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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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Why Celebrating LGBT+ Pride Month In Tennis Matters

Besides the fancy rainbow-coloured clothing that is worn, there is a far more important reason.

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Guido Pella during a Men's Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Manuela Davies/USTA)

June is when players switch their focus from the clay to grass in order to tune up their preparations ahead of the prestigious Wimbledon Championships. But for some linked to the sport this month is also significant for another reason.

 

It is LGBT pride month which is an initiative that was originally created as a way to mark the Stonewall Riots which began on June 28th 1969 in New York. A series of protests took place in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn which was the catalyst in the fight for equal rights among the LGBT community. In the UK the first pride March was held in 1972 and today there are more than 100 events in the country annually.

Today Pride is about promoting equality in the world with various organizations taking part, including tennis. The British Lawn Tennis Association has gotten more involved this year by hosting a series of Pride Days at their ATP and WTA events. They have taken place on the Friday of tournaments in Nottingham, Birmingham and Queen’s. The final one is taking place this Friday in Eastbourne.

“We still live in a time when people don’t always feel like they can be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, so the more we can do to show support and let them know everything is ok the better,’ British player Liam Broady recently said.

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Some may wonder as to if Pride events such as these are necessary in tennis considering it is 2022 and lives for LGBT people have improved considerably over the years. However, there is still work to be done. One study called OUTSPORT found that 90% of LGBT+ respondents believe that homophobia and transphobia is a problem in sport and 33% remain closeted in their own sporting context. Another study conducted in recent years is Out On The Fields which found almost eight out of 10 respondents felt that an openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event. Obviously, these findings vary depending on the sport and the country, but it still illustrates the seriousness of the subject.

In tennis, the WTA Tour has seen various LGBT role models triumph at the very top. Both Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova were some of the very first professional athletes to come out publicly during the 1980s which was a decade when misinformation about the Aids crises lead to the stigmation of the gay community. King said she lost all of her endorsements within 24 hours after being outed in 1981 and that was before the Aids crisis erupted. Navratilova also experienced similar misfortunes.

The WTA was founded on the principles of equality and opportunity, along with positivity and progress, and wholeheartedly supports and encourages players, tournaments, partners and fans’ commitment to LGBT+ initiatives,” the WTA told UbiTennis last week.
“The WTA supports LGBT+ projects across the tennis family, such as amplifying our athletes’ voices on this topic through the Tour’s global platforms, increasing awareness by incorporating the LGBT+ spirit into our wider corporate identity, among many other initiatives.”

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) tells UbiTennis the sport has a ‘proud history of advocating social change.’ The organization oversees the running of all junior events, Davis Cup, Billie Jean King Club and the Olympic tennis events.

“Inclusion is one of the ITF’s core values and a pillar of the ITF 2024 strategy. Tennis as a sport has a proud history of advocating social justice and instigating change. Within the tennis community, we embrace the LGBTQ community and full support any initiative, such as the celebration of Pride Month, that continues the conversation and furthers progress in ensuring sport and society are free from bias and discrimination in any form. There is always more that can be done, and we will continue to make every effort to ensure that all our participants, our employees and fans feel welcome, included, and respected day in, day out.” The ITF said in a statement.

Whilst the women’s Tour has had plenty of LGBT role models, it is different on the men’s circuit. At present there is no openly gay player in men’s tennis where around 2000 people have an ATP ranking. In recent months the governing body has looked into making the Tour more inclusive. Last year they reached out to Lou Englefield, the director of Pride Sports, a UK organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+phobia in sport and aims to improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people. Through their connection, they contacted Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. Monash University supplied the ATP with a series of scientifically validated questions, which they used to ‘look under the hood’ at the factors which supports a culture where gay or bisexual players feel they are not welcome.

It has been over nine months since news of the survey taking place emerged but the findings are still to be published. In an email to Ubitennis, the ATP confirmed that they are ‘finalizing their next steps’ and will be making an announcement shortly. They acknowledge that the survey process has taken longer than expected but it is unclear as to why.

As for those who may be experiencing difficulty in their personal lives regarding their sexuality, Brian Vahaly has his own advice which he shared with Ubitennis last year. Vahaly is a former top 100 player who came out as gay after retiring from the sport.

“Find somebody to talk to, somebody you trust. Know that people like us are there if you have questions. It’s just nice to have somebody to talk to who can help you learn about yourself,” he said.
“What I try to do is in terms of putting my family forward is that we live a pretty ‘normal life.’ I have two kids, I have a house and I walked my kids to preschool this morning. It doesn’t have to be such a defining characteristic of who you are. In the sports world, it feels that it is magnified, but what I want to show is that you can have a great athletic career, meet somebody and have a family no matter your sexuality.”

Pride is as much about making sports such as tennis an open environment for everyone as it is about marking a series of historic protests which took place in America more than 40 years ago.

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It’s Unfair, Rafa Is Too Good In Roland Garros Final

James Beck reflects on Nadal’s latest triumph at Roland Garros.

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Rafael Nadal - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

This one was almost unfair.

 

It was like Rafa Nadal giving lessons to one of his former students at the Nadal academy back home in Mallorca.

When this French Open men’s singles final was over in less than two hours and a half, Rafa celebrated, of course. But he didn’t even execute his usual championship ritual on Court Philippe Chatrier of falling on his back on the red clay all sprawled out.

This one was that easy for the 36-year-old Spanish left-hander. He yielded only six games.

 It certainly didn’t have the characteristics of his many battles at Roland Garros with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

It must have been a bit shocking to the packed house of mostly Rafa fans.

RAFA DIDN’T MISS ‘HIS SHOT’ OFTEN

Nadal didn’t miss many of his patented shots such as his famed reverse cross-court forehand. He was awesome at times. Young 23-year-old Casper Ruud must have realized that by the middle of the second set when Rafa started on his amazing 11-game winning streak to finish off a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory.

Ruud is good. The Norway native will win his share of ATP titles, but probably not many Grand Slam titles. If any, at least until Rafa goes away to a retirement, certainly on his island of Mallorca.

Rafa already has his own statue on the grounds of Roland Garros. Perhaps, Mallorca should be renamed Rafa Island.

RUUD COULDN’T HANDLE RAFA’S PRESSURE

Ruud displayed a great forehand at times to an open court. But when Rafa applied his usual pressure to the corners Ruud’s forehand often  went haywire.

Rafa’s domination started to show in the third set as Ruud stopped chasing Nadal’s wicked reverse cross-court forehands. 

Ruud simply surrendered the last three games while Nadal yielded only three points. Nadal finished it off with a sizzling backhand down the line. In the end, nice guy, good sport and former student Ruud could only congratulate Rafa.

JOHNNY MAC: RAFA ‘INSANELY GOOD’

The great John McEnroe even called Nadal’s overall perfection “insanely good.”

If Iga Swiatek’s 6-1, 6-3 win in Saturday’s women’s final over young Coco Gauff was a mismatch,  Iga’s tennis idol staged a complete domination of Ruud a day later.

It appears that the only thing that can slow Rafa down is his nearly always sore left foot, not his age. He won his first French Open final 17 years ago.

For Nadal to win a 22nd Grand Slam title to take a 22-20-20 lead over his friends and rivals Djokovic and Federer is mind-boggling, but not as virtually unbelievable as winning a 14th  French Open title.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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At The French Open Rafa and Novak Lived Up To A Battle For The Ages

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Rafael Nadal (photo @RolandGarros)

Rafa Nadal is simply amazing.

 

His herd of fans couldn’t have been more pleased with their hero on this day just hours from his 36th birthday. He was never better, his patented reverse  cross-court forehand a marvel for the ages and his serve never more accurate.

The presence of his long-time friend and rival on the Court Philippe Chatrier that he loves so much made Nadal’s victory over Novak Djokovic even more special. The 59th meeting between these two warriors was a match for the ages, marvelous play by both players. Some games seemed to go on forever, with these two legends of the game dueling for every point for nearly four hours in a match that started in May and ended in June.

NADAL HAS NEVER PLAYED BETTER

The 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory sends Nadal into his birthday on Friday to face Alexander Zverev for a spot in Sunday’s final of the French Open. Win or lose now, Rafa will remain the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles until at least Wimbledon due to his current 21-20-20 edge over Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Nadal played like he could go on forever playing his game, but he is quick to remind that his career could end at any time. The always painful left foot remains in his mind.

But the Spanish left-hander has never played better than when he overcame a 5-2 deficit against Djokovic in the fourth set. Nadal sparkled with energy, easily holding service, then fighting off two set points with true grit, holding easily to get back to 5-5 and then holding serve at love for 6-6.

A 6-1 TIEBREAKER DEFICIT TOO MUCH FOR EVEN NOVAK

The tiebreaker belonged to Rafa for six of the first seven points. That was too tough a task for even Novak to overcome.

Rafa’s podiatrist must have felt relieved at least for now. If Rafa was in pain, he didn’t show it for the first time in quite awhile.

If Nadal could pull off the feat of taming the big game and serving accuracy Zverev displayed while conquering potential whiz kid Carlos Alcaraz, and then taking out whoever is left in the battle between Denmark’s young Holger Rune, Croatia’s veteran Marin Cilic, Norway’s Casper Ruud and Russian Andrey Rublev, Nadal might own a nearly unbeatable lead with 22 Grand Slam titles.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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