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The Canadian Rising Stars Tearing Up Indian Wells

The BNP Paribas Open has served as a platform for the North American country to showcase their trio of success stories.

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Danis Shapovalov (photo by Chryslène Caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

Eight years ago Milos Raonic was the sole Canadian success story of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

 

At the age of 20, he received a wildcard into the main draw of the 2011 tournament. Stunning 13th seed Mardy Fish on route to the third round. During that year Raonic was the only player from his country – man or woman – to score a main draw win in the event. At that time there were only four players in the top 200 from the North American country with two of those in the top 100.

Now there is a trio of rising stars paving the way for a new era of Canadian tennis. Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Bianca Andreescu have all cracked the top 100 before their 19th birthday and have already enjoyed success in the Californian desert in 2019.

“We can never take credit for all this. We are a facilitator,” Tennis Canada chief executive Michael Downey told The Canadian Press on Match 5th. “At the end of the day, there are many parents, many external coaches and the players themselves that go on court and actually win these matches.”

18-year-old Auger-Aliassime has posted the most high-profile win of the trio so far in Indian Wells. On Saturday he eased to a comprehensive straight sets win over Australian Open semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas. The teenager has been regarded as a tennis prodigy throughout his junior career and with good reason. At the age of 14 he qualified for the main draw of a Challenger event for the first time. He also is a former US Open boys champion and is one of the youngest players of all time at win a Challenger title at the age of 16 years and 10 months. More recently he was runner-up at the Rio Open, which is a ATP 500 event.

“I want to win as much as I can. I want to go as far as I can as a player. I don’t know what my limits will be, but I try to work hard every day to go as far as I can.” He proclaimed after defeating Tsitsipas.
“I probably want to feel all the emotions that I can feel on these courts, win as many trophies as I can.”

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The achievements have drawn praise from Davis Cup team mate Shapovalov, who is almost 16 months older than him. Nicknamed ‘Shapo’ for short, he is still the youngest semi-finalist in the history of Masters 1000 events (dating back to 1990). Achieving that milestone at the 2017 Canadian Open at the age of 18.

“For Felix to get his first top-10 win, I was so, so pumped.” Said Shapovalov. “I remember still warming up, and I was asking my team, I was, like, Did they just finish? It was so quick. He really just outplayed Stefanos, from what I saw. So I was really happy for him. I gave him a big hug.”

Still in the search for his maiden ATP title, Shapovalov kicked-off his Indian Wells bid with a 6-3, 6-4, win over Steve Johnson. Setting up a clash with Marin Cilic in the third round. Regardless of his lack of silverware, he remains the second youngest player in the top 100. Boasting a win-loss record of 8-5 so far this season.

“Obviously it’s a tough one. I haven’t thought too much about it. Played him once before, so I kind of have a feel of him going into the match, but he’s a tough player,” Shapovalov said of Cilic. “He was playing really well, so I’m expecting a battle. I feel good, as well. I’m looking forward to it.”

Andreescu making waves on the women’s tour

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12 months ago Andreescu was playing in a series of ITF events in Japan with the dream of progressing to the main stage of the WTA Tour. Since then, she has played her first tour final in Auckland, clinched her first win over a top 10 player (Caroline Wozniacki) and rose to a current ranking high of 60th.

“If someone would have told me I would have gone to the fourth round of this tournament at the beginning of the year, I would have said, You’re crazy.” The two-time junior grand slam doubles champion said about reaching the last 16 in Indian Wells.
“It’s just an incredible experience. This is one of the best tournaments in the world, so I’m just really, really happy.”

Belonging to a trio of rising stars from the same country, a competitive rivalry is forming between them. Something that Andreescu hopes will propel them further up the ranks in the future.

“We’re all killing it. It’s great. We have played so many junior tournaments together, and it’s so nice to see each and every one of us at the top of our game at this stage in our life, only 18, 19, which is pretty incredible.” She said.
“I think all that really contributes to our successes. We motivate each other. If one person does well, it’s really nice to see.”

It isn’t just each other they hope to inspire. A determined Shapovalov is aiming to create a domino effect to boost the popularity of tennis back in his home country. In 2018 a survey conducted by Tennis Canada found that 6.6 million Canadians played tennis at least once over a 12-month period. Furthermore, 60% of respondents said they were interested in the sport. Placing Tennis in fifth place out of 14 sports that was surveyed.

“To be honest, I’m not shocked. I was telling everybody, it’s just a matter of time until Felix and Bianca show up.” Said Shapovalov. “They both had unbelievable games in the juniors, and I grew up with both of them. So honestly, I knew the potential they have, and I knew it’s just a matter of time until they are gonna have these big results. I’m really happy for them. They are both really good people.”
“And hopefully we can just keep going like this to make tennis a really big sport in Canada.” He added.

Whilst all is not perfect, it is clear that Canada is becoming a fierce tennis nation. A prospect that is exciting many in the sport.

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Cori Gauff: The Finest Example Of The Williams Sisters Legacy At Wimbledon

$1 million in endorsements and a win over Venus before her 16th birthday. America has a new sporting sensation on the horizon.

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photo by Roberto Dell'Olivo

WIMBLEDON: A star was born at the All England Club on Monday as the latest teenage talent sent soundwaves around the women’s circuit.

 

Just over a week ago 15-year-old Cori Gauff found out that she has received a wild card to play in this year’s Wimbledon qualifying tournament. Battling through three rounds, she reached her first main draw at a major. The youngest player in the Open Era to have ever done that. Little did the public know at the time, that was only the start.

Taking to Court 1, Gauff took on her idol, Venus Williams. A seven-time grand slam champion who made her debut at the tournament almost seven years before she was born. In a battle of the generations, youth prevailed as Gauff roared to a sensational 6-4, 6-4, win. Producing a mental and physical display that went well beyond her age. Hitting 18 winners to eight unforced errors and saving two out of the three break points she faced.

“I’m super shocked. But I’m just super blessed that Wimbledon decided to give me the wild card. I mean, I never expected this to happen.” Said Gauff.
“I literally got my dream draw, so I’m just super happy I was able to pull it out today. She played amazing, was just super nice. She’s always been nice the couple times I met her.”

Gauff is one of the many who have benefitted from the legacy created by both Williams and her sister Serena. The most successful siblings in the entire history of the sport. Just seconds after the biggest win of her life, Gauff spoke with Venus at the net. Paying tribute to what she has achieved in the sport.

“I was just telling her thank you for everything she’s done for the sport. She’s been an inspiration for many people. I was just really telling her thank you.”

It could be argued that too much hype is gathering around the youngster, who had to take an online science test on the eve of her final qualifying match. However, Gauff is not an ordinary teenager. Even before Wimbledon, she has earned the reputation of being a teenage prodigy. As a junior, she contested the final of the US Open at the age of 13 in 2017 before winning the French Open the following year. At the Miami Open in March, she won her first match on the WTA Tour.

“Cori is such an exciting young player. She’s so cool. She’s a great girl. I love her dad. There’s just really cool people.” Former world No.1 Serena said on Saturday.

The rise of the American hasn’t gone unnoticed in the corporate world. She already has endorsements with food manufacturer Barilla, clothing brand New Balance and sports equipment maker Head. Forbes magazine lists her endorsements as being worth in the region of $1 million.

The Williams sisters aren’t her only heroes. Another is Roger Federer, who also has an endorsement deal with Barilla. It was a conversation from the Swiss maestro that Gauff links with her grand slam triumph in the juniors.

“Roger Federer definitely inspired me. When I lost in the first round Australian Open juniors, I talked to him. Gave me kind of a pep talk. The next tournament was French Open juniors, and I ended up winning it, so I guess it helped.” She said.

The desire to be the greatest

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Fresh off her win over Williams, Gauff was questioned as to what her goal was next at The All England Club. She responded by saying, `to win it.’ The determination is something past onto her from her family. Her father, Corey, played basketball at Golden State University. Meanwhile, her mother, Candi, excelled in Track and Field whilst at Florida State University.

“I want to be the greatest. My dad told me that I could do this when I was eight. Obviously, you never believe it.” She explained.
“I’m still, like, not 100% confident. But, like, you have to just say things. You never know what happens.”

Williams is one of those who think Gauff has what it takes to rise to the top. Visibly frustrated by her loss to the rising star, the 39-year-old was impressed with what she saw on the court.

“I think the sky’s the limit, it really is,” Venus said of Gauff.
“She did everything well today. She put the ball in the court, which was much better than I did. She served well, moved well. It was a great match for her.”

Only time will tell how great Gauff can become. It isn’t all down to ability. How she fair over the coming years mentally under the spotlight will be a stern test. As it was for previously teenage talents of the game such as Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati. Although the signs are good.

“This is just a tournament. I’ve played a lot of tournaments. Obviously, this one is a little bit different. But I’m just right now relaxing, then focus on the next round tomorrow.” She stated.

Now the talk of the entire tournament, Gauff will play Magdaléna Rybáriková in the second round. A former semi-finalist back in 2017 who knocked out 10th seed Aryna Sabalenka in her opening match. Like Venus said ‘skies the limit’ for the new star of women’s tennis.

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At Curtains For 2019 French Open, It Was All About Women Proffering Intrepidity

Ashleigh Barty’s maiden Major title win over Marketa Vondrousova culminated an eventful fortnight from the women, who held themselves distinct vis-à-vis the men at Roland Garros.

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(photo by Gianni Ciaccia)

What will we remember about the 2019 French Open? The return of Roger Federer, or the restarting of his 15-year-old rivalry at the tournament with Rafael Nadal, or Nadal’s bid for an umpteenth title, or Dominic Thiem’s thwarting of Novak Djokovic’s second Roland Garros – and non-calendar Slam – title. Or, will we think of how botched up French Tennis Federation’s (FFT) organisational and scheduling skills were, in which the male players looked to have preferential footing over the women. The controversy involving Thiem’s and Serena Williams’ press conferences, notwithstanding?

 

We will remember all of these. Even so, thinking about how one press conference was shunted aside to accommodate the other, ostensibly that of a man, will be a reminder of how women snatched the narrative of the event for themselves, from start to finish.

When the women’s singles draw was released, the usual bunch of names remained in the spotlight. Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, (then) defending champion Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Elina Svitolina, and even Serena Williams dominated the discussion even as the other seeded and non-seeded players remained in contention. As is wont in tennis – especially in women’s tennis – predictions about potential upsets also took an important place of their own, though no one really expected a wild ride this time around.

At least, that was the consensus with expectations overflowing that one among these women would fulfil the coffers of consistency. However, as results flew about in a non-linear manner, rather than heighten frustrations about the women’s tour’s unpredictability, exuberance reigned high about the currently-prevailing depth in the women’s side of the game.

Case in point: Johanna Konta reaching the semi-final in Paris in spite of possessing a poor record previously in the tournament. Or, the manner in which youngsters such as Sofia Kenin, Amanda Anisimova, and Marketa Vondrousova rose collectively in a show-of-arms about them being the sport’s future, extending the subject from where Osaka had left it off at the Australian Open. Even 23-year-old Ashleigh Barty’s winning her first Major against the 19-year-old Vondrousova, for that matter, can be considered a continuation of the aspect of the younger lot shining.

The NextGen Dilemma

And one cannot help but think if the lack of hyping about Next Generation” players among the women has contributed to younger non-favourites finding it easy to establish themselves in the mainstay of the WTA tour.

It would be wrong to compare the men’s half of tennis with that of the women. Nonetheless, there is no denying that the likes of Alexander Zverev, Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Borna Coric and Stefanos Tsitsipas gained somewhat premature prominence. In that, the roadmap about their probable path to glory was set even before they could find – and make – their place in the frenetic tour. To be honest, except for Zverev, and Tsitsipas this year, the others are still struggling to push themselves to where they are capable of belonging.

Not that all younger players in the women’s tour have found their groove. For many, it is still work-in-progress. Having said that though, it is unquestionable that the WTA’s pace is way ahead of that of the ATP in being able to bring its future to the forefront parallelly alongside its present.

That the organisers of the 2019 French Open were oblivious to this unique selling proposition (USP) of the women’s game as it went about prioritising the other gender, then, ought to be remembered the most about the Major. So that by the time the next Slam – and even other events – come about, apathy and indifference do not tar the women’s draw, reducing it to some kind of unavoidable-yet-unimportant sideshow.

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2019 French Open: Where The ‘Fedal’ Twain Shall Meet Again

The re-igniting of the Fedal rivalry at the French Open has renewed implications, going beyond the event itself

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Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, French Open 2005
Photo Credit: Live Tennis

For a while now, make that years’ worth, we have been waiting for a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal clash at the US Open. The draws have been made, either they have been grouped in the same half – and one has fallen short – or they have happened to be in different halves entirely, and have never met.

 

One reason for the higher-than-usual (in the last couple of years) pangs to see Fedal square-off in New York is because of how each of their meetings in the three other Majors has been. We have seen Nadal end Federer’s reign as the favourite at Wimbledon, and the Australian Open. The first result coming about after multiple attempts while achieving the second, in a far easier manner.

But it is what we have had the opportunity to see in Roland Garros that has kept this rivalry distinct and blazing, impervious to time passing by. Twelve of their previous 38 matches have come at the three Majors. Five of these 12 meetings have come by in Paris, four in finals and once in that fated semi-final in 2005, which in the truest of terms was the origin of this rivalrous duopoly. And, it had to happen the way it did for audiences to understand the significance of what this rivalry was and would continue to be.

Though, for a moment, let us imagine an alternate reality. A reality in which the Swiss, instead of the Spaniard, won their first meeting and the ones to follow thereafter. Let us think of an alt-verse where results at the 2008 French Open and Wimbledon did not turn out the way they did. And it was the Mallorcan in place of the Basel-born who needed a coincidental intervention to halt the latter in his tracks in Paris, the following year.

If all of these had transpired, would we have felt the same way about the two being the nemesis of each other? What hold would each player have had in our lives? Would we be thinking of them as a duology, where each player is one half of a pair that has added to men’s tennis’ qualitative appeal?

Indeed, they would have been rivals still but we would not have seen them as equals – as the greatest of the game – despite the clear unevenness in their head-to-head, albeit in Federer’s favour. Most of all, if they had been slated to play in the semi-final of the French Open nearly a decade-and-a-half removed since their first meeting there under such envisioned reality, perhaps, we would not have been this excited about the prospective match-up.

The reality as we know it is so much better. In its moments of exultation and in times of despair – for the players, their fans and even for the supposedly unbiased viewers – reality has presented the players as humans. Each match between Federer and Nadal has seen both players put forth this quality – humanness – at the forefront while vying for wins. Regardless of how easy or hard the results have come by for either player.

When Federer and Nadal step onto the court for their 39th meeting, they will try to do the same all over again, impassive to time’s turning. As Federer said, “Like against any player, there is always a chance. Otherwise, nobody will be in the stadium to watch because everybody already knows the result in advance…For me to get to Rafa is not simple. It took five matches here for me to win to get there. That’s why I’m very happy to play Rafa, because if you want to do or achieve something on the clay, inevitably, at some stage, you will go through Rafa, because he’s that strong and he will be there.

In a way, this match is also about getting closure, specifically in the French capital.

Where Wimbledon and the Australian Open have given us relative cessation, the French Open has remained in limbo in its one-sidedness. This contest, coming at a time when both have different highs at their backs, promises to be an interesting pivot for them to revisit their rivalry and their legacy at the Majors.

Even as it rekindles exigency for more of their matches at the Majors. Not only in Flushing Meadows later in the year, but perhaps in the soon-to-follow Wimbledon championships, too, in a unique kind of second wind.

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