The 2017 Australian Open has been run and won, and Canada’s search for its first Grand Slam singles winner has stretched for another tennis tournament. We have high hopes for world number four ranked Milos Raonic, but where else can Canada look for its maiden title?
Melbourne Park is abuzz with activity every January as the world descends upon its expansive grounds to take in the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific, the Australian Open. As ever, the blistering heat has the crowds searching for any shade available, with water and beer supplies no doubt being stretched to the limits.
But all eyes are on the tennis, with some of the world’s biggest names doing battle to take out one of the biggest prizes in the sport.
For Canada, alas, the wait for its first Grand Slam champion continues, with highest hope Raonic knocked out in the quarter finals by eventual runner-up Rafael Nadal.
Raonic, to his credit, continues to work hard on improving his game and remains Canada’s most likely chance in 2017.
“I think Wimbledon is his big chance,” says Tom Tebbutt, a veteran tennis journalist who writes for Tennis Canada.
“With his serve on grass and the rest of his aggressive game – he should have his best chance at Wimbledon.”
Tebbutt has studied Canadian tennis for decades, and is bullish about the culture and talent brewing at junior levels.
“The health is pretty good largely because of two promising juniors, who aren’t really playing juniors any more despite being eligible,” he said, with Denis Shapovalov (Richmond Hill, Ont), who won the Wimbledon boys title in 2016, and Felix Auger-Aliassime (Montreal), who won the US Open boys title, being those two players. Together they won the 2015 US Open boys doubles title.
“Among the girls there’s a 16-year from Mississauga, Ontario, Bianca Andreescu. She is one of the top girl juniors in the world.”
Andreescu, who with teammate Carson Branstine won the junior doubles title at this year’s Australian Open, and had an admirable semi-final finish in the singles (particularly with a heavily strapped thigh), spoke to Canada Down Under after her win in the second round of the doubles, and said the culture of Canadian tennis was being fostered by those at the top.
“I think right now tennis in Canada is doing really well, especially with Milos, Genie [Eugenie Bouchard], and all the up-and-coming Canadians,” she said.
“We motivate each other to do well in every tournament, and the support from Tennis Canada is just amazing.”
Andreescu says having the opportunity to play with some of those more experienced players – as well as to represent Canada – was imperative for player development, both for their games and morale. Immediately after the Australian Open, she was headed to Mexico to join the senior Fed Cup team for the first time.
“Oh, it’s amazing – it’s my favourite thing, playing team tournaments, junior Fed Cup, Fed Cup – it’s awesome,” she said, excitedly.
“I really look up to [the older players] and what they do, and I try to picture myself where they are and just keep improving.”
Tebbutt says the junior development in Canada has been heavily influenced by having prominent players in both the men’s and women’s draws.
“Tennis Canada is always trying to raise the profile but there’s nothing like having top players,” he said.
“Eugenie Bouchard made it to number five in the world and played in a Wimbledon final in 2015 but has regressed.
“Milos Raonic has made it to number three and a Wimbledon final 2015. Both could be contenders to win a Grand Slam title someday. Tennis Canada can do all it wants to promote tennis, but having successful players is what really stimulates interest – while the sport has not gone crazy – there’s no question Bouchard and Raonic have created an interest that wasn’t there before 2011.”
With that interest continuing to foster some impressive Canadian talent throughout the junior ranks, and a healthy competitive culture, those days of Canada dwelling in the tennis wilderness could – hopefully – be numbered.