This Thanksgiving, we want to highlight just some of the reasons Canadian tennis fans have to celebrate this year. In what has been a difficult time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tennis in Canada and the elite Canadian players on the ATP and WTA Tours have managed to overcome many challenges to make their mark and entertain fans across the world.
Here are 9 things to be thankful for in Canadian tennis this Thanksgiving:
2019 saw the breakout of Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu. Her incredible, and somewhat unexpected, runs to the BNP Paribas Open, National Bank Open presented by Rogers and US Open titles saw her shoot to No. 4 in the rankings and left her fans desperate to see more. Unfortunately, injuries meant she was unable to compete in 2020 but she returned to the court earlier this year and has shown signs of regaining the type of form that saw her gain so much success two years ago. An appearance in the final of the Miami Open in April underlined her intentions to compete for titles once again and we are so thankful to see her back competing at the highest level.
In February, Tennis Canada announced that Louis Borfiga, Vice President of High Performance, would retire in the fall to spend more time with his family in France. Originally from Monaco, Borfiga made Canada his home for over 15 years. He arrived in Montreal in 2006 and established a tennis program for elite athletes a year later, which became the National Tennis Centre presented by Rogers in Montreal. The program went on to develop some of the best talent the country has ever seen, including the likes of Milos Raonic, Eugenie Bouchard, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Bianca Andreescu and Rebecca Marino to name just a few. This Thanksgiving, we’re grateful for the pivotal role he played in shaping the Canadian tennis development system.
Sharon Fichman and partner Giuliana Olmos’ run to the championship at the Italian Open in May was such a fun story for Canadian tennis fans to follow. The Team Canada Billie Jean King Cup regular paired up with the Mexican and saw off the challenge of Jessica Pegula and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Hsieh Su-wei and Elise Mertens, Coco Gauff and Veronika Kudermetova, and Ena Shibahara and Shuko Aoyama to reach the final in Rome. There, they played Kristina Mladenovic and Marketa Vondrousova and, in an intense three-setter, came from behind to win 4-6, 7-5, 10-5 – marking the first WTA 1000 title of Fichman’s career.
Heading into the year’s third Grand Slam at Wimbledon, Denis Shapovalov was riding a wave of momentum having reached the final of the Geneva Open, the quarters in Stuttgart and the semis at Queen’s Club in the months prior. Following a first-round win over Philipp Kohlschreiber and a walkover against Pablo Andujar, the Canadian then faced Great Britain’s Andy Murray on Centre Court. It resulted in a straight-set demolition by Shapovalov, who won comprehensively 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Next up, he eased to a round-of-16 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut followed by an epic five-set, come-from-behind triumph over Karen Khachanov. In the semi-finals, it was World No. 1 Novak Djokovic standing on the other side of the net and, despite an incredible performance by Shapovalov, it was the Serbian who advanced to the final, where he beat Matteo Berrettini. Despite the heartache, it was a run that all Canadian tennis fans will remember for years to come.
Following all of the uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the postponement of the tournament in 2020, it was cause for celebration that the National Bank Open presented by Rogers could be hosted this year. Then, just to make it even sweeter, a Canadian went on to win the doubles title in Montreal. As the No. 5 seeds, Gabriela Dabrowski and partner Luisa Stefani wowed the crowd in Quebec with their victory over top seeds Aryna Sabalenka and Elise Mertens in the quarter-finals before sealing their place in the championship match with a win over Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Rybakina. In the final, they faced No. 6 seeds Andreja Klepač and Darija Jurak and put on a show as they dismantled their opponents 6-3, 6-4 at IGA Stadium.
Every now and again, sport just hits one out of left field and produces an occasion that glues fans across the world to their TV screens in anticipation, excitement and joy. This year, it was the US Open women’s singles draw. Teenage sensations Emma Raducanu of Great Britain and Canada’s Leylah Fernandez were unlikely finalists but extremely deserving ones. Fernandez had beaten three Top 5 players on her way to the championship match – Naomi Osaka (No. 3), Elina Svitolina (No. 5) and Aryna Sabalenka (No. 2). However, she came unstuck against Raducanu in the final, losing 6-4, 6-3. Her post-match, on-court speech saw her show composure and compassion far beyond her years, and her incredible performances at the event are moments we should all be grateful for.
Félix Auger-Aliassime, meanwhile, reached the semi-finals of the men’s singles draw. His route to the last four included victories over No. 18 seed Roberto Bautista Agut and rising star Carlos Alcaraz Garfia who, at 6-3, 3-1 down, was forced to retire in the second set. Auger-Aliassime succumbed to the eventual champion, Daniil Medvedev, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 but no one can deny his run was further proof that a first-career title can’t be far away for the Montrealer.
As the tennis season enters its latter stages, fans will soon turn their attention to the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November. Canada has teams competing in both events and each have a shot at claiming the title of World Champions. From November 1-6 in Prague, Czech Republic, interim captain Sylvain Bruneau will lead Leylah Fernandez, Rebecca Marino, Gabriela Dabrowski and Francoise Abanda in their efforts to claim the Billie Jean King Cup crown. Meanwhile, in Madrid from November 25 to December 5, Frank Dancevic and his team will be hoping to go one further than 2019 when they lost the final to Spain.
Every aspect of life was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and tennis was no different. Months without any play at all followed by the sport’s return – but in front of empty arenas – was a surreal experience. Events across the world and across Canada were cancelled or postponed and the effects are still being felt. Now, though, more regularly we are seeing fans in the stands and the sport is gradually returning to “normalcy”. It’s a welcome sight and one which we’re sure everyone will continue to appreciate just that little bit more than perhaps we did previously.
As always, Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate with those nearest and dearest to you. We hope that this Thanksgiving, Canadians can share this special time with their friends and families, and perhaps even pick up a racquet and hit a ball or two. As tennis in Canada continues to grow and experience success, we hope our sport has provided a sanctuary for fans and is something to be thankful for during these unprecedented times.