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Home   News   Tebbutt: The boys are back

Tebbutt: The boys are back

Sep 24, 2019
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

When No. 1-ranked Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime starts out Thursday against No. 62 Joao Sousa or No. 145 Chung Hyeon at the ATP 250 in Chengdu, China, it will have been 30 days since he last played a tournament. His break from tennis was a little longer than expected following a 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 first-round loss to compatriot Denis Shapovalov at the US Open last month.

Shapovalov will also be in action but he will be in a trickier position because he had to travel on Monday from the Laver Cup event in Geneva, Switzerland, to Chengdu – a distance of 8,161 kilometres that involves two flights.

Now ranked No. 34, Shapovalov’s opening match Wednesday is against No. 70 Ricardas Berankis. That’s a revenge opportunity after he was upset 7-6(0), 6-4, 6-3 in the first round at Wimbledon by the then No. 77-ranked Lithuanian. In their only other meeting, Shapovalov beat Berankis 6-3, 6-4 in the first round at Indian Wells in 2018.

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

A third Canadian in the field, Vasek Pospisil, plays Jordan Thompson in the first round. The No. 54-ranked Australian was at the Laver Cup (as a Team World alternate) and may also be feeling a little jet-lagged when he faces Pospisil on Wednesday for the first time. Pospisil entered using his No. 73 injury-protected ranking.

With the month of October arriving next Tuesday, the season has just five more weeks remaining before the year ends with the NextGen ATP Finals in Milan, the ATP Finals in London and the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid.

As the US Open fades into the past, the goal now for top-ranking players is to qualify for the eight-man ATP Finals. The last time a Canadian made it to London was in 2016 when Milos Raonic was a semi-finalist, losing a thrilling three-hour and 38-minute classic 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-6(9) to Andy Murray after having a match point.

It’s a long shot that a Canadian could be there this year, but below are the standings in the Race To London. Currently Rafael Nadal is No. 1 and US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini is in the eighth and final spot.

RACE TO LONDON

1. Rafael Nadal – 9,225

8. Matteo Berrettini – 2,185

11. David Goffin – 2,080

12. Gael Monfils – 2,080

16. Félix Auger-Aliassime – 1,591

25. Milos Raonic – 1,305

35. Denis Shapovalov – 1,075

While it’s unlikely Auger-Aliassime, Raonic or Shapovalov will qualify – it’s not impossible because there are two weeks of ATP 500 (Beijing/Tokyo and Basel/Vienna) and two weeks of Masters 1000 (Shanghai and Paris) events remaining that offer big points. A couple of good results in those tournaments could significantly boost a player’s chances. As well, players may not need to make it to No. 8 to qualify – injuries can affect the line-up for the ATP Finals. For example, Nadal has only played two of the past five year-end championships.

Here are the tournaments the top Canadians plan to play for the remainder of 2019.

Auger-Aliassime Raonic  Shapovalov
Chengdu (250) Tokyo (500) Chengdu (250)
Beijing (500) Shanghai (1000) Tokyo (500)
Shanghai (1000) Antwerp (250) Shanghai (1000)
Vienna (500) Vienna (500) Stockholm (250)
Paris (1000) Paris (1000) Vienna (500)
Paris (1000)

Auger-Aliassime, 19, and Shapovalov, 20, are second and fourth respectively in the Race To Milan for the seven-player (plus one Italian wild card) Next Gen Finals (21-and-under) event the week of November 5th. Defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, 21, is well ahead among qualifiers but he has a good chance to be playing in London the following week and almost certainly will not play Next Gen again. Also, there are no ranking points awarded at Next Gen and some players may take a pass on the event at the end of a long season. That could be the case with Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov because just a week later they will represent Canada in Madrid at the Davis Cup Finals.

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

Bianca Andreescu is the only Canadian woman playing in the top events this fall. With Genie Bouchard at No. 157 being the next highest ranked Canadian, the qualifying route will be the only avenue available (except for wild cards) into main draws at WTA tournaments for Canadian women.

It has been widely talked about, but US Open champion Andreescu has now won 24 matches in a row – not counting her retirement with a shoulder injury in the fourth round of the Miami Open in March. All of them have come at the highest levels of tournaments – two Grand Slams (US Open and French Open), Premier Mandatory (Indian Wells) and Premier 5 (Rogers Cup).

Andreescu has only two events planned this fall – the Premier Mandatory in Beijing next week and the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, beginning the week of October 28th.

Beijing has a 60-player main draw – plus four ‘performance byes’ awarded to the semi-finalists at this week’s Premier 5 event in Wuhan. So despite being ranked No. 5, neither Andreescu nor any of the other top-five players will receive a first-round bye in Beijing.

Although not yet guaranteed – and in fourth place with a lead of 1,112 points over current eighth and final qualifier Belinda Bencic – Andreescu will more than likely be in the field for the WTA Finals. She is 749 points behind current leader Ashleigh Barty in the race for the year-end No. 1 spot. With just two events to play – unless she takes a wild card into a tournament such as the Premier event in Moscow the third week of October – it will take strong results in Beijing and at the grand finale in Shenzhen for her to have a chance to finish No. 1.

Andreescu was featured in a 15-minute appearance on the popular Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle on Sunday alongside her coach Sylvain Bruneau. She made an admirable attempt to speak a bit of French but almost all the interview, except for when Bruneau spoke, was in English. There’s an excellent punchline at the very end thanks to the show’s court jester, Dany Turcotte.

LAVER CUP

The third Laver Cup ended on Sunday in Geneva with Team Europe edging Team World 13-11 as Alexander Zverev defeated Milos Raonic 6-4, 3-6, [10-4] in the deciding match.

Laver Cup has quickly established itself as a highly-entertaining event, with the main attractions being superstars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

There are glimpses of these modern-day masters in the team context that are both insightful and irresistible for tennis fans.

But there’s still a lingering unease about the players playing so hard at this exhibition event while not seeming to have the same enthusiasm for other regular stops on the tour – and as well their commitment somehow diminishes a more established, storied competition such as the Davis Cup.

There’s also the matter of the recent aligning of the Laver Cup with the ATP Tour. One of the by products is that Laver Cup matches are now counted in player head-to-heads by the ATP Tour. Since that was not the case for the 2017 and 2018 editions of the event, it seems wrong that matches in those years can now, retroactively, be considered in the overall player head-to-heads. And that’s not taking into account the fact that Laver Cup matches are not played in the standard best-of-three (or best-of-five) sets format. Instead of a third set, a 10-point match tiebreak decides matters when the players are even at one set apiece.

The production values of Laver Cup are topnotch and creative – but there’s still an overkill aspect to it as long as the traditional Davis Cup exists, and with the ATP Cup about to have its inaugural edition in January in Australia. It might be a matter of the more the merrier, but long term it doesn’t feel like all three of these events can continue to be fixtures on an already over-crowded tennis calendar.

(Feature Photo: Mauricio Paiz)