Canadian tennis is thriving like never before. Tennis Canada’s Louis Borfiga-inspired development program has produced Felix Auger-Aliassime and Bianca Andreescu, while Denis Shapovalov and Leylah Fernandez have been aided mainly by sporting parents, but while the backgrounds differ, this group is pushing each other to the top.
A path trodden by Wimbledon finalists Eugenie Bouchard (2014) and Milos Raonic (2016) has inspired this new generation, and there are hopes of sustained success over the next decade. 2019 US Open winner Andreescu has suffered with injuries since and will miss this month’s Australian Open, but can any of the other three follow up her Grand Slam success?
At 21, the youngest player ranked in the top 10, FAA is in-form and showed last year that he can go deep at a Slam. Reaching the semi-finals at the US Open last September, his attacking game faltered against the reliable Daniil Medvedev, who went on to comfortably beat Novak Djokovic in the final.
Felix reached the fourth round in Melbourne last year, beating Shapovalov in straight sets along the way, but crumbled in the fourth round when two sets up. A harsh lesson for the youngster, but he is a quick learner, beating Alexander Zverev at the same stage of Wimbledon six months later in the deciding set, having lost his two-set lead.
With a title already to his name in 2022, securing the ATP Cup for Canada, Felix looks in good shape to launch an attack in Melbourne. Expect some nervy moments in the first week but he has shown he has a top-10 win in him. Whether he has the consistency and stamina to deliver at least two of those back-to-back remains the question.
At +6000, he’s a tempting long shot. Check him out in the second week as there’ll be some tasty odds on him unsettling one of the big boys.
🇨🇦Felix Auger-Aliassime’s Projected Draw:
1R: Emil Ruusuvuori
2R: Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
3R: Daniel Evans
4R: Andrey Rublev
— Lukas Weese (@Weesesports) January 13, 2022
A reputation for entertaining tennis, but inconsistency has plagued Shapovalov, especially at Grand Slams. His tendency to get drawn into long scraps in early rounds has hindered his progress.
He won 77% of points behind his first serve last season, only two players scored more than 80%, so he is a formidable proposition when he has control of a point. Djokovic found him a tough nut to crack at Wimbledon but ultimately proved too good in the decisive moments, winning 7-6, 7-5, 7-5.
Those crucial moments can come down to a double fault – Shapovalov hit 314 in 2021, the third most on the ATP Tour – or failing to capitalise on break point opportunities. Shapovalov had 11 break points against Djokovic at Wimbledon and only converted one, while he was 67th on Tour last season in that category.
He doesn’t look a potential winner this year but look out for the Over 3.5 sets market as his matches are rarely dull.
The teenage sensation who so nearly swept to US Open glory last year, Fernandez is considered an outsider to repeat the trick, at +4000 to win in Melbourne. She is certainly no one-hit wonder though, beating 2021 French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova immediately after her US Open run.
— Tennis World USA (@TennisWorlden) January 13, 2022
Her ability to grind out wins against high-ranked, experienced opponents in New York was testimony to her mental strength and stamina. Especially as her second serve proved a weakness, winning 47% of points behind it in 2021, ranking her 61st in that department on the Tour.
She also boasts a big, looping swing technique, which may affect her return of serve, as she won just 35% of first serve return points last year. These are areas she will need to improve but she has plenty of time to do so.
Fernandez remains a threat even at her tender age. The higher seeds will want to avoid her popping up in their side of the draw. There could be some tempting odds on the teenager in some interesting match-ups early on in the tournament, as she is seeded outside the top 16.