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Tennis Three young Canadians look to make their marks on the red clay in Paris

Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov will both be seeded when the second Grand Slam of the season begins Sunday, as will 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu in the women's draw.

Julio Cortez/The Associated Press

Tennis might have its “Big Three” in Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

But Canadian tennis now has its own version – and the trio is aiming to make waves at the French Open.

Montreal’s Félix Auger-Aliassime and Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, both 18, and 20-year-old Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., all will be seeded when the second Grand Slam of the season begins Sunday.

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For the two teenagers, it also will be their main-draw debut on the red clay in Paris.

There will be plenty of focus on Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov, the two good friends who are neck-and-neck in the ATP Tour rankings.

In fact, with his semi-final victory over Nikoloz Basilashvili at the ATP Tour event Lyon Open on Friday, Auger-Aliassime will leap over Shapovalov to be the higher-ranked of the two next week for the very first time.

A year ago in Paris, Auger-Aliassime was ranked No. 178 and lost in qualifying to Jaume Munar of Spain. Shapovalov had just broken into the top 25 for the first time, and was the No. 24 seed.

In his French Open main-draw debut, Shapovalov was beaten in the second round by No. 70 Maximilian Marterer of Germany.

Shapovalov has entered a bit of a purgatory in the rankings over the past 12 months. He has held his own, but has not yet taken that next step. On Monday, he will be ranked No. 24.

Auger-Aliassime will be at No. 22 regardless of whether he wins the first ATP Tour event of his career on Saturday when he faces Benoît Paire of France.

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The day before he was overtaken, Shapovalov said he definitely heard his good friend zooming right up behind him.

“Oh, I feel it. But I think it’s amazing,” Shapovalov said. “Of course we’re rivals on one side. But on the other side, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who has the better career because we’re both doing what we love, and we’re both happy for each other.

“It’s amazing to see him climb the rankings, and it gives me that little extra push. I see him right behind me and, damn, I don’t want to fall behind him. So I’m going to try to work harder and try to keep going.”

Auger-Aliassime inadvertently came across the ranking news on Twitter, before he played Basilashvili.

“I think it’ll happen throughout my career, that we’ll compete like that. It happened in the juniors, too,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It’s all positive. For him, just as for me, we’re both motivated to play well each week. So this can only raise the level.”

Shapovalov, the No. 20 seed in Paris, has the tougher road in the first round. He faces Jan-Lennard Struff, a 29-year-old German who is playing the best tennis of his career and is at a career-high No. 44 in the rankings.

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Struff defeated Shapovalov in the first round of Monte Carlo, at the dawn of the European clay-court season in mid-April.

Auger-Aliassime is probably in a better position as he’ll meet Australia’s Jordan Thompson, who played a couple of clay-court Challengers in Asia this spring but has yet to set foot on the European dirt.

The teenager could meet No. 8 seed Juan Martin del Potro in the third round, while Djokovic is the top-ranked player in Shapovalov’s section of the draw.

There were supposed to be four seeded Canadians in the tournament. But Milos Raonic, who hasn’t played since mid-March in Miami as he continues to struggle with a knee injury, pulled out Thursday just before the men’s singles draw was made.

Raonic withdrew from last year’s French Open because of issues with the same knee, which he is trying to manage to avoid having surgery.

Former French Open semi-finalist Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., has emerged from a two-month break and will play in Paris, her first tournament since the Miami Open qualifying.

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Her first-round opponent will be Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, against whom she has had some dramatic matches, including a win last year in Fed Cup in Montreal.

Andreescu also has not played since Miami as she nursed a small tear in her right shoulder.

She told The Canadian Press on Wednesday that she has taken the rehab slowly and that she is completely pain-free. Andreescu opted for an extra week of training this week, rather than play a warm-up tournament that would have required her to speed up the rehab timetable.

The No. 22 seed on the women’s side will play lucky loser Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic in the first round.

Andreescu could meet American Sofia Kenin, whom she has played already in the past three months, in the second round and then, perhaps, Serena Williams.

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