'Perfect timing' for Rogers Cup as Canadian tennis stars look to heat up on home soil
Once promising season could be revived with big performances in Toronto, Montreal
With the eye-catching results from the tennis teens at big tournaments in Indian Wells, Calif., and Miami back in March, fans were hoping — almost expecting — that a Canadian dynasty had been officially launched.
But four months later, that bullet train to the top of the game has stalled a little.
And so there are more questions than answers as a large contingent of Canadian players prepares for next week's Rogers Cup. The women are in Toronto and the men in Montreal this year.
Bianca Andreescu vaulted into the top 25 with a title at Indian Wells and a fourth-round effort at the Miami Open.
But since then, the 19-year-old Mississauga, Ont., native has played just one match — a first-round victory at the French Open in May before she withdrew because of a shoulder injury that first surfaced on her way to the Indian Wells title.
WATCH | Eugenie Bouchard loses 8th straight:
While Andreescu still plans to play her hometown tournament, the shoulder has not been subjected to lengthy practices or repetitions needed to properly prepare.
Meanwhile, Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., won just three games in a first-round loss to American Lauren Davis at the Citi Open this week. The former world No. 5 fell out of the WTA Tour's top 100 nearly two weeks ago. She has won just two matches at the WTA Tour level in 2019; the last victory came in Dubai in mid-February.
On the men's side, Denis Shapovalov will return to Montreal, which in 2017 was the launching pad for his rise to the top of the game as he stunned Rafael Nadal.
Two years on, he's officially struggling.
Shapovalov, who turned 20 in April, hit his career-high ranking of No. 20 after that Miami Open semifinal in March. But he went 2-9 during the European clay and grass seasons. The Richmond Hill, Ont., native hasn't won a match in 2 1/2 months and withdrew from this week's Citi Open.
"Listen, Denis is 20, I'm almost 19, Bianca is 19. If everything goes well, knock on wood, we're probably going to have a lot of years on tour, and we'll share some great moments with the fans. So I'd tell the fans to be patient, just as we have to be," said Montreal's Felix Auger-Aliassime, who also advanced to the Miami semis and will play his hometown event for the first time next week.
"Just like the fans, we want to be top 10, we want to be No. 1. But it takes work, it takes time. So I think we all have to stay calm, keep a cool head."
Injuries continue dogging Raonic
Perennial top-10 star Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., struggled with back pain during the spring, even if he did post some very good victories. It was just the latest in a litany of physical woes the 28-year-old has had to deal with over the last few years.
While Raonic has been able to maintain his ranking in the top 20, he hasn't been healthy enough, for long enough, to get back to his best.
WATCH | Raonic falls in five sets at Wimbledon:
Raonic says he's getting there — and he believes having three Canadian men in the top 10 remains a reachable goal.
But Raonic, too, preaches patience.
"To be in the top 10 you have to kick out a few people. Who are you going to push out, and what are their results? With myself, Felix and Denis, that would mean there are only seven spots for all the other people — around the world. That's a hard thing to do," Raonic said. "It's definitely doable, but it's not one of those things that happens quickly."
The fourth Canadian member of the top ATP Tour's top 100 is Brayden Schnur.
Armed with a wild card, the 24-year-old Pickering, Ont. native, now living in Montreal, will look to post his first career Rogers Cup singles win in his adopted hometown next week.
"You have to realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime generation, to have two stars like Felix and Denis on the come-up," Schnur said. "But they're so young. We can all see the guys who are winning right now — the Djokovics and Federers and Nadals. There is going to come a time when the younger guys step in and start beating the top guys. But it's tennis, it's a process. It's a long one."
Shapovalov has seen his world ranking drop to just outside the top 30 heading into Montreal, but he's convinced his game is there and that the solution needs to come from within.
"I think we put in all the work. I think I'm doing everything very professionally. And my team's doing a very good job. Unfortunately, it's not something any[body] can fix but myself," Shapovalov said after his first-round loss at Wimbledon.
He said the Rogers Cup was coming at the right time.
"I've always played well there. And I feel when I play at home it sort of brings out a different energy, a different vibe. The crowd is behind me," he said. "It's the perfect timing to have Montreal come."
For Toronto's Sharon Fichman, who left the game for several years before returning a year ago with the goal of making the Tokyo Olympics, it's all about being supportive.
"If you really dig deep into what these athletes are doing, they're doing everything right," said Fichman, who returns to the Rogers Cup to play doubles for the first time since 2015. "It's going to happen as long as they stay healthy. You just have to understand that this is a sport where things can change on a dime.
"If you want someone to succeed, you have to be the wind beneath their wings — not the anchor. You want to encourage them to keep going, giving them a reason to fight."