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Monday Digest: Canadians starting strong at Roland-Garros

May 23, 2022
written by: Tennis Canada
written by: Tennis Canada

Springtime in Paris. There is nothing really like it.

Especially for tennis fans.

Main draw play at the second Grand Slam event of the year kicked off on Sunday at Roland-Garros and most of the Canadians are already off, running, and doing what they do best: mounting dramatic comebacks.

It won’t be easy for the representatives of the Great White North as the draw has not been particularly kind to them. But some showdowns with the legends and a potential all-Canadian clash are just some of the reasons to be excited for the upcoming fortnight.

Here’s what you need to know.

What to Watch: Six Canadians at Roland-Garros

All of those grinding matches on the red dirt of Europe have been leading up to the next two weeks as the world’s best arrive in Paris for the French Open.

At least two Canadians have made the quarter-finals at each of the last three majors, although it has been eight years since both Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard reached the last eight in Paris. No Canadian has made it that far since in singles.

The odds may be in their favour this time based on sheer volume with four Canadians, all of whom have reached at least one Grand Slam quarter-final in their career, alive in the singles draws at Roland-Garros.

For Canadian fans, the third round will be circled on their calendars as Leylah Annie Fernandez and Bianca Andreescu are on a collision course in the last 32.

Andreescu was one of the players to watch when the draw came out, as the former US Open champion and Rome quarter-finalist was unseeded and could have been drawn against anyone. Most of the big names likely drew a sigh of relief when Andreescu was handed a qualifier, Ysaline Bonaventure, in the first round.

Bonaventure ended up not being a particularly good draw for Andreescu, as the Canadian was forced to rally from a set and a break down to put away the Belgian. She will have her hands full in the second round when she meets 14th seed Belinda Bencic.

Fernandez also did her part, cruising past Kristina Mladenovic in the first round on Sunday. Standing between her and the Andreescu clash is doubles world No. 1 Katerina Siniakova in round two.

2022 semi-finalist Maria Sakkari is the likely fourth round opponent for whichever of Andreescu or Fernandez advanced. They are in the bottom half of the draw, on the opposite side from overwhelming favourite Iga Świątek.

Few players have a draw as terrifying as Félix Auger-Aliassime, who were he to reach a maiden Grand Slam final, will likely have to go through the three title favourites just to reach the final.

Auger-Aliassime, the ninth seed, was drawn into the same section of the draw as 13-time champion Rafael Nadal and could meet the King of Clay in the fourth round. An upset win would likely set up a quarter-final clash with defending champion Novak Djokovic.

Should the Canadian beat the two men who have combined to win 15 of the last 17 Roland-Garros titles, his reward would likely be a semi-final clash with the red-hot Miami and Madrid champion Carlos Alcaraz in the semis.

All of that was nearly irrelevant on day one of the French Open, as Auger-Aliassime fell behind two sets to love in his first-round match on Sunday against Juan Pablo Varrilas, but he was able to mount a comeback and advance with a thrilling five-set victory.

Denis Shapovalov will not be looking past his first-round match, as he drew the tricky young Dane Holger Rune, who made the semi-finals of Lyon last week.

Should he advance, the Canadian is on a fourth-round collision course with the 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas. His potential quarter-final opponent would be Casper Ruud and is in the bottom half of the draw with Daniil Medvedev.

Tsitsipas may have been the only person who liked what he saw in the men’s draw, with Nadal, Djokovic, and Alcaraz ending up in the top half of the draw.

Rebecca Marino was the lone Canadian to enter the main draw via qualifying, but was defeated in her first round match on Sunday by 18th seed Coco Gauff.

Świątek comes into the tournament on a 28-match winning streak and is the top seed. She is in the same quarter as Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep and same half as third seed Paula Badosa.

There were two major upsets in the first round of the women’s event. On day one, Madrid champion and Rome runner-up Ons Jabeur was beaten in three sets by Magda Linette in the very first match of the tournament on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Defending champion Barbora Krejcikova was then stunned in three sets on Monday by 19-year-old Frenchwoman Diane Parry.

Perhaps no Canadian comes into the French Open in better form than Gabriela Dabrowski, who having won Madrid and reached the final in Rome is arguably the title favourite in Paris alongside partner Giuliana Olmos.

The Canadian-Mexican pair are the third seeds at Roland-Garros and will open against Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Anna Blinkova. They are in the bottom half of the draw with second seeds Elise Mertens and Veronika Kudermetova.

Fernandez is also competing in doubles with Kirsten Flipkens and could meet Mertens and Kudermetova in the second round.

In Case You Missed It: Ruud finding form in time

As usual, the week before a Grand Slam event was fairly quiet.

Only two Canadians were competing on the main tours and neither managed to pick up a win. Denis Shapovalov was beaten in his opening match in Geneva by Ilya Ivashka in straight sets. The Canadian had reached the final of the event in 2021.

On the women’s side in Rabat, Morocco, Carol Zhao lost in the first round to third seed Nuria Parrizas Diaz in three sets.

World No. 8 Casper Ruud successfully defended his title in Geneva, having beaten Shapovalov for the title last year, defeating Joao Sousa for his first title of the season in a tight three-set final.

Expectations were high for Ruud coming into the clay court season after the Norwegian won four titles on the surface in 2021. But so far the dirt has not been kind to him, although he will hope that the win will act as a springboard heading into Roland-Garros, where he is seeded eighth.

Daniil Medvedev made his return to the tour is Geneva after missing several months following hernia surgery, but the world No. 2’s comeback did not go according to plan as he was beaten in his opening match by Richard Gasquet.

The event in Rabat was won by Martina Trevisan, who picked up her maiden title at the age of 28.

Cameron Norrie claimed the title in Lyon, his first title on clay, beating first-time finalist Alex Molcan in three sets. Angelique Kerber picked up her first title of the season in Strasbourg, winning a thrilling three-tiebreak final over Kaja Juvan.

Under the Radar:

There was a trophy raised last week by a Canadian on the ITF circuit, as 19-year-old Richmond Hill-native Ariana Arseneault won the doubles title at the W60 event in Pelham, Alabama.

Arseneault and American partner Carolyn Ansari went on a giant killer run, upsetting the fourth, first, and third seeded teams on their way to the title. It is the first ITF title of Arseneault’s career.

Photo : @ariana_arseneault

With Roland-Garros sucking up all the oxygen this week, it is quieter across the rest of the tennis world.

However, both Steven Diez and Alexis Galarneau are competing on the ATP Challenger Tour this week; Diez in Troisdorf, Germany, and Galarneau in Vicenza, Italy.

You can follow the Canadians in action every week here.