Tennis

Milos Raonic's back woes pose challenge entering Wimbledon

Canada's Milos Raonic (No. 15), Felix Auger-Aliassime (No. 19) and Denis Shapovalov (No. 29) occupy three of Wimbledon's 32 seeded positions, the most Canadians ever seeded in a Grand Slam tennis tournament.

Canada has 3 seeded men's players at a Grand Slam for 1st time

Canada’s Milos Raonic will be challenged by his back woes entering play at Wimbledon this week. 'I'm having some better days, some worse days with it.' (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Canadian men have made history at Wimbledon even before the 133rd edition of the Grand Slam tournament begins on Monday in London.

No. 15 Milos Raonic, No. 19 Felix Auger-Aliassime and No. 29 Denis Shapovalov occupy three of the 32 seeded positions, the most Canadians ever seeded in a Grand Slam tournament. Only France has more, with Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon, Lucas Pouille and Benoit Paire all seeded. Only Serbia has as many, with Novak Djokovic, Laslo Djere and Dusan Lajovic.

Auger-Aliassime, 18, appears to have overtaken Raonic as the favourite among Canadian players.

The Montrealer has been impressive, with a 6-2 record on grass in 2019, including the final in Stuttgart three weeks ago and the semifinal at Queen's Club (London) the following week.

It's up and down. I sort of wake up with different feelings and sensations each and every day.— Canada's Milos Raonic on his lower-back problems

Raonic remains a question mark physically. The product of Thornhill, Ont., withdrew from the Stuttgart semifinal against Auger-Aliassime with a lower-back injury and lost in the quarter-finals at Queen's Club.

"I'm having some better days, some worse days with it," said Raonic about his back on Saturday. "I'm just trying to manage as best as I can come Monday [his first round against No. 94-ranked Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India] and take it day by day from there.

"It's up and down. I sort of wake up with different feelings and sensations each and every day."

Physical, mental grind

Auger-Aliassime has beaten 12 top-50 ranked players and reached three ATP Tour finals this season, propelling him up the ATP world rankings from No. 108 at the start of the year to No. 21.

His last match was a 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-4 loss to eventual champion Feliciano Lopez at Queen's Club.

"[Lopez] played a really good match, served really well," said Auger-Aliassime, who has noticeably filled out over the past few months. "To be honest, with the week in Stuttgart and the two matches in the same day [because of rain] at Queen's Club, I got to a point where physically and mentally it was getting to be tough. But I didn't spend too much time worrying about the result afterward."

Shapovalov is 0-2 this year at grass-court events but the 2016 Wimbledon junior boys champion has had tough draws, including No. 38-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff in Stuttgart and No. 12 Juan Martin del Potro at Queen's Club.

Last week during an exhibition event on grass in Stoke Park west of London, Shapovalov gained some confidence by beating Fabio Fognini, Djokovic and Tomas Berdych.

Bouchard lone Canadian in women's singles

Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., faces 74th-ranked Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania on Tuesday. Auger-Aliassime, in only his second Grand Slam main-draw match, faces Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil on Monday. Pospisil, 29, is playing his first tournament in seven months following back surgery in January.

Brayden Schnur of Pickering, Ont., got into the main draw as a lucky loser and plays No. 138-ranked wild-card Marcos Baghdatis on Tuesday. Cypriot, 34, ranked as high as No. 8 in 2006 and is retiring after Wimbledon

With No. 25-ranked Bianca Andreescu in Arizona rehabbing an ongoing right-shoulder issue, No. 79 Genie Bouchard is the lone Canadian woman in the singles competition. Now 25, the 2014 Wimbledon runner-up to Petra Kvitova plays No. 59 Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia on Tuesday.

Bouchard has played only one match on grass since exiting the French Open first round on May 28, a 6-2, 6-0 qualifying loss to No. 99-ranked Fiona Ferro of France at the WTA Premier event in Eastbourne, England, last week.

Zidansek, 21, has lost in the qualifying in two previous appearances at Wimbledon, while Bouchard has an 11-6 record, but is only 3-4 since 2014. Canadian Fed Cup team captain Heidi El Tabakh is working with Bouchard at Wimbledon.

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