There are myriad Canadian storylines as the tennis season kicks into high gear Monday at the first Grand Slam of the season — the Australian Open — at Melbourne Park.
Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov are both ranked in the top 30 and Bianca Andreescu seems ready to break out. Eugenie Bouchard looks rejuvenated and Gabriela Dabrowski is a threat to win any doubles event she enters.
“What’s great here is that for a change we’re not just looking at one or two athletes and crossing our fingers that they continue to advance,” said Tennis Canada president and chief executive officer Michael Downey.
While not in the main draw in Melbourne, Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime is one of the sport’s top young prospects and Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino is looking to build off a solid comeback season.
Injured Vancouver player Vasek Pospisil is confident he can get back in the top 50 and Peter Polansky of Thornhill, Ont., is hovering just outside the top 100.
“At the end of next year, you could have six, seven, eight Canadians in the top 100 in singles,” Downey said. “That is knocking on the door of being a leading tennis nation which is ideally what we want Canadian tennis to be.”
Raonic, also from Thornhill, is the No. 16 seed in Melbourne and should get a stiff test in his opener against Australian Nick Kyrgios. They have split six previous matchups.
Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., lost his season debut earlier this week in Auckland. The No. 25 seed will open against Pablo Andujar of Spain.
Bouchard, the world No. 79, received a direct entry into the women’s main draw while Andreescu won three qualifying matches to get her spot. Both players are coming off impressive showings at the ASB Classic.
The 18-year-old Andreescu stunned two former world No. 1s en route to her first career appearance in a WTA Tour final. After a gruelling run of eight matches in nine days, she caught a break in Melbourne when two of her opponents retired early due to injury.
Andreescu, from Mississauga, Ont., generated plenty of buzz last week after victories over big names like Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams. She said she’s ready for the brighter spotlight.
“There’s always expectations. I just try to give my best every match,” she told The Associated Press after a 6-0, 4-1 win Friday over Tereza Smitkova of the Czech Republic. “If I do that, I’m satisfied.”
Bouchard is coming off a quarterfinal appearance in singles play and her first career WTA doubles title with American Sofia Kenin.
“She’s fought her way back from basically top 200 to where she sits today at (No. 79),” Downey said of Bouchard, a former world No. 5. “She’s clearly back in the driver’s seat. She’s committed. But I think it’s great that Bianca is going to join her (in the top 100) soon.”
Bouchard kicked off her stellar 2014 season with a semifinal appearance in Melbourne. She reached the final four at the French Open that year and made it to the Wimbledon final.
The Westmount, Que., native made it to the Australian Open quarterfinals in 2015 but has struggled with her game in recent seasons.
“She was really young,” said Canadian women’s head coach Sylvain Bruneau. “She had a lot of things to handle and deal with. I think she’s got experience and more wisdom. She’s slowing it down ... she’s only 24.
“We need to be careful if someone has a couple of tough seasons, to not count them out because she has all the tools to come back really high in the ranking.”
Wild-card opponents await both Canadians in the women’s draw. Bouchard will take on world No. 129 Shuai Peng of China while Andreescu meets 199th-ranked American Whitney Osuigwe.
The Australian Open doubles draws have yet to be released.
Dabrowski, from Ottawa, won three women’s doubles titles last season and is ranked 10th in the world. She also won the Australian Open mixed doubles title last year with Croatia’s Mate Pavic.
Marino lost her first-round qualifying match earlier in the week. The 28-year-old returned last season after taking a five-year break from the sport.
A former top-40 player, she jumped over 700 spots in the last year to No. 216.
“I think she’s going to keep progressing in 2019,” Bruneau said. “I think there is the potential there to have a very beautiful story and we’re going to work hard towards it to make it happen.”