It’s fair to say that Canadians have good reason to be excited about their country’s future in tennis, heading into their home event on the ATP and WTA tours, the Rogers Cup.
On the ATP side, last week’s Citi Open in Washington proved that more than ever. In the first all-Canadian ATP final in history, 23-year-old Milos Raonic defeated countryman Vasek Pospisil, with the latter beating Tomas Berdych and Richard Gasquet along the way to the title decider.
In the women’s game, there’s only one lady who has reached the semi-finals of all three Grand Slams so far in 2014: 20-year-old Montreal-born Eugenie Bouchard.
Both Raonic and Bouchard are now in the top 10 of their respective tennis rankings and most spotlights will be focused on them, as they take to the courts of Toronto and Montreal respectively.
Milos Raonic lines up in his home state of Ontario off the back of claiming a sixth ATP title in the U.S. capital last week. He didn’t drop a set all week, with his first five winning sets, as typical, being tie-breaks, and he’s back up to his career high of No. 6.
I've always said that hard courts are, by far, my favourite and having done as well I did on clay and grass [this season], it got me really excited about this week [in Washington]. For that to be my showing right away this week was great.
The standard of opposition on the other side of the court will undoubtedly improve in the Masters event in Toronto. Raonic is penned-in to face fourth seed Berdych in the quarter finals and then potentially Roger Federer in the semis. The Canadian has big points to defend too, having reached the final in 2013.
His 2014 form thus far bodes well though for more hard-court success in the North American summer/early fall. He reached his first Slam quarter final on the red dirt of Roland Garros and then went a step further at the All England Club, where he became the first Canadian man to appear in the last four of a major.
However, both of those matches were lost in straight sets to Djokovic and then Federer, suggesting that Raonic is still steps away from wrenching the ATP Tour from the grip of the Top Four. The man himself, though, is seemingly full of confidence that he can make even more headway:
Now I go into every tournament, as I have for the past few weeks and months, believing I can win every tournament. In 2012 and 2013, it sort of had to be the right tournament for me. Now I feel like I can win any and every tournament.
Does the Canadian have enough to conquer his home tournament then? Well, he possesses arguably the best serve in the world right now, which is almost completely unplayable at times. He’s right near the top of all 2014 service stats.
However, when we look at return stats, it’s easy to see where problems lie. According to ATP.com, Raonic is ranked at No. 43 in first serve return points won, No. 57 for second serve, creating a very low rank of No. 55 for return games won.
The Canadian surely has to improve his defensive play if he wants to make it right to the top. We can see from the guys that are there right now—Djokovic, Nadal, Murray—they’re all incredible returners. Grigor Dimitrov is having better success too because he has worked extremely hard on his movement and defence.
If expectation rests on Raonic’s shoulders, there’s an even bigger burden on the back of Eugenie Bouchard. One recent CBC headline reads: “Eugenie Bouchard is undisputed star of Rogers Cup in Montreal.”
Just two years after winning the junior event at Wimbledon in 2012, she stunningly reached the senior final in July. Despite being pummeled by Petra Kvitova on SW19’s second Saturday, Bouchard pronounced to the tennis world that she is here to try and dominate the women’s game. She recorded fine wins over Serena Williams’ vanquisher Alize Cornet, Maria Sharapova’s conqueror Angelique Kerber and then Simona Halep in the semis.
This week in Montreal, she may find out a bit what it’s like to be Andy Murray at Wimbledon. The “Genie Army” will be out in full force to roar on the determined 20-year-old to glory, complete with this new chant that has been uploaded to YouTube by WTA.
She’s been dealt a tough draw in Canada. Defending champion Serena Williams, who is on the road back to form after a title in Stanford last week, is in the same quarter as the young Canadian bombshell. Proposed New York Marathon runner and recent winner in Istanbul, Caroline Wozniacki, could await in the third round.
Can Bouchard be the one to consistently challenge Serena Williams at the top of the women’s game?
One thing is for sure: she has the absolute drive and motivation to do so, stopping at nothing to get what she wants, including disposing of friends on Tour. She was quoted as saying “I don’t think the tennis tour is the place to have friends. For me it’s all about competition.”
Whilst being incredibly focused and committed is essential to success, there are other things of importance in life beyond tennis, such as friendship. You can be friends off the court with your fellow players but enemies on it.
The third Canadian who is flourishing of late is Vasek Pospisil. His strong results have primarily come in the doubles, where he superbly won the Wimbledon title with American partner Jack Sock in their first tournament together.
As Wimbledon’s official website wrote, they “did so in the most stunning style imaginable, upsetting arguably the greatest doubles team to have ever lived [in the final]—No. 1 seeds and reigning Wimbledon champions Bob and Mike Bryan.”
The duo remain undefeated together, after winning the first U.S. Open Series event in Atlanta two weeks ago. They will face the high-calibre pairing of Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the opening round, with Pospisil also facing Gasquet in the singles (a repeat of last week’s Washington semi which the Canadian won).
He rose nine places last week in the rankings up to No. 27, which, with a few decent results in the two upcoming Masters events, should guarantee a seeding at the final big one of the year in the city that never sleeps.
So, all three of these young, shiny Canadians go into their respective home tournaments looking to make big things happen, with their adoring fans right behind them.
Andy Murray’s comment to CBC could be just right: "Right now, with the way things are going with Canadian tennis, I would expect we would have some really, really good crowds here."
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