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Canada: tennis’ next world power?

Analyzing Canada’s up-and-coming athletes with Nabil Tadros, Varsity Blues tennis head coach
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ROSALIND LIANG/THE VARSITY
ROSALIND LIANG/THE VARSITY

Were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s premier tennis tournament, the Rogers Cup, would’ve taken place the second week of August. In celebration of Canadian tennis, let’s take a look at Canada’s current youth brigade, which boasts, arguably, the brightest prospects of any country. 

All four of the constituents are under 21 years old, possessing playing styles as unique as each of their individual backgrounds and personalities. All have experienced great successes on the junior circuit. Additionally, each one of these young stars is a child of immigrants — fitting for a country that prides itself on its multiculturalism and diversity. 

The following profiles will give brief overviews for each of these young players, as well as commentary from U of T’s head coach for both the men’s and women’s tennis teams, Nabil Tadros.

Leylah Fernandez

The youngest of four Canadian prodigies, 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez is of Ecuadorian and Filipino descent and battled her way into a maiden professional final earlier this year in Acapulco, Mexico. There, she captivated the locals with her gritty and creative playing style as well as her fluent Spanish. While she sits outside the top 100, you can expect this feisty lefty to continue skyrocketing up the rankings as tennis returns.

Tadros wrote to The Varsity that Fernandez is a tremendous competitor and athlete. She has already successfully won against then fifth in the world Belinda Bencic and 2017 US Open Champion Sloane Stephens. According to Tadros, Fernandez is a precision shotmaker, with great promise.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

This Togolese Canadian hails from Montréal and is easily the most physically imposing of the four. ‘FAA’ first rose to prominence in March 2015 when he became the youngest boy to hold a professional singles ranking ever, at just 14 years and seven months. 

Auger-Aliassime has gradually climbed his way toward the top 20, of which he resides just outside. He’s already made five Association of Tennis Professionals finals across all three surface types. Most impressively, he went 5-0 in his first five matches against top 20 opponents. Auger-Aliassime seems like he’ll be a top player for years to come.

Tadros wrote that Auger-Aliassime’s raw athleticism — including speed, anticipation, and court awareness — are comparable to the three greats: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. Auger-Aliassime’s game is dependably good with a notably great backhand.

Denis Shapovalov

The child of Russian-Israeli citizens, ‘Shapo’ delighted home fans when he reached the semifinals of the 2017 Rogers Cup, where he defeated two titans: Juan Martin del Potro and Nadal. Shapovalov hasn’t had a run like that since then, but he’s built himself into a top 20 player, ranking near his close friend, Auger-Aliassime.

Last fall, Shapovalov won his maiden title in Stockholm and reached his first big final at the Rolex Paris Masters. At just 21 years old, Shapovalov is already a fan favourite.

According to Tadros, Shapovalov is an incredible shotmaker with a huge range of ability. His win over Nadal as a teen and a tight loss to Djokovic earlier this year proves his ability to step up to the plate. Tadros wrote that Shapovalov still needs to work on keeping this excellent performance consistent; however, that comes with more experience. 

Bianca Andreescu

The last of Canadian tennis’ youth brigade is already a Canadian household name through the hashtag #SheTheNorth. Andreescu burst onto the women’s tour last season, catapulting from rank 178 all the way to a career high world number four. She most notably became the first Canadian ever to win a Grand Slam Singles title at the 2019 US Open, where she stunned Serena Williams in the final. 

This daughter of Romanian immigrants would end the season with a mesmerizing 48-7 win-loss record and a mindblowing 8-3 record against top 10 opponents. Andreescu is undoubtedly the brightest hope for Canadian tennis, with many touting her as one of Williams’ successors.

Tadros wrote that the key for Andreescu is staying injury-free. In the past, Andreescu has taken time off when she had been injured, which was a wise move. Otherwise, Tadros believes that she’s ready to conquer women’s tennis, as she has already won both the Rogers Cup and US Open. 

Her movement and anticipation are both great, but Tadros contends that the most outstanding part of her game is her variety — she has mastered a wide assortment of shots and spins.

The final say

Canada already boasts a rich tennis heritage with top players like Eugenie Bouchard, Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil, Daniel Nestor, and Gabriela Dabrowski. But it seems as if the best is yet to come for Canadian tennis, and the future looks bright thanks to these four young athletes.