MONTREAL — He ranks 290th in the world, trains without a coach, and had never before played in an ATP World Tour event.
But that didn’t stop Canadian tennis player Erik Chvojka from delivering a scare Monday to No. 21-ranked Alexandr Dolgopolov — a feat that thrilled a boisterous pro-Canuck crowd at the Rogers Cup in Montreal.
Chvojka, a 24-year-old from the Montreal suburb of Kirkland, battled hard against Dolgopolov’s slicing backhands, before falling 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 at Uniprix Stadium.
“It was a beautiful day for me today,” said Chvojka, who, as a kid, often watched his tennis idols play live at the Montreal event.
“I was a bit nervous waking up. But this is normal, I guess.”
Chvojka’s match, which drew chants and rumbling cheers from the partisan crowd, was an early highlight on the tournament’s opening day.
The top eight seeds received first-round byes Monday in a star-studded Rogers Cup that features eight of the world’s top 10 players.
But that didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of action on the hard-court.
Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka opened the men’s main draw with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Argentina’s David Nalbandian.The 14th-seeded Wawrinka will play either American qualifier Michael Russell or Spain’s Albert Montanes in the next round.
Kevin Anderson of South Africa, beat Spain’s Pablo Andujar 6-4, 6-4, in the other early match.
Later in the day, Ernests Gulbis of Latvia defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain, 3-6, 6-1, 7-5.
Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci knocked out Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan, 7-5, 7-6 (6); Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, edged Juan Monaco of Argentina, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (5); Alex Bogomolov Russia, defeated France’s Adrian Mannarino, 6-2, 7-6 (4); Croatia’s Ivan Dodig beat Jeremy Chardy of France, 6-3, 6-4; Marin Cilic of Croatia defeated Italy’s Andreas Seppi, 7-5, 6-4.
World No. 1 singles player, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, started off the Rogers Cup with a victory — in doubles. Djokovic and countryman Janko Tipsarevic beat Mark Knowles of Bahamas and Philipp Petzscner of Germany, 5-7, 6-3 (12-10).
In an evening ceremony, U.S. tennis legend Jimmy Connors is scheduled to be officially inducted into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame.
But it was the hometown component that got fans out of their seats.
Chvojka, who lost the first set to Dolgopolov, said it wasn’t easy for him to bounce back to win the second against the 22-year-old from Ukraine.
“It was great for him because he quieted down the crowd and everything was going his way,” said Chvojka, who had never played anyone ranked higher than No. 94.
“He served very well at times, as well. I think he managed his match very well. I had the whole crowd with me, which could be hard if you’re on the other side of that.”
Fans shouted “Come on Canada!” and “Come on Erik!” as they watched the tight contest. Several even left their centre-court seats in the middle of Wawrinka’s match to peer down from a walkway onto the neighbouring stadium where Chvojka was playing.
On the court, the emotional left-hander followed many of his big points with arm pumps.
About a year ago, a scene like this was far from Chvojka’s mind.
In 2010, Chvojka ranked 1,462nd in the world and had given up tennis in the fall to study mechanical engineering at McGill University. He said he hung up his racquet after suffering discouraging injuries.
But his scholastic endeavour lasted two weeks before he was urged back onto the court by family and friends.
“I liked school, but I felt I was getting fit again and I could make my studies a bit later, and that now was the time for me to play tennis,” he said.
Chvojka he still doesn’t have a coach and only hired a personal trainer in the last year.
“We met and I took him to a hill, we did a bunch of stuff, he threw up after about 45 minutes,” his trainer, Steve Hoather, said of their first training session.
But Hoather insisted Chvojka’s hard work in the gym has paid off in a big way — and he said it was evident on the court Monday.
“Dolgopolov’s a tricky player, he’s got a lot of touch, so he had a few beautiful drop shots — Erik got to every one of them,” he said.
Chvojka plans to stick with tennis and hopes to crack the top-200 by the end of the year.
“It’s my first match at a big event in the main draw on a stadium court,” he said.
“I can only take good things from this match. I’ve just got to keep working on my game.”