This year’s Wimbledon represents something of a changing of the guard in Canadian tennis and all of Canada’s big hopes were on display Wednesday.
For years Canada’s best showings at Wimbledon have come at the hands of Milos Raonic, Eugenie Bouchard – both finalists in singles – and Daniel Nestor, who won three Wimbledon titles in men’s doubles and mixed doubles.
Raonic and Bouchard are out with injuries this time and Nestor has retired. That has cleared the way for a new batch of Canadians to shine at the All England Lawn Tennis Club: Bianca Andreescu, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov, Vasek Pospisil and Leylah Annie Fernandez.
All five featured in matches on Wednesday, but only two advanced. Auger-Aliassime, who is seeded 16th, cruised to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 first-round victory over Brazil’s Thiago Monteiro. Shapovalov, the 10th seed, moved on to the third round when his opponent, Pablo Andujar of Spain, withdrew because of a rib injury. He next faces Britain’s resurgent Andy Murray, who won a gruelling victory 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 over German qualifier Oscar Otte in the second round on Wednesday.
For Auger-Aliassime, 20, it was a near flawless performance that took just more than two hours. “I can be really happy,” he said after the match. “I was able to control [my nerves] really well, step up my game, play aggressively with dominance.” His next opponent will be Mikael Ymer of Sweden, who is ranked No. 98.
The other three did not fare as well and each lost in straight sets, including Andreescu, the fifth seed, who was beaten by Alizé Cornet of France 6-2, 6-1 in a first-round match.
Andreescu, 21, went into the tournament hoping to recapture some of the form that propelled her to victory at the 2019 U.S. Open. But her performance on Wednesday showed she still has a long way to go. Cornet, 31, took control early on and kept up the momentum, defeating Andreescu for the second time this month on grass.
“At one point she just, I don’t know, she switched gears and she was on another level and I obviously kind of stayed at the level I started the match,” Andreescu said afterward. “I felt like I obviously could have raised my level a bit more but during the match I felt like I couldn’t.”
Fernandez, 18, was brushed aside in less than an hour in her first-round match, 6-1, 6-2 to Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion. This was the teenager’s first Wimbledon and it couldn’t have gone much worse. “I was just embarrassed at the way that I played and I’m talking with my team at the moment to see what I need to do better, what we need to change so that this doesn’t happen again,” Fernandez said.
Pospisil, 31, went up against Frances Tiafoe of the United States, who stunned third-seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in the first round 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. The American continued that pace and took Pospisil 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. “Honestly I just think that Frances played an amazing match,” Pospisil said. “He didn’t give me any looks, no unforced errors, just returning extremely well and serving as well as I’ve seen him serve.”
Weather has played havoc at Wimbledon and even though Wednesday’s play was not interrupted by rain, several courts remained damp. On Tuesday, Serena Williams had to retire from her match after she injured her right leg in a slip on centre court. Williams’s stumble came just after France’s Adrian Mannarino slid on the same court and was forced to abandon his match against Roger Federer.
Andreescu said she slid six times during her match. “The courts are super slippery,” she said. “I’ve only played here once before but they weren’t like this at all. I spoke to a couple of other players and they said it’s not that normal. But this is something we can’t really control.”
Auger-Aliassime played on the same court as Andreescu and found parts of it soggy. “On one side, the back right, there was literally mud. So that can be tricky for sure,” he said. “Fortunately I had a good time moving around the court.”
The five still represent the future of Canadian tennis, which became all too clear this week when Tennis Canada announced the team for the Tokyo Olympics. All but Shapovalov, 22, were selected along with doubles players Gabriela Dabrowski and Sharon Fichman, who are also competing at Wimbledon. Shapovalov would have been there, too, if he hadn’t bowed out.
This will be Pospisil’s third Olympics and while he can’t wait to represent Canada again, he was mindful of the backlash the Games have caused in Japan where many fear it could spread COVID-19. “It’s obviously not a great situation,” he said. “You don’t want to be going somewhere and feeling like you’re intruding in anyway, which is understandable given the state of the world. So it’s a tough situation.”