MONTREAL — Top-seeded Novak Djokovic is certainly the favourite, but the men's Rogers Cup is never a sure thing for the world's best tennis players.
The event that opens Monday at Uniprix Stadium marks the unofficial beginning of a hard court season leading into the U.S. Open a month later in New York.
A major absence is Roger Federer, who opted to sit out the Rogers Cup to save energy for the U.S. Open. He will play only one tune-up event in Cincinnati before the final grand slam of the year.
For Federer's Swiss compatriot, third-seeded Stan Wawrinka, anything's possible.
"It's a new start," the 2015 French Open winner said Friday at the tournament draw. "We're all back to zero.
"It's the first hard court tournament after the grass courts. It's always the same. We all want to win it. It's a tough draw for everybody. Hopefully I'll play good."
The top eight seeds, including Canada's Milos Raonic seeded eighth, get a bye to the second round.
But if they win their first two matches, he and Wawrinka will meet in the quarter-finals.
Raonic has what looks to be a tough first match against the winner between 23rd ranked Ivo Karlovic and No. 48 Jerzy Janowicz, but tournament director Eugene Lapierre is confident he can beat either of them as well as 11th seeded Richard Gasquet in the round of 16.
"He's beaten those guys and also Gasquet," said Lapierre. "It's not a bad draw for Raonic.
"A Wawrinka encounter in the quarters would be fantastic."
Raonic is 3-1 against Gasquet, including a win on a grass court this year.
Canadian Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., plays a qualifier in the first round, and then the winner between Benjamin Becker and 16th seeded John Isner. If he wins that, it's Wawrinka in the round of 16.
Filip Peliwo of Vancouver must get by 59th ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky to earn a meeting with seventh-seeded Rafael Nadal in the second round. Nadal is in the bottom half of the draw, which appears a little weaker than the top, although it has defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Frenchman beat Federer in last year's final in Toronto.
"It's nice to see Rafael in the bottom," said Lapierre. "If he wants to get a good Masters 1000 tournament under his belt, this would be a good draw. We wish he will play Peliwo in his first match."
Frak Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont. has a shot at an upset of clay-court specialist Pablo Andujar, but then would face fourth-seeded Kei Nishikori.
And Philip Bester of North Vancouver is in tough against a strong opponent in Gilles Muller.
A first-round match that should be high on entertainment value has 10th seeded Gael Monfils against Fabio Fognini, one of whom will likely face second-seeded Andy Murray in the third round.
Lapierre said the field is strong despite Federer's absence.
"No one can say they'll win the tournament because Federer's not there," he said. "Even Novak will have to play well.
"It's the first hard court tournament of the season and it's often the one where you see surprises. To me, there are probably six or seven contenders."
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press