Next generation of Canadian tennis on display at French Open

Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Benjamin Sigouin have each advanced to the quarter-finals of the French Open boys’ singles draw.

Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime advance to semifinals

Canadian tennis players, from left to right, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Benjamin Sigouin and Denis Shapovalov compete in the junior boys' singles event at the French Open. (@TennisCanada/Twitter)

Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard have redefined what people think about Canadian tennis, but it seems they're just the leading edge of a new crop of potential stars.

Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Benjamin Sigouin have each advanced to the quarter-finals of the French Open boys' singles draw, which is comprised of players aged 13-18. This is the first time three Canadians have advanced this far at the same Grand Slam in the junior singles event.

Sigouin's run came to an end on Friday with a straight sets defeat to France's Geoffrey Blancaneaux while Shapovalov's and Auger-Aliassime's continued with straight sets victories of their own.

Winning isn't all that new to them as all three were members of Canada's first Junior Davis Cup title last season.

Their success has further demonstrated the importance of the National Training Centre (NTC), a facility in Montreal established in 2007 where Canada's top junior players are recruited to and further developed. It has produced the likes of Raonic and Bouchard, both of whom have spent some time training there as teenagers.

While Shapovalov didn't come through the NTC, Auger-Aliassime and Sigouin did and they aren't the only ones making waves on the ITF junior circuit.

Charlotte Robillard-Millette and Francoise Abanda are a pair of rising Canadians on the female circuit and like the aforementioned Auger-Aliassime and Sigouin, have gone through the NTC. Robillard-Millette was a junior Australian Open quarter-finalist in 2015 while Abanda is a two-time junior Grand Slam semifinalist.

The next generation is coming. Here's a look at the remaining Canadians left in the boys' singles draw in Paris:

Denis Shapovalov

The Israeli-born Canadian has played the entirety of his season on the ATP Challenger Tour and ITF Men's Circuit, the second and third tier of men's tennis. He currently holds the No. 59 junior ranking and the No. 400 seed on the ATP World Tour rankings.

At last year's U.S Open, the Richmond Hill, Ont. native teamed-up with Auger-Aliassime to capture the junior boys' doubles title. Shapovalov continued his rise to prominence with a pair of wins in Canada's Junior Davis Cup championship tie against Germany.

This season, Shapovalov already has three ITF Futures titles to his name along with a semifinal appearance at the Drummondville Challenger. While they're baby steps, the points gained will help the 16-year-old move up the ATP World Tour rankings.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

The 15-year old Canadian remembers the epic Wimbledon finals between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It was the moment that Auger-Aliassime says he fell in love with the game.

The Montreal native entered the French Open as the No. 11 seed in the junior boys' event. He's currently ranked No.619 on the ATP World Tour and reached a career-high junior ranking of No. 8. But the ceiling for Auger-Aliassime is seen as the highest amongst the Canadian trio.

At six-feet-two inches tall, Auger-Aliassime has the skillset to be a force at the pro level. He's got a powerful forehand and serve that's touched 180 km/h on the radar gun and great lateral movement.

He turned heads at the Drummondville Challenger in 2015 when he became the first millennium-born player to earn an ATP World Tour ranking. Four months later, Auger-Aliassime advanced to the quarter-finals of the Granby Challenger where he defeated players both older than him and above him in the rankings.

His solid play even caught the eye of legendary tennis coach, and ESPN tennis commentator, Brad Gilbert.

Benjamin Sigouin

Lost in the shadows of the aforementioned players is Benjamin Sigouin. The Vancouver product has enjoyed a solid season thus far with a 13-4 singles record and 15-3 doubles record on the ITF Junior Circuit.

The current No. 10-ranked junior player came into Roland Garros playing some solid tennis. He was the winner of the boys' singles event in Belgium and a finalist in the boys' doubles event of the same tournament.

Seeing how successful past and present members of the NTC is what drives Sigouin. The 17-year-old knows how much work is necessary to get to the top. 

Sigouin has set some ambitious goals for himself, among them is to be a Top-10 player. He says training with Auger-Aliassime has influenced him.

"Hitting with him, I can improve a lot, so it's all good. We have really competitive practices so I know that if he can do it in matches I've got to find a way to do it myself," Sigouin told Tom Tebbutt, an author at Tennis Canada.


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