TORONTO — Marina Stakusic’s first tennis memory was watching the Rogers Cup at the Rexall Centre. The tournament and stadium names have changed since Stakusic was five, but the 17-year-old has now won at least one match at the event which helped her fall in love with the sport.
Stakusic, a native of Mississauga, Ont., was the only Canadian to advance to the second round of the National Bank Open qualifying tournament. Victoria Mboko of Toronto and Kayla Cross of London, Ont., both lost their matches on Saturday.
“I came here so many times as a kid and always wanted to play this tournament,” Stakusic told the media center at what is now Sobeys Stadium. “I love Montreal too, but Toronto is where I grew up.
“I played at this club for many years, so it’s really cool to finally play the tournament.”
Stakusic was beating China’s Xinyu Wang 6-1 in the first round when her opponent retired due to injury. She felt she had the game in hand when Wang called the game over.
“I kind of understood his game pretty early on. It helped me a lot,” Stakusic said. “I tried to keep my energy the whole time and keep my feet moving because I’ve never played in front of such a big crowd.
“That was the main thing, just being relaxed and keeping my energy up all the time.”
Stakusic will face Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic on Sunday in the second round of the qualifying tournament. She had to play in pre-qualifying matches to even make the qualifiers.
“I’m just going to try to stay as relaxed as possible,” Stakusic said. “I mean, I’m definitely not supposed to win tomorrow so there’s not too much pressure on me.”
Mboko, 15, pushed Claire Liu of the United States to three sets, eventually losing 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to the world No. 79. The last game of the day lasted two hours 28 minutes. in scorching heat with southern Ontario under weather advisories.
Cross lost to Spain’s Nuria Parrizas-Diaz 7-6, 6-0. Cross said she was disappointed with her result but enjoyed the rest of her experience at the National Bank Open, including signing autographs and taking photos with the fans.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” Cross, 17, said. “Of course losing wasn’t the biggest but I’m still going 7-6 with someone who is world No. 59 right now so it was crazy.
“Just getting the same media exposure, doing interviews, stuff like that. Getting a glimpse of what the future holds for me hopefully.”
Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic is the top seed in the qualifying tournament. She will face Germany’s Tatjana Maria on Sunday.
Stakusic is in contention for one of eight qualifying spots in the main draw at the WTA event. If she qualifies for Monday, she will be one of five Canadians on the women’s side of the event in Toronto.
Leylah Fernandez of Laval, Que., is the 13th seed in Toronto, along with former champion Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Rebecca Marino of Vancouver, Carol Zhao of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Katherine Sebov of Toronto, already in the main draw.
The men’s tournaments are in Montreal.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 6, 2022.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press