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Monday Digest: The Canadians are coming at the Australian Open

Jan 24, 2022
written by: Tennis Canada
written by: Tennis Canada

You do not have to go too far back to find a time where a Canadian reaching the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam was a rarity. On the men’s side, it had not happened in the Open Era before 2014.

Now, they are becoming common. That does not make it any less special.

A pair of Canadian men continuing their ascension up the ATP hierarchy stole the show in the opening week at the season’s first major, and now they are looking for more.

Here’s what you need to know.

In Case You Missed It: Canadians continue to rise in Melbourne

At Wimbledon last year, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov made history when they both reached the quarter-finals, the first time in the Open Era that two Canadian men reached the last eight in singles at the same Slam.

They did it again this week at the Australian Open.

After sluggish starts that saw them both rally from two-sets-to-one down and win a four-setter in their first two rounds, they are starting to round into form.

Shapovalov caused the biggest upset of the tournament in the fourth round, not just beating one of the title favourites, but absolutely dominating third seed Alexander Zverev in a straight-sets drubbing.

Auger-Aliassime has been clinical in his last two matches, putting on service masterclasses to get first career wins over Dan Evans and Marin Cilic.

Canada joins three tennis powers, Italy, France, and the United States, as countries with two players in the singles quarter-finals (both draws combined).

Unfortunately, the Canadian women were unable to conjure the same level as their male counterparts, as both Leylah Fernandez and Rebecca Marino were both beaten in the first round. Gabriela Dabrowski fell in the second round of the women’s doubles and first round of the mixed.

There were a few feel-good stories in the Australian Open, most notably some veterans making breakthroughs.

Frenchwoman Alize Cornet reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final, upsetting three seeds in a row including Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep, in her 63rd appearance at a major. It was by far the most Grand Slam appearances without a quarter-final by any woman on tour.

On the men’s side, it was another representative of France making an impact, as veteran Gael Monfils took advantage of a draw that fell apart around him to reach his first major quarter-final since 2019 without dropping a set.

Heading into the tournament, the highest seeds in both draws, Ashleigh Barty and Daniil Medvedev, were the overwhelming favourites for the title and very little changed in the first week of the Australian Open.

The women’s world No. 1 reached the quarter-finals without dropping a set, while the highest-ranked men’s player in the draw is through to the last eight without too much trouble, although he was pushed on a couple of occasions.

Rafael Nadal also remains in contention to take the lead in the men’s Grand Slam singles title race. He remains undefeated in 2022 and reached the quarter-finals in Melbourne having only lost one set.

What to Watch: History on the line

Don’t look now, but an all-Canadian final at the Australian Open is a real possibility.

First, Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime will look for more history by becoming the first pair of Canadian men to reach the semi-finals of the same Grand Slam.

Standing in their way are two of the best players in the game. For Shapovalov, he will look to recapture some of that 2017 magic and score a second win over Nadal, who can make history himself by winning a record-breaking 21st major title should he be victorious in Melbourne. The Spaniard leads their head-to-head 3-1, having won three straight since Shapovalov won their first meeting in Montreal.

For Auger-Aliassime, his path to a major breakthrough once again runs through Medvedev. The world No. 2 beat the Canadian in Auger-Aliassime’s only other Grand Slam semi-final last September at the US Open. To get the upset, Auger-Aliassime will need to overturn an 0-3 head-to-head for the second round in a row.

Should they advance, Shapovalov would meet either Matteo Berrettini or Gael Monfils in the semis, while Auger-Aliassime would play Jannik Sinner or Stefanos Tsitsipas.

On the women’s side, Barty remains on pace to claim her first major title on home soil, although a pair of French Open champions could have something to say about it. The world No. 1 plays Jessica Pegula in the quarters and then could meet Barbora Krejcikova in the semis, should the reigning Roland Garros champion end the run of Madison Keys.

Iga Świątek, the 2020 French Open champion, is the highest seed left in the bottom half. She plays Kaia Kanepi in the quarter-finals and will meet either Cornet or 27th seed Danielle Collins in the final four.

Under the Radar

Canada’s good showing at the Australian Open did not belong exclusively to the men’s singles.

Canadian juniors went 5-0 in the first round of the singles competition. Kayla Cross, Victoria Mboko and Jaden Weeks play their second-round matches on Monday. Mia Kupres and Annabelle Xu were both eliminated in the second round.

Victoria Mboko. Photo : Martin Sidorjak

On the Challenger tour, Vasek Pospisil bowed out in the quarter-finals of the event in Forli, Italy. He will be competing in another Challenger this week in Quimper, France, where he is the fifth seed.

Katherine Sebov is off to a strong start in 2022, following up her quarter-final a week ago by reaching the final of the ITF W25 event in Monastir, Tunisia. She was beaten in the final by Han Na-lae in straight sets. She will look to go one-win better this week at another event in the same city.

Among the many Canadians competing on the ITF Tour this week, there is a foursome of men in action at an event in Weston, Florida.

You can follow the Canadians in action every week here.