Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal begin the countdown to this month’s US Open as the top two in the world resume their rivalry atop the field at the Montreal Masters.
The event, which begins on Sunday in an effort to attract more fans, is the first of back-to-back elite events as the big names swing into action on the hard courts of North America.
Federer has not played since lifting a fifth straight Wimbledon title, beating Nadal in five sets on the grass.
The 20-year-old Spanish number two took a week off, then won another clay trophy along with a flash Mercedes car at the Stuttgart ATP stop.
While top 10 Americans including Andy Roddick and James Blake have played a limited schedule at home in recent weeks, Europeans have been holding off their debuts on the cement.
But with the year’s final Grand Slam starting in just three weeks, the seeding depth reflects the seriousness of the big names, with all of the top 16 taking their places.
Heading back to action after three months out with a wrist injury will be Scot Andy Murray, who takes the 13th seeding and opens against slumping American Robby Ginepri.
Richard Gasquet at number eight is the only seeded Frenchman in a tournament which alternates each year between Francophone Montreal and Toronto.
The leading eight seeds benefit from byes. In the second round, Federer will put his July training at his hot-weather base in Dubai to an early test against either huge-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic or Max Mirnyi of Belarus.
Nadal won the tournament two years ago in its last Monteal edition, beating Andre Agassi in straight sets. But the treble Roland Garros champion went out in the third round last year against Tomas Berdych.
While habitually breaking records in the game, Federer finds it easy to look at the big picture of his career.
And though catching up to Nadal in 2007 season titles — the Spaniard leads six to four — remains inviting on the hardcourts, Federer also knows that he stands only three grand slam titles shy of tying the all-time best of 14 set by Pete Sampras.
”I definitely feel like I’m mentally and physically still fit to go on for many more years to come,” said the Swiss, who turns 26 on Wednesday. ”But that’s not going to make you win trophies. You’ve got to give yourself occasions and possibilities.”
Serb third seed Novak Djokovic should be well-rested after running out of puff in a Wimbledon semifinal against Nadal, then losing early on clay last month in Umag, Croatia.
He will play either Nicolas Kiefer or Indianapolis titlist Dmitry Tursunov.
Russian Nikolay Davydenko, whose withdrawal from a second-round match this week in Sopot, Poland — complaining of a foot injury — sparked a gambling inquiry because of unusual betting on the match, is seeded fourth ahead of Roddick.
Four Canadians were given wild card entries, including Frank Dancevic, runner-up to Tursunov a week ago in Indianapolis. – Sapa-AFP