Canadian tennis had a monster year — and 2020 could be even better
The Olympics are this summer, and Canada's three best players are all 20 or younger
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With 2019 on its last legs, we'll be looking back this week at some of the best (and worst) sports things we saw this year and this decade — and what they might mean moving forward. Let's start today on a positive note:
Canadian tennis had a monster year
If nothing else happened except Bianca Andreescu winning the U.S. Open, 2019 might still be considered the best year ever for Canadian tennis. But so much more happened. The highlights:
- Andreescu won the two biggest titles ever by a Canadian tennis player. First came her victory at the prestigious Indian Wells event in March. Then, in September, her crowning achievement: Bianca became the first Canadian to win a singles Grand Slam when she beat the great Serena Williams on her favourite stage — the U.S. Open final in New York City.
- In between, Andreescu won Canada's national championship tournament — the highly regarded Rogers Cup — in Toronto.
- Andreescu's world ranking reached as high as No. 4 — the best ever for a Canadian woman. She finished the year ranked No. 5 — an incredible climb from No. 152 at the end of 2018.
- Andreescu was a unanimous choice for the Lou Marsh Award as the Canadian athlete of the year, becoming the first tennis player to win it.
- Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil put an exclamation point on Canada's magical year with their surprising run to the Davis Cup final a few weeks ago. It ended with a loss to Rafael Nadal and his Spain team (with Felix Auger-Aliassime subbing in for Pospisil) but this was the first time Canada reached the final in the 119-year history of the event.
- Shapovalov won his first title on the men's tour. It was a lower-tier event (the Stockholm Open) but he also reached a high-end final at the Masters-level tournament in Paris. Those results helped propel him to a career-high 15th in the rankings, where he ended the season.
- Auger-Aliassime reached the final of three tournaments and climbed as high as 17th in the rankings (a career best) before finishing at No. 21. He came into the year ranked 106th.
Add this all up and, suddenly, Canada is a tennis country. Not saying it'll replace hockey as the national sport anytime soon, but Canada took a quantum leap this year in tennis. It's now a legitimate force in the sport. And...
Crazy as it sounds, 2020 has the potential to be even better
Four main reasons for this:
1. Canada's three best players are very young. Andreescu, Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime are 19, 20 and 19 years old, respectively. Tennis players typically peak earlier than most other athletes, but these three all look like they're still on their way up.
2. Andreescu will enter the new year as a bona fide star. And she still has plenty of upside. Andreescu wasn't fully formed yet when she played in the Australian Open last January, and she missed the next two Slams — the French Open and Wimbledon — with a shoulder injury. Her only Slam opportunity as her fully realized self was the U.S. Open — and she won it. Injuries are still a concern, but if Bianca can stay healthy she'll be a legit contender at all four Slams for the first time.
3. You can't really say the same for Shapo and Felix yet, but there's hope. The road to a men's Slam title has been all but barricaded for the last decade and a half by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. They've won 54 of the last 64 Slams, including the last 12 in a row. But they're 38, 33 and 32 years old now, respectively. They have to start declining some time, right? OK, maybe that's wishful thinking. But they're at least taking it easier between Slams now, which opens up opportunities for Shapo and Felix to win a big tournament like Indian Wells or the Rogers Cup.
4. It's an Olympic year. The top 56 players in the world rankings on June 8, 2020 automatically qualify for the singles tournaments, with a limit of four per country. Judging by the current rankings, Andreescu might be the only Canadian in the women's draw. But three or four men is a possibility. Besides Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime, 29-year-old Milos Raonic is still ranked 31st in the world despite a difficult, injury-plagued year. Pospisil, who's also 29, is ranked 149th. But that's partly due to his missing a big chunk of the year because of back surgery. He looked rejuvenated at the Davis Cup and beat some pretty good opponents. In doubles, Gabriela Dabrowksi is the eighth-ranked women's player in the world. The top 10 get a spot in the Olympic tournament and can choose anyone from their country to play with (Andreescu???). Shapo and Auger-Aliassime looked like a nice doubles duo at the Davis Cup, so if they can play their way into the Olympics they might be able to do some damage there too.
On top of all that, Canada also has an interesting prospect in Leylah Annie Fernandez. She's ranked 211th in the world, but she's only 17 and she reached the final of the junior Australian Open and won the junior French Open this year before turning full-time pro. Read more about Canadian tennis' big year and bright future here.
Taylor Hall hopes the third team's a charm. It's not often you see a recent MVP traded, but it's now happened to Hall twice in the past three and a half years. Back in the summer of 2016, the Oilers sent their former No. 1 overall draft pick to New Jersey, where he (embarrassingly for Edmonton) won the Hart Trophy in his second season with the Devils. But, just like in Edmonton, Hall's brilliance didn't translate into much team success. Jersey won only one playoff game during his time there, bringing Hall's number of career post-season wins up to… one. Now he's on to his third shaky franchise after Arizona acquired him yesterday for a package of prospects and draft picks. Weak as the Coyotes have been historically, it's a major upgrade for Hall, who goes from one of the worst teams in the league to a division leader (albeit the soft Pacific). If he can stay healthy, which has been a problem throughout his career, Hall might have his best chance yet of actually going somewhere in the playoffs. Read more about the trade here.
NHL coaches seem to be learning. We've heard a lot lately about how hockey's "culture" needs to change after multiple head coaches lost their jobs amid accusations of bad behaviour ranging from racist language to verbal and physical abuse. The change might already be happening. The new head coaches in Calgary and Toronto (Geoff Ward and Sheldon Keefe) are being praised for their more modern, player-empowering approaches. And old-school assistant Marc Crawford was practically celebrated yesterday for owning up to his past mistakes and saying he's trying to do better. The Blackhawks announced that Crawford has been suspended through Jan. 2 after an investigation into two former players' claims that Crawford physically assaulted them during their time with other teams. But the team said that Crawford has been in therapy for the last decade and that it believes he's committed to trying to "reform" and "evolve" himself. The statement also quoted Crawford as saying he felt "tremendous regret" for his "unacceptable language and conduct" and has "worked hard over the last decade to improve both myself and my coaching style." This was a textbook response and it'll be the blueprint going forward for anyone who needs it. Read more about Crawford's suspension and apology here.
Drew Brees is the NFL's new touchdown king. For now. The 40-year-old Saints QB threw four TD passes last night to overtake two of his contemporaries — Peyton Manning and Tom Brady — for the most of all time. Brees has 541 — two more than the retired Manning and three more than the still-active Brady. The record is probably safe for a bit with the 42-year-old Brady (finally) looking like he's nearing the end and Brees still chugging along (he completed a single-game-record 96.7 per cent of his passes last night). But, given how much the NFL has evolved into a passing league over the last few years, the TD record may not last too long. Patrick Mahomes, who threw for 50 TDs in his first season as a starter last year, already looks like a threat to break it. Read more about Brees' big night here.
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