MELBOURNE– There was a day where Canada and tennis in the same sentence would never have existed. Now, it is safe to say that Canadian success at Grand Slams is a certain reality.
Look no further than Day 2 of the Australian Open, where all four Canadians were scheduled to play their first round matches. A few years ago, it would have been lucky to have at least one Canadian advance past the opening rounds. But on Tuesday, Eugenie Bouchard, Bianca Andreescu, Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov all rewrote the narrative. They each won their opening round matches, marking the first time in a Grand Slam where four Canadians advanced to the second round on the same day.
Routine Straight Set Victories for Raonic & Shapovalov
If there were two Canadian favourites to advance, it would be Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov. Both seeded, these two players were looking to start their 2019 Grand Slam season on the right footing after a disappointing 2018 season.
All eyes were on Raonic as he faced off against his Australian rival, Nick Kyrgios. After struggling with injury last season, there was a question surrounding Milos’ fitness coming into the tournament. But he quelled any injury concerns after a brilliant straight set win over Kyrgios 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-4. With 30 aces and winning 88 percent of points on first serve, its hard to beat Raonic when so many points are earned so easily.
“I kept a high first-serve percentage. There wasn’t many situations where I was in trouble. But when it was a little bit close, I stepped up and did a good job,” said Raonic after the match.
Denis Shapovalov also got off to a riveting start with a straight set win over Spaniard Pablo Andujar. After losing in the first round at Auckland, the young Canadian is looking to translate the facets of his game he improved on in the off season to success in Grand Slams. With new coach Rob Steckley by his side, Shapovalov served brilliantly, generating 15 aces and winning 84 percent of his first serve points. The difference between Auckland and his match against Andujar was the Canadian’s ability to convert on ground strokes and stay calm.
“I feel like Rob and I put in a lot of good work in the off-season,” stated Shapovalov. “Everything came together for me in the match. Those forehands that didn’t go in in Auckland, they were going in today.”
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Eugenie Bouchard Feels at Home in Australia
Whenever Eugenie Bouchard comes to Australia, she feels right at home. It was the Australian Open where the Canadian made her first Grand Slam semifinal. That same tournament, the infamous “Genie Army” was born, propelling Bouchard into tennis stardom.
On Wednesday against Peng Shuai, Bouchard showcased glimpses of that 2015 season, steamrolling her way to a straight-set 6-2 6-1 victory.
“I’m really enjoying it on the court, and I feel like I have done some good improvements in the last couple months,” said Bouchard. “I have been very solid in my matches last few tournaments. Just enjoying the training and enjoying the matches. That’s the most important thing, because I have definitely had moments where I didn’t enjoy it so much. So I have really loved being out there.”
2018 was not the best of seasons for Bouchard. From battling injuries to failing to make the second week of a Grand Slam, the Canadian was looking for any kind of improvement for 2019. And her start to the season could not have been better. She made the quarterfinals in Auckland singles, losing to the eventual champion Julia Goerges in three sets. In Auckland doubles, Bouchard and her playing partner, Sofia Kenin, won the tournament. For “Genie,” her focus is remaining positive and translating this optimism to success on the tennis court.
“You just have to keep going,” says Bouchard. “I knew deep down that I still believed in myself and my game and still relatively young, so, you know, I know I still have a little bit of time to play tennis. I decided let’s just give it everything right now and see what happens.”
The next round won’t be easy for Bouchard. She has to play 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who has beaten the Canadian the two times they have met. But Bouchard is not afraid of the moment, relishing the opportunity to play a top player of this generation.
“It’s just so cool that I’ll be able to share the court with Serena and an opportunity to see how I compare to one of the best players,” says Bouchard. “I mean, her ranking is top 20 right now, but to me she’s always basically No. 1.”
Bianca Andreescu Continues Successful Run
The pinnacle result for the Canadians was for 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu. She needed three hours, and two tiebreakers, but she managed to pull off the win against American wildcard Whitney Osuigwe 7-6(1) 6-7(0) 6-3.
Andreescu had a 61% first serve percentage and converted on four of her 10 break point opportunities. After losing a tough second set tiebreaker, she raised her game in the deciding set, breaking to go up 5-3 and then served out the match. This marks the continuation of a successful run Andreescu is having in Australia. She made the final of Auckland, before losing to Goerges in three sets. Andreescu breezed through qualifying of the Australian Open and with her win against Osuigwe, she will now move into the Top 100.
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With Canada going 4-0, and the rise of young talent on the horizon, the country is in a fantastic position to have successful tennis results. Who knows how well these four Canadians will do in the Australian Open. But given the rise of players like Andreescu and many others, it is safe to say that there will be many more days like Tuesday at Grand Slams.
“It’s honestly unbelievable. We’re family,” said Andreescu. “We’re a small group of people and all we do is support each other.”
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