Bianca Andreescu is only 18 but she has already captivated the world with her explosive game. Having started the year with a scintillating display in Auckland, she shot to fame at Indian Wells, where playing as wildcard she produced a string of power-packed performances en-route to her maiden WTA title.
The same venue would witness a fairly experienced Milos Raonic impress with his run to the last four of an ATP Masters 1000 event. The big-serving 28-year-old, who once reached the World No. 3 in the rankings, looked in great touch until his journey was cut short by the event’s surprise winner Dominic Thiem.
The tournament, which witnessed the emergence of quite a few promising future prospects, also got a glimpse of the talent of Felix Auger-Aliasime, who captured the imagination with his on-court brilliance and will to fight.
The 6-foot-3 player eventually went down fighting against a rising Japanese star, Yoshihito Nishioka, in the third round in California, but he took his game to another level the following week at the Miami Open.
The 18-year-old qualifier became the youngest-ever semifinalist before coming up short against the giant John Isner in the semi-final. Isner was the defending champion and he came through in two tight tie-breakers against the highly-talented Canadian.
While the world marveled at Auger-Aliasime’s gritty displays, there was another teenager being applauded for his bounce-backability.
His name: Denis Shapovalov.
The 19-year-old leftie who had already reached two Masters 1000 semifinals previously, made it to his third in the Sunshine state after having to fight back from a set down in not one but three matches leading up to the semis, where he was conquered by the eventual champion, and arguably the greatest, Roger Federer.
So what’s the common thread connecting Andreescu, Raonic, Auger-Aliasime and Shapovalov?
They all come from Canada, a country little known for its tennis prowess till a few of years back, but suddenly with a potential of becoming a future powerhouse.
For years, a discussion about Canadian tennis would revolve around Daniel Nestor, a doubles specialist, and their most successful tennis star who captured eight doubles and four mixed doubles Grand Slam titles.
Nestor walked away from the sport in 2018, drawing curtains on a career that had spanned for close to three decades. The winner of 91 ATP doubles titles who carried the nation’s hopes on his shoulders during times of extreme paucity of top-class Canadian representation in world tennis leaves the sport in a very healthy state in Canada, which also has a couple of doubles Grand Slam winners still around.
2014 Wimbledon doubles champion Vasek Popisil, who has also made gains as a singles player, is looking to come back on Tour after being sidelined by an injury for several months.
Then there is the 27-year-old Gabriela Dabrowski, who became the first-ever Canadian woman to win a senior Grand Slam title when she captured the 2017 mixed doubles title with India’s Rohan Bopanna. She would add another one to her repertoire, winning in Melbourne in 2018 with Croatia’s Mate Pavic.
When it comes to popularity though, the one Canadian player who has generated a lot of interest around the world in the last five years is the 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, who also reached the semis at the Australian Open and the French Open the same year.
Despite a consistent dip in form ever since her breakthrough performances in 2014, Bouchard continues to remain popular on WTA Tour and is among the top 100 in the rankings. She also started 2019 with a bang, claiming her first title in five years, when she combined with Sofia Kenin to capture the doubles crown in Auckland.
However, it was reported on Friday that Bouchard will be taking an “indefinite break” from the sport to get “healthy”. Tennis fans around the world would be hoping she does get fit soon enough and makes a comeback as early as for the French Open.
In her absence though, the mantle will be carried by the new crop of singles players, who come out each match with a fearless, never-say-die attitude.
In Andreescu, Canada has found a powerful strokemaker who is already being touted as the country’s biggest singles hope. She made an early impression in 2019, reaching the finals of the Auckland Open by beating Venus Williams and Carolina Wozniacki on the way.
A three-set defeat to Anastasjia Sevastova saw her exit from the third round of her first Australian Open, before she embarked on a highly successful run that culminated with a title success at Indian Wells.
In the year’s first WTA premier Mandatory event, Andreescu defeated five, seeded players which included a three-set win over former No. 1 Angelique Kerber in the final.
The Canadian followed that up with another win over the German; this time in the third round of the Miami Open, which would end on a sour note with the German calling her opponent “the biggest drama queen” during the post match handshake on the net.
Andreescu, however, had to withdraw midway in the fourth round in Miami due to a shoulder injury, a definite effect of her hard-hitting game. The Candian’s fascinating season so far has seen her rise from last year’s year-end ranking of 152 to No. 23 in the world.
Talking of rankings, one man who has moved 75 spots in three months is Auger-Aliasime. The 33rd-ranked 18-year-old is the youngest player in ATP top 100 and has made heads turn with his brisk start to 2019, which includes a Masters 1000 semifinal in Miami and a 5-1 record against the top 20 players in the world.
As we brace for two months of clay action, what augurs well for Auger-Aliasime is that he has already played a final on clay this year, when he came second-best against Serbia’s Laslo Djere. He also reached the quarterfinals of the Sao Paulo Open, losing to the same opponent.
Another man eagerly waiting for the clay and grass season to commence is Shapovalov, who joined Rafael Nadal, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Murray and Pete Sampras in becoming one of only five players to have reached three Masters 1000 semi-finals before turning 20.
The World No. 20 is yet to reach an ATP final but having raised his game in Miami after a sluggish start to the season and having packed his next four months with nine ATP tournaments it may be only a matter of time before he gets to one.
With Andreescu, Auger-Aliasime and Shapavalov all in their teens, Canada’s dream of having a first singles major champion may soon become a reality. Who gets there first? Only time will tell. But the one who looks closest to wining a Grand Slam is Andreescu.
Our bet: Andreescu to become the first Canadian among the current players to win a Grand Slam. She is 25/1 (Unibet) to win as early as the French Open.