship, but Roddick made it look easy. In fact, he was the first to defend the Indy title since Pete Sampras was successful in 1991 and 1992. Roddick now stands in second place in the U.S. Open Series point standings behind, of all people, Nicolas Kiefer.

In Toronto, the current No. 1 player in the world -- Roger Federer -- makes his first return to North America since the Nasdaq 100 in Miami. He comes in having won three consecutive tournaments, including the clay-court event in Gstaad, Switzerland, his home country, in the week immediately following Wimbledon. Rarely do any of the top players enter a tournament immediately following a major, much less a clay event after Wimbledon. I honestly can't remember the last player to win on the grass of Wimbledon and follow it up with a win on clay the following week. In fact, it may never have happened before.

Federer is playing a schedule like a man who wants the yearend No. 1 ranking. Right now there's nothing that'll make me believe that he won't. With seven titles and two majors in 2004 (and its only July) I think he has it locked up already.

The best first-round matchup has already been played, between Andre Agassi and Tommy Haas. Although Haas was just eight days removed from his tournament win in Los Angeles, one that included a quarterfinals victory over Agassi, Agassi got back at Haas on Monday with a come-from-behind 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory. But give a lot of credit to Hass, who has come back from a major shoulder injury to win two titles this year. He could get comeback player of the year.

Toronto will be a major test for Agassi. He's withdrawn from Wimbledon due to injury, reached the quarters of Los Angeles and then succumbed to another injury when he pulled out of Indianapolis last week. The longer Agassi goes without getting his form back, the more players will start to feel that he can be beaten. He certainly doesn't instill that fear factor he used to in players.

Americans fans have seen very little from Rafael Nadal. He's a great young talent who already has a win over Roger Federer in 2004. Right now only Tim Henman, Albert Costa, and Gustavo Kuerten can make that statement beside Nadal. He's been out much of the last three months with an injury he suffered while jumping over the net during practice, but some of his fellow Spaniards feel he'll be No. 1 someday. That's says a lot when a player is just 18 years old. Too bad for him he plays Lleyton Hewitt in the first round Tuesday.

Gulliermo Coria and David Nalbandian will make a lot of noise this summer. They are two of the best on hardcourts and are only getting better. They are part of that group of great Argentinians (including Roland Garros champion Gaston Gaudio) who over the next decade will try to duplicate some of what the American men did in the 1990s. But with Sampras, Agassi and Courier amassing a total of 26 majors in their careers, these three Argentineans have a long way to go. They are currently at one major victory between them.

MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.