Photo : Martin Sidorjak
Week one of the Australian Open is almost in the books and only two Canadians are still standing at Melbourne Park: Felix Auger-Aliassime and Gabriela Dabrowski.
More will join the fray next week, but more on that later.
It was a tricky first week for the Canadians at the year’s first major, with plenty of highs and lows. From dramatic marathons to battles on Rod Laver Arena to relatively straight-forward wins, the Canadian tennis experience in Melbourne has covered a lot of ground.
Auger-Aliassime Finding His Groove
Between bad draws and injuries, Canada’s singles prospects did not look great heading into the first Grand Slam of the year. But at least one man is still giving the country reason to cheer.
2023 was a year to forget for Felix Auger-Aliassime and 2024 did not get off to a great start either as he recovered from a knee injury. And then the draw spat him out against a former Grand Slam champion Dominic Thiem and it looked like the fates had it in for the Montrealer.
Not so fast.
While it was hardly a dominant performance, Auger-Aliassime’s victory over Thiem in four hours and 59 minutes was nonethless impressive. Sure, a straight-set win would have been preferable after the Canadian took the first two sets, but holding off a player of Thiem’s calibre demonstrated a level of grit and perseverance that can be tough to find given everything Auger-Aliassime has experienced over the last year.
When he lost the third and fourth sets, it may not have been all that surprising to see the 23-year-old fold. After all, he had lost from two sets up in Melbourne in both 2021 and 2022 and was in better shape and form on those occasions. But Auger-Aliassime was not interested in losing from that position again.
Regardless of what happens next, that match was a huge step in the right direction for the four-time ATP Tour titlist.
Of course, he is not actually finished. He followed that up with a strong showing against Hugo Grenier, where he did drop the second set but won the other three with the loss of just four games.
Read also: Australian Open Men’s Power Rankings
Next up though will be a familiar foe: Daniil Medvedev. The 2021 US Open champion is 6-0 against the Canadian, including one of those gutting Melbourne losses from two sets up in the 2022 quarter-finals.
If Auger-Aliassime can turn the tide here, the nightmares of 2023 would fade even father into the rearview mirror.
From Bad Luck to Bad Draws
Auger-Aliassime is the lone Canadian left in the singles draw, with the other four having fallen in week one.
Leylah Annie Fernandez also managed to get out of the first round with an impressive victory over Sara Bejlek. She then seemed poised to go another round further when she led her round two match with Alycia Parks 5-2, but that is where things fell apart.
Full credit must go to the big-hitting American, who took the racket out of Fernandez’s hands in the last set and a half. Parks was going for broke at every opportunity and just could not seem to miss. No matter how quick the Canadian was, she could not cover the court fast enough to reach her all of her opponent’s massive shots.
The final result was a shocking straight-set loss for the Canadian. Fernandez still has yet to get past the second round in Melbourne.
The other three Canadians in singles went out in round one.
Milos Raonic was the victim of his body once again, although the draw he was handed was also brutal. He had to face off against world No. 10 Alex de Minaur, along with the partisan Melbourne crowd supporting their home favourite.
Still, the Missile did his thing on serve and took the opening set. But from there, his body began to betray him. Combined with de Minaur’s ability to extend rallies, it was not a situation that Raonic could get through. He was forced to retire with an injury in the third set.
Rebecca Marino had the harshest draw of any Canadian, facing off with fifth seed Jessica Pegula. She hardly went away quietly, but the big-serving Canadian struggled to put a dent in the American’s armour and fell in straight sets.
Like Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov had a tough 2023 and came in with even more rust. The Canadian No. 2 was still shaking it off in his first-round match against Jakub Mensik and the young Czech took advantage, edging him in three tight sets.
Dabrowski Looks for Another Slam
Heading into the 2024 Australian Open, it would have been fair to say that Canada’s best shot at a title came in the women’s doubles, where Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe are looking to win their second major in a row following their US Open triumph last September.
Seeded fourth, the Canadian-Kiwi duo got through their opening match with relative ease, taking down Linda Fruhvirtova and Ashlyn Krueger in straight sets 6-1, 7-5. They then became the first team to reach the third round when their next opponents, Veronika Kudermetova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, withdrew.
The pair might have a bit of a wait before their next match, which could be against the 16th seeds Eri Hozumi and Makoto Ninomiya. Dabrowski and Routliffe are in the same quarter as eighth seeds Beatriz Haddad Maia and Taylor Townsend. The US Open champions are the highest seeds left in the top half of the draw after Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula withdrew.
Read also: Australian Open Women’s Power Rankings
Dabrowski’s best result at the Australian Open in women’s doubles is the quarter-finals, which she has done twice. But she won the mixed doubles title in 2018. She and partner Nathaniel Lammons cruised through their first-round mixed doubles match earlier on Friday in straight sets. They are seeded sixth.
Wheelchair and Junior
Even more competitions have yet to begin at the Australian Open, namely the wheelchair and junior events, and Canada will have players aiming to lift the trophies.
Rob Shaw will once again represent his nation at the Australian Open. Melbourne remains the lone major where he has never reached the doubles final. In 2023, he and partner Heath Davidson lost to the eventual champions Sam Schroder and Niels Vink in the semis.
He is coming off a strong season where he reached two major finals, at the French Open and at Wimbledon. The 34-year-old quad athlete finished 2023 strong with a silver medal performance at the Parapan Am Games in Santiago. Shaw also reached his career-high ranking in both singles and doubles last year.
Keegan Rice will be Canada’s lone representative in the junior draws in Melbourne. Rice, a full-time player at the National Tennis Centre, will be making his second appearance at the Australian Open.
The junior world No. 48 kicked off his 2024 season in Australia at a J300 event in Traralgon, losing in the second round of the singles but reaching the quarter-finals of the doubles. In 2023, he reached the second round of both the junior French Open and junior Wimbledon.