It’s no secret that the National Tennis Centre has contributed to the development of a number of young players since the emergence of the now famous Félix and Bianca.
So many of our juniors made their mark at international tournaments before devoting themselves to their greatest dream: a career in the WTA, ATP or highly competitive NCAA.
Read on and you’ll see that Canada has four players in the Top 100 of the ITF Junior Girls’ Rankings. On the boys’ side, there’s Jaden Weekes.
Without considering their respective rankings, there’s a lot of hype around the young Montrealer.
Currently No.24 on the junior circuit, Jaden has spent the past five weeks in Europe, mostly in Italy, and is now off to Paris to compete at Roland-Garros.
He concluded his lead-in campaign with a record of 10-4 at five events, including a semi and a title. He’s 8-4 in doubles with three different partners at five events, including a final and a title earned with Aidan Kim in Salsomaggiore, Italy.
I spoke to Jaden and Martin Laurendeau, his coach for the past three years, in Milan before they left for France.
“I’m really happy with the run, especially since clay is a surface I’m not usually very comfortable on,” said Weekes. “It took me some time to adjust, and I lost my first singles match in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, but I got to the doubles final and that gave me confidence. Then, the quarters in singles and the title in doubles in Salsomaggiore when I was slowly starting to find my rhythm. And then, a win in Prato where I played better than I had in a long time.”
His mentor very much agrees.
“Things went a little better than expected,” Martin said, alluding to the fact that the red clay is different from the indoor grey clay at the NTC. “Even against several opponents who are far more used to the surface, his results were excellent in singles and doubles at high-level events. If you count Roland-Garros, he’ll have spent nearly two months on clay.”
As the veteran coach pointed out, all of Jaden’s learnings will make his game more complete and serve him when the hard court season comes around. “His offensive and defensive games are getting better, and so are his ability to change the pace, his patience during rallies and the subtlety of his game.”
Weekes will be entering the temple of French tennis for the very first time. “I’m really excited to be there. Just playing there makes me proud. And, of course, I’ll do everything I can to win each match,” he said.
Roland-Garros will actually be the 17-year-old’s second major. In Melbourne, he got as far as the second round in singles and semifinal in doubles.
While the goal in the early stages of a tennis career is singles, doubles has always been a key add-on for players, even as pros. Take Denis Shapovalov, for example. Doubles made him a much more well-rounded player and helped him develop some impressive skills at the net.
The same goes for Jaden, who’s seen a definite improvement in his game.
“It helps me a lot, especially when I lose early in singles. It keeps me in the competition. Most of all, it’s fun to play with a partner, be relaxed and even joke around,” Jaden said.
Martin Laurendeau concurs: “Félix and Shapo didn’t love doubles in the beginning, but we can see all it brought to their games.”
In Paris, Weekes will team up with No.30 Ozan Colak of the US. The two have known each other for a long time and had always talked about playing together. Roland-Garros is the first event at which they’ll pair up.
He’s Canadian, he’s a lefty, he’s an offensive player and he’s coached by Martin Laurendeau in his transition to the professional tour.
Remind you of anyone?
Which player do you most identify with? When I ask Jaden that inevitable question, he quickly replies Denis Shapovalov. “Our playing styles are similar, we like being aggressive and ending the point at the net. We’re all in, and we’ve had the same coach!”
For the sake of comparison, Laurendeau mentions Shapovalov’s first clay season: “It wasn’t the most successful. He had a lot to learn. But now, you see the difference. Those challenging and necessary steps pay dividends a few years down the road. And Jaden is in that same process. Right now, he’s exceeding my expectations.”
Weekes and Laurendeau have been hard at work since May 22, exactly one week before the main draw of the junior French Open gets underway. Regardless of his results in Paris or at the next two Slams in which he plans on competing before his junior career comes to an end, Jaden Weekes has what it takes to make it in the ATP.
Sooner rather than later.
Here’s a quick look at the junior rankings, including the Canadian players, ahead of Roland-Garros.
Jo and Gilles bid adieu at Roland-Garros
They’re half of the four musketeers of contemporary French tennis. They grew up with Richard Gasquet and Gaël Monfils on and off the courts and spent the past 20 years thrilling all of France with close to 60 ATP titles between them.
Now, Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will say goodbye at Roland-Garros.
The 37-year-old veterans shared their plans to take their final lap at their home Slam a while back.
So, I made a quick call to Louis Borfiga, who steered the emergence of Canadian tennis and led a similar breakthrough in the 15 years prior in France.
Since heading back home in late summer 2021, Borfiga has worked for the FFT on a part-time basis but is no longer involved in the development program. He lends his support to Nicolas Escudé and Paul-Henri Mathieu, former players who now oversee the sports policy and future directions.
The man affectionately known as Luigi will be cheering for Tsonga and Simon in their final matches. And yes, the nostalgia has set in.
“Well, it’s pretty emotional. It brings back memories—great memories. Jo and Gilles were both 15 when I met them at the INSEP in 2000,” he said. “There’s a lot to be proud of, since they both reached the Top 10. And they’ve been successful in their lives as individuals.”
Looking at the draw, some may say the two Frenchmen ran into some bad luck, since Tsonga and Simon will be up against No.8 Casper Ruud and No.18 Pablo Carreno Busta.
“I disagree,” replied Borfiga. “In the end, it’s not a bad thing to face top players from the get-go. It’ll be a celebration. And an even bigger one if one, or both, can cause an upset.”
And the fans believed in Tsonga during the first two hours, when he and his rival had son a set each, in two tie-breaks. But it was a matter of time before the Norwegian confirmed the logic of that encounter, winning 6-7 (8), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (0), in 3h.49m.
Then, the Frenchman was treated to a long and moving farewell ceremony of more than 20 minutes, honored by the tournament, his fellow tennismen, his friends and his immediate family.
As for Simon, a few hours after his compatriot, he proved Borfiga right, surprising Carreno Busta in five sets, 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 1-6, 6-4
When asked about the state of French tennis, Louis Borfiga says he’s confident about the future. Of the members of the current generation, he likes what he sees from Ugo Humbert, Benjamin Bonzi and Arthur Rinderknech, and he’s especially excited about the next one and specifically Arthur Fils, who’s leading an exceptional contingent.
“Luca Van Assche, Sasha Wayenburg, Gabriel De Bru. It’s very promising,” he added.
I couldn’t end the conversation without asking Louis Borfiga what he thinks about his Canadian legacy nearly a year after the end of his tenure. Without playing favourites among our four best, he reiterated his admiration for Bianca Andreescu’s return to form and constant progress on clay: “When it comes to Bianca, my opinion hasn’t changed since her win in 2019: I believe she’s one of the best in the world.”
“Women’s tennis needs Bianca!” he added “I feel the same way about Iga Swiatek, and it would be terrific to have a Bianca-Swiatek rivalry.”
Here’s hoping it’ll start at the French Open final!
Together in the draws
In the main draw of Roland-Garros, Denis Shapovalov could count on the company of four fellow Canadians and his better half.
No.150 Mirjam Bjorklund made it through the qualifying event unscathed to enter the first major of her career after falling one match short of the main draw in Melbourne last January.
The 23-year-old Swede defeated No.183 Andrea Lazaro Garcia of Spain (6-3, 6-4), No.181 Lizette Cabrera of Australia (6-2, 6-2) and No.118 Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania (6-1, 6-3).
And Denis was front and centre for her triumphs.
Bjorklund has two wins at a WTA 250 event (Bogota) in 2022 and one at a WTA 125 (Prague) in 2020.
Unfortunately, the excitement was short lived. On the first Sunday, Mirjam lost to No.100 Donna Vekic of Croatia (7-6 (6), 6-2).
À la française
Let’s wrap things up with a fun tennis montage by Canal Plus in which everyday tennis items were replaced by everyday French items, namely wine, cheese and baguettes.
How did they do it?
You know the famous saying: impossible, n’est pas français—nothing is impossible!
Follow all our Canadians in action here.