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Auger-Aliassime, Andreescu lead Canadian singles hopes at French Open

The Canadian tennis scene reached new heights in recent years thanks to a young core of domestic talent that broke through on the sport’s biggest stages.

The Canadian tennis scene reached new heights in recent years thanks to a young core of domestic talent that broke through on the sport’s biggest stages.

A cooling-off period appears to have settled in this season. Canada’s top players will look to rectify that at the upcoming French Open.

At No. 10, Felix Auger-Aliassime is the highest-seeded Canadian at the second Grand Slam of the season. Denis Shapovalov, who also helped anchor Canada to a Davis Cup title last fall, is the other Canadian in the men’s singles field at Roland Garros.

Bianca Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, leads the Canadian charge in women’s singles. She’s joined by Leylah Fernandez, who reached the final at Flushing Meadows in 2021, and Rebecca Marino.

“Following success like that there’s often a consolidation phase,” said longtime tennis broadcaster and former Canadian Davis Cup team coach Robert Bettauer. “First of all, you’re not the hunter anymore, you’re the hunted. So you’re now a known commodity.

“The tour starts to figure out how you play, so that becomes more difficult.”

Montreal’s Auger-Aliassime and the 31st-ranked Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., have both battled knee injuries this season. Auger-Aliassime also pulled out of a tune-up event in Lyon with a shoulder issue, although the withdrawal may have been precautionary.

Andreescu, from Mississauga, Ont., is ranked 41st in the world while Fernandez, from Laval, Que., is at No. 51. Marino, from Vancouver, is the world No. 79.

While their rankings may have dipped a bit of late, it can be easy to forget that Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov, Andreescu and Fernandez are all in their early 20s.

“They’re very dangerous players,” said Bettauer, the CEO of the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence. “Any player, if they can get a couple of good wins under their belt, could go on a roll. That’s not unrealistic that any one of those players could find themselves in the quarterfinals.

“And then once you get to the quarterfinals, you’ve really given yourself a chance.”

Andreescu was ranked as high as fourth in the world in 2019 while Fernandez reached a career-high No. 13 last August. Auger-Aliassime was at No. 6 last November and Shapovalov held the No. 10 position in 2020.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal is not back to defend his title this year as the 14-time French Open champion is nursing a hip injury.

Newly installed No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz is a favourite while defending champion Iga Swiatek of Poland headlines the women’s field. She also won the French Open in 2020.

Auger-Aliassime was scheduled to open against Italy’s Fabio Fognini and Shapovalov, the No. 26 seed, was to meet American Brandon Nakashima.

Andreescu drew a tough opener in 18th-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. Fernandez was scheduled to meet 21st-seeded Magda Linette of Poland and Marino was to play Diana Shnaider of Russia.

All Canadian players entered in the qualifying draws were eliminated.

At No. 18, Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski is the top-ranked Canadian in women’s doubles. She’ll team up with Brazil’s Luisa Stefani and plans to play mixed doubles with American Nathaniel Lammons.

Fernandez and Marino are also planning to play doubles with their respective partners.

Main draw play begins Sunday. The tournament continues through June 11.