Photo : Martin Sidorjak
The maple leaf evidently has a galvanizing—and even bolstering—effect on Canada’s No.1 Félix Auger-Aliassime.
Last week in Spain, the 22-year-old put some of his best tennis on display, and he just happened to do it at a men’s team tennis competition that pits nation against nation.
Just as he did at the ATP Cup in January 2022, he led the national squad to its Davis Cup wins and made sure Canada punched its ticket for the Finals in November.
And to think he wasn’t even supposed to compete!
As it turns out, his surprise appearance supercharged the team and was a miracle cure for his less-than-stellar season.
The past six months have been good, but not great, for Félix. Since his two finals in February (one of which gave him his very first ATP title), he’s been 22–1, which probably isn’t the record he’d imagined.
Despite his young age, Auger-Aliassime has pocketed big wins at all levels and earned a place in the Top 10, which he should re-enter sooner rather than later over the next few weeks, especially with all that extra Davis Cup confidence that came with his sterling victory over Carlos Alcaraz on September 16.
On Sunday, September 11, Alcaraz claimed his first Slam and took his place as the new World No.1. Less than 48 hours later, he touched down in Valencia, which is just a two-hour drive from his hometown of El Palmar, to join the Spanish delegation at Davis Cup.
The teen is now a global sensation, so imagine the fanfare when he descended upon Spain as the newly appointed admiral of the nation’s tennis armada.
After sitting out the first tie against Serbia to rest, he took on Canada in the form of veteran and underdog Félix Auger-Aliassime.
The Canadian was practically perfect to start things off, except for his short-lived but deadly slump in the tiebreak. Ahead 3-1, he lost the next six points and gave Alcaraz the first set 6-7 (3).
But Auger-Aliassime found a way to stop the momentum and regain his confidence and consistency. With his serve (one of his two favourite weapons) on point, he only gave away the first break point at 2-1 in the second set, after 92 minutes.
At 4-4, after a series of dramatic rallies that thrilled fans in the stadium and at home, it was up to Félix to break for the first time in the match.
In the third, Auger-Aliassime broke Alcaraz early on and silenced the crowd. Ahead 2-1, he fought off four break points with the help of four aces to close out the nearly 12-minute game.
Much to the chagrin of the local fans, he broke again and withstood three breaks in the eighth and final game to clinch the victory.
And he did so spectacularly, playing tennis we haven’t seen from him since Canada’s win at the ATP Cup. Yes, another team tournament.
That’s an important detail, since it wasn’t the first time in his short but brilliant career that Félix was able to rely on his best resources when Canada’s honour was on the line and the courtside seats were filled with the familiar faces of his countrymen shouting their support on every point.
And let’s not forget that Félix made it happen with a different partner each time.
He’s become the common denominator in Canadian tennis.
And he wasn’t even supposed to be in Valencia. He had declined, but his early departure from Flushing Meadows probably motivated him to get back in the mix asap.
Who knows what the wins could do for the rest of his season and the rest of his career?
Don’t forget, Félix was up against the top player in the world—a No.1 who’s worked hard to get there. Carlos Alcaraz is the man to beat right now. Félix delivered amazing tennis against the top dog, on his home turf, in a fight for Canada’s honour. That’s major.
According to Sportsnet analyst Robert Bettauer, Alcaraz vs. Auger-Aliassime is a clash we’ll see again: “When you watch these two players at this young age and playing such a match, with their records already, it’s not a stretch to think this match could be a Grand Slam final sometime, in the next two or three years. These two are going to play each other a lot, that’s a guarantee.”
I’ve watched several of Alcaraz’s matches this season, especially during the North American hardcourt swing. Enough to admire his incredible talent. And even though he didn’t play his best on September 16 and racked up more unforced errors than usual, his tennis was still inspired enough to justify his No.1 status.
The match wasn’t the only highlight of Auger-Aliassime’s Spanish campaign. He joined forces with Vasek Pospisil to win the doubles battles against South Korea and Spain and hand Canada its two deciding points.
To top things off, Félix’s singles showdown against Serbia on September 17 was a tennis clinic. Miomir Kecmanovic may have been 2-0 against the Quebecer coming into the match, but the Serb was utterly outplayed.
That’s exactly the mindset Félix needs to find his way back into the Top 10.
Next up for him is the headline-grabbing Laver Cup from September 23 to 25.
He and Team World will battle for their very first win in five editions of the splashy tournament. Laver Cup is always a blowout and will be even more so this year as its founder and star Roger Federer takes his last lap.
The unstoppable Gabriela Dabrowski
Nothing gets in Gabriela Dabrowski’s way.
The Canadian doubles specialist just added a brand-new title—her 12th—to her trophy case.
All in a day’s work?
Not really. Consider who she won with: Luisa Stefani of Brazil.
Let’s rewind about a year, to September 10, 2021. Dabrowski and Stefani versus Coco Gauff and Caty McNally of the US in the US Open semifinal.
The serious knee injury Stefani suffered in the first set tiebreaker brought the bout, and the pair’s hopes, to a crashing halt.
While her partner recovered, Gabriela played on. In 2022, she teamed up with Giuliana Olmos of Mexico. After a few first- and second-round losses in Australia and on the Arabian Peninsula, the pair found their rhythm, and things really took off: the finals in Madrid and Rome, the semis in Indian Wells, Berlin, San Jose and Toronto and the quarters in Eastbourne, Cincinnati and New York.
With Stefani back in action, the duo reunited and collected the crown in Chennai.
Dabrowski is currently No.10 in doubles.
Year after year, she’s been the backbone of her teams.
In addition to the wins she shares with Olmos and Stefani, she earned WTA titles with Shuko Aoyama (1) of Japan, Alicja Rosolska (1) of Poland, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain (1) and Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia. She’s had the most success with the Yifan Xu of China. Together, they won five of the eight finals in which they competed.
And don’t forget her Slams in mixed doubles with Rohan Bopanna of India (Paris 2017) and Mate Pavic of Croatia (Melbourne 2018).
Remind you of anyone? A doubles king who won a lot with a lot of partners?
Genie’s real comeback
After a lot of hope, entries and postponements, Eugenie Bouchard finally found her way back to tennis.
Regardless of anyone’s expectations, her comeback is a convincing one.
At the WTA 250 Chennai Open last week, she got as far as the quarters. The progress moved her up 382 spots in the rankings, from No.902 to No.520.
But Chennai wasn’t her first go at it. She made her initial comeback in mid-August at the WTA 125 Odlum Brown VanOpen in Vancouver, where she lost in two quick sets to No.166 Arianne Hartono of the Netherlands (6-2, 6-2). Even though she was playing on home soil, this first appearance didn’t yield the results the Canadian was hoping for.
But in Chennai’s sweltering heat, Bouchard was consistent from the baseline, played a great defensive game and anticipated the ball well.
Her first victim was No.167 Joanne Zuger of Switzerland, 7-6 (4), 6-2.
Two days later, she faced No.359 Karman Thandi of India, who’d upset No.109 Chloé Paquet of France in the first round. Genie closed things out at 6-2, 7-6 (2).
Her quarterfinal match was great from a tennis standpoint but no fun at all.
Against No.298 Nadia Podoroska of Argentina, who was ranked as high as No.47 just 18 months ago, Bouchard easily won the first 6-1 but then let her rival back in the match and ultimately lost the next two sets 6-4, 6-2. However, in addition to a 40-minute break due to lightning, the high temperatures and humidity turned out to be her real opponent, forcing her to call for a medical timeout.
Despite the challenging conditions, Bouchard played her doubles match afterwards, but it was a lot to ask. She’d made it to the semis with Yanina Wickmayer Belgium but had to drop out at 3-6, 1-1.
This week, Genie kept the momentum going at the WTA 250 Hana Bank Korea Open in Seoul. Her first-round loss was an honourable one: she was toppled by 2022 Wimbledon semifinalist and World No.80 Tatjana Maria in two sets, 7-6(5), 7-6(5).
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