MONTREAL – It’s the quiet before the storm on site at the Rogers Cup.
The sound of hammering and drilling is far louder than the thwack of a tennis ball at this stage of the week.
Four days remain before the qualifying begins on the weekend, the hordes descend upon the Stade IGA site, and the excitement of the annual Premier 5 event begins.
And through the sound of the preparations, two Canadian players with starkly different storylines were out on Court 2 practicing against each other.
Both will try to get through the qualifying and reach the main event.
For Françoise Abanda, who received a wild card into the main the last four years, it’s an extra challenge.
Here’s what it looked like.
Crucial times for Abanda
For Abanda, still just 21, it’s an important week.
She had a couple of great results at Grand Slams in 2017, qualifying and reaching the second round at both the French Open and Wimbledon.
At Wimbledon, with a little more experience, she might well have dethroned former junio rival Jelena Ostapenko, who was fresh from her triumph at the French Open. And then we might be writing a completely different story. Because that’s the kind of result – a third round, or better, at a Slam – that can give a career serious momentum.
But this year, Abanda didn’t make it through either one, losing in the first round of qualifying in both.
She has consequently watched her ranking drop down to No. 193. That’s down from a high of No. 111 last October when it appeared she was going to finally jump into the top 100 in very short order.
Abanda hovered between No. 120 and No. 130 for nearly a year, from last July to just before the French Open.
But she has played relatively little since a fall on the warmup court before her scheduled Fed Cup match in Montreal, against Ukraine last April.
Tough times, and now it’s crunch time
When Abanda finally got to Europe to prepare for the French Open, she brought a case of bronchitis with her. She posted an impressive win over Yanina Wickmayer in the first round of a $100,000 ITF in Slovakia before Paris. But since then, she has played just five matches in seven weeks, and lost four of them.
Despite the relative ring rust, Abanda is a player who has had shining moments at home, at the Rogers Cup and in Fed Cup.
And this year, she’ll need one of those moments.
A year ago, Abanda qualified and reached the second round in Cincinnati. She reached the final round of qualifying at the US Open and then the quarterfinals at the WTA event in Quebec City.
That’s 270 points to defend over the next month and a bit – and Abanda’s current points total stands at 292. Without those points, she’s outside … the top 750. It is without a doubt the key moment in her young career so far.
Perhaps that why she pulled out of the qualifying at San Jose this week, to be at home and prepare the very best way she can.
For Marino, it’s all bonus time
The last time Marino, now 27, played the Rogers Cup was seven long years ago, in Toronto in 2011. She had just reached her career-best ranking of No. 38 and was a direct entry into the draw, losing in the first round to Ekaterina Makarova.
A year before that, she was ranked No. 174 and needed a wild into the qualifying – and lost in the third and final round to … Makarova.
Two years later, she was out of the game. She returns having started from scratch in February, and raised her ranking from … no ranking, to its current No. 310.
This weekend, unless she gets a crazy-friendly draw, Marino is likely to face the highest-ranked players she’ll have seen in the six months of her comeback.
Marino played (and defeated No. 100 Kurumi Nara and lost 7-5 in the third set to No. 101 Luksika Kumkhum during an early-spring tour of $25,000 tournaments in Japan.
Other than that, she has faced few players ranked even in the top 200.
Not that she doesn’t have the level to defeat a top-100 player. But she doesn’t have much recent match experience in that regard.
The players directly into the Rogers Cup qualifying are all ranked No. 131 or better. There have been a few notable withdrawals, including Taylor Townsend and Kaia Kanepi. But the quality is there.
It’ll be fascinating to see how she responds to her first top-level event in more than 5 1/2 years.
Could be some changes
Meanwhile, Abanda could well get into the main draw in the end. Two players who were announced as wild cards Wednesday are nursing injuries.
Carol Zhao is dealing with an elbow issue, and hasn’t played since losing in the Wimbledon qualifying.
Bianca Andreescu, managing a sacroiliac joint problem, withdrew from her semifinal match at the Granby Challenger last week. And then she pulled out of the Citi Open this week.
Andreescu reached the quarterfinals there a year ago, so that was a tough call to make.
If either player determines she’s not healthy enough to go next week, you would think that Abanda is next in line.
But if they are going to withdraw, they will have to do it before the start of qualifying. A player involved in the qualifying cannot accept a wild card into the main draw once it’s begun.