Canada may be in the deep freeze right now, but our Canadian tennis is hot! Look at the tennis heat wave that January brought in. What a treat for fans. Thanks to Bianca Andreescu, Brayden Schnur, Denis Shapovalov, and Felix Auger-Aliassime for making tennis so much fun to watch for Canadian fans this January (and early February).
These young players are not only doing well, they are presenting themselves with maturity, appeal, professionalism, and a show of good Canadian values on and off-court.
First take a look at Bianca Andreescu and Brayden Schnur at the Oracle Challenger Series Newport Beach event. Imagine a high profile, $125,000 Challenger event in the U.S., and both the men’s and women’s finals feature two Canadians. Go figure! Bianca won and Brayden didn’t, but still, both men’s and women’s finals featured young Canadians.
(Photo above courtesy of the Ontario Tennis Association web site)
Eighteen-year-old Bianca Andreescu serves up an entertaining game with an arsenal of offensive weapons and determined defense. She plays the crowd-pleasing “all-court” game featuring variety, creativity, surprise, tenacity, and grit.
Andreescu proved in Auckland in January that she can play with the WTA’s top players with wins over Wozniacki and Venus Williams. She followed this with her first main draw match win at the Australian Open, then the first place finish at Newport Beach.
Tennis Canada celebrated Andreescu’s success in this article.
The WTA web site includes this summary of Andreescu’s Newport Beach victory:
NEWPORT BEACH, CA, USA – Canada has a new top-ranked player.
Eighteen-year-old Bianca Andreescu rallied from being bageled in the first set to defeat American Jessica Pegula in the final of the Newport Beach WTA 125K event on Sunday, 0-6, 6-4, 6-2. With the victory, she displaces Eugenie Bouchard as the No.1 female player from Canada.
“I tried to calm myself down because I was getting really annoyed with myself in that first set. And I have to give credit to Jessica because she played really well,” said Andreescu, who is set to rise into the Top 70 as a result.
“I tried to leave that set behind and focus on the next, to stay in the present moment throughout the second and third set after that. These are the matches I live for, the ones that mean the most.”
Canadian Brayden Schnur impressed at the National Bank Challenger event in Calgary in October. He came within a few points of winning the semi-final over Jordan Thompson who lost in the final to Ivo Karlovic. Three months later at Newport Beach in sunny California, Brayden gave defending champion and hometown favourite Taylor Fritz (current ranking #40) a run for his money, losing 7-6, 6-4 in the tournament final. The word is out, Brayden Schnur is another Canadian to watch.
From the Oracle Challenger Series web site: (before the men’s final)
“For the Oracle Challenger Series newcomer (Brayden Schnur) it was a hard-fought three-set tie break win over American Donald Young that lasted two hours and twenty minutes (semi-final). Schnur made his presence known in Newport Beach on Thursday when he upset number 2 seed and World No. 81 Mackenzie McDonald in the second round. Another upset in the quarterfinals, Schnur easily beat Jason Jung of Taipei 6-2, 6-1. His victory over World No. 231 Young was not as easy: 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(6).
Physically, Fritz, 21, and Schnur, 23, are pretty evenly matched, with both men standing at 6’4″ and weighing in at just under 200 lbs. Both finalists are right-handed with a two-handed backhand. But the similarities stop there. While Fritz is fresh off a third round appearance in Melbourne, this is Schnur’s second ever ATP Challenger Tour finals appearance. A win tomorrow would be his first title.”
Who doesn’t love to watch Denis Shapovalov, the dynamic, charismatic 19-year-old Canadian tennis player? Even when he missteps he is forgivable – after a small gaffe in a post-match interview with Sportsnet during the excitement of the Davis Cup victory but immediately apologized. “ I didn’t mean to swear, sorry, “ giggle, smile. Yes, Canadian.
The Davis Cup in Slovakia this weekend was something to see. Denis won both his singles matches (the first and fourth of five rubbers), playing well against tough opponents, making some amazing go-for-it shots, coming through in clutch moments, and relaxing into his own Canadian skin in post-match interviews.
The Canadians were down 1-2 after losing the doubles (and Felix lost his singles match to the formidable Martin Klizan, current ranking #38). Watching Denis and Felix play doubles together in the 3-set contest was heart-warming and nerve-wracking at the same time. They struggled with the opposing net man. Their loss in the third set only served to highlight the complexity of doubles compared to singles. In a way it also paid a subtle homage to the experience gap left in Canadian men’s doubles by Daniel Nestor’s retirement and Vasek Pospisil’s absence due to injury.
Question: How did Denis Shapovalov learn how to slide so well on the clay?
Answer: Snow tennis, check out this video.
Felix had to win the final rubber to seal a Canadian victory and a place at the Madrid Davis Cup finals. With all the pressure on him, with a loss in the doubles rubber earlier in the day, and with a late switch of opponents, he remained unfazed and focused. He won in two sets. This triggered the Canadian victory celebration. Fans and players exploded like a helium-filled balloon jetting into the Bratislava sky.
The CBC reported on the final match that clinched Canada’s victory and showcased the heroics of Auger-Aliassime in the final rubber:
Teenager Felix Auger Aliassime lifted Canada into the Davis Cup final, downing Norbert Gombos of Slovakia 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday to win the best-of-five tie 3-2 in Bratislava.
It was the second win of the day in three matches for the Canadians, who trailed 2-1 in the tie after losing the doubles match 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 to open Saturday’s action.
Canada will play the Davis Cup final in Madrid in November.
Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., forced the deciding fifth match when he defeated Martin Klizan 7-6 (4), 6-4, giving Montreal’s Auger-Aliassime the chance to close it out.
Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime played all five of Canada’s matches.
“For my part that’s what you have to learn as a player,” Auger-Aliassime said of rebounding from the doubles loss earlier in the day and his singles loss on Friday. “Every week you play matches so you get tough losses and you have to bounce back and the same thing this weekend.”
In the video below, Dennis and Felix exude their enthusiasm and charm as they speak to their Canadian fans.
Perhaps the best thing about these young players is that they appear to enjoy the game. They see enjoyment, as well as winning and results, as an important outcome of their chosen profession. This bodes well for career longevity, and for pleasurable fan viewing into the future.
And let’s not forget the warming effect of the great performance of our steadfast and brilliant Milos Raonic at the Australian Open in January, the continuing presence of Daniel Nestor as a super-knowledgeable sportscaster, and of Eugenie Bouchard (second round in the Australian Open) and the other Canadian tennis team members who are grinding it out on the world tennis circuit.
Finally, the Canadian women’s team is next up at the Fed Cup in the Netherlands on February 9 and 10, led by Bianca Andreescu as Canada’s new #1 female player.