Canada's Rebecca Marino waves to the crowd as she walks off the court following her loss to Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus during round of 16 play at the National Bank Open tennis tournament on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

‘I belong at this level’: Canada’s Rebecca Marino buoyed by National Bank Open run

‘I belong at this level’: Canada’s Rebecca Marino buoyed by National Bank Open run

Canadian Rebecca Marino came into the National Bank Open ready to fight.

The 30-year-old wild-card entry from Vancouver knew she had a chance to stun fans and opponents alike in Montreal — and she did.

Marino, ranked 220th in the world, upset No. 16 seed Madison Keys and Spain’s Paula Badosa, the world No. 31, to make it into the round of 16. Her remarkable run came to an end Thursday with a third-round 6-1, 6-3 loss to No. 1 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

“It didn’t matter who I was going to play. I just wanted to leave it all on the court and give it my best shot,” Marino told reporters after the loss. “In my heart, I feel like I belong with these players, I belong at this level. And I feel the results demonstrated that. … I’m glad I got to show everyone how I play.”

High-level tennis isn’t new to the Canadian. She had a career-high No. 38 WTA ranking back in 2011, but stepped away from the sport for nearly five years to deal with depression.

On Thursday, she fell behind early in Thursday’s match with Sabalenka saving four break points to cruise to a 5-0 lead in the first set.

Sabalenka, the world No. 3, knew coming in that Marino serves well and tries to force her opponents wide. She also knew there was little on the line for the underdog.

“For her, it was nothing to lose today and the crowd was supporting her, so she kind of was in a good shape and good mood,” Sabalenka said. “So I was trying to not give her any opportunities to come back in the match or even to put any pressure on me. I was kind of aggressive from the beginning to the end.

“It’s dangerous to play against players who have nothing to lose.”

Marino came out strong in the second set with a pair of aces and held her serve through the first six games. But she struggled with break points, going 0-for-5 across the 59-minute match.

“I’m a little disappointed with today, but overall, if I look at the grand scheme of the week, I think there’s a lot of positives I can take from this experience and I’m really proud of myself,” she said.

Sabalenka will face No. 8 seed Aryna Azarenka, also of Belarus, in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Hours after their singles bout, Sabalenka and Marino met again in doubles action Thursday. Sabalenka and Elise Mertens of Germany ousted Marino and Montreal’s Leylah Annie Fernandez with a 7-6(4), 6-2 win.

Marino isn’t sure where she’ll play next, but does plan to take part in U.S. Open qualifiers later this month. Whenever she returns to the court, she plans to take with her confidence and momentum she’s gained in Montreal.

“I’m hoping to build off this and keep the climb going,” she said.

Marino said she’s felt support both on and off the court throughout the tournament.

“It felt like not only did I have the crowd and the fans in Montreal, I really felt it from coast to coast from Canada,” she said. “It’s a special moment. I’ll remember it for a long, long time.”

Tennis fans across the country still have one Canadian left to cheer for in the tournament.

Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., the No. 2 seed, was set to face Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in singles action later on Thursday.

Andreescu is looking to defend her 2019 title at the tournament formerly known as the Rogers Cup. The event was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the men’s tournament in Toronto, Stefanos Tsitsipas had a memorable 23rd birthday on Thursday.

The No. 3 seed celebrated the milestone Thursday with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Russia’s Karen Khachanov to advance to the quarterfinals.

The crowd wasn’t about to let Tsitsipas’s big day fade into the background after the win, serenading him with “Happy Birthday” as he was presented with a white sheet cake decked out with fresh fruit.

“The best feeling. One of the best feelings you can experience on a tennis court,” Tsitsipas, the world No. 3, said after the match. “I’m glad they remembered.”

The Greek tennis pro was dominant against Khachanov, saving both of his break points and winning 74 per cent of his total service points.

He’ll face Casper Ruud of Norway in the quarterfinals on Friday. The pair met at the Madrid Open in May, with Ruud taking a straight-sets victory in the round of 16.

“I’m looking forward to that battle,” Tsitsipas said. “We have played each other in the past, (he’s) not an easy guy to play against. I’m looking for a change, looking for a switch-up this time.”

American qualifier John Isner also advanced to the quarterfinals Thursday with a 7-5, 7-6(5) win over No. 4 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2021.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

Tennis