Photo : Martin Sidorjak
If asked, most Canadian tennis fans would probably say that clay is the trickiest surface for players from this country. There are not a lot of clay courts, or at least not a lot of RED clay courts, here and our players generally do not have their best tour results on the surface.
Even though there is also a lack of grass courts in Canada, players on tour have generally done pretty well at Wimbledon.
Those clay struggles for the Canadians have been on display so far in 2023 and the first week of the Italian Open was no exception. Here’s what you need to know.
In Case You Missed It: Another 1000 to Forget for Canada
If the Canadians were hoping to use Rome as a springboard into Roland-Garros, they did not get their wish. All three Canadians in the singles draw lost their opening matches in the first week of the Italian Open.
Felix Auger-Aliassime lost yet another three-set heartbreaker, this time at the hands of Alexei Popyrin. Leylah Annie Fernandez had to watch a third-set lead slip away in a loss to Aliaksandra Sasnovich, while Bianca Andreescu continues to work her way back from injury and fell to Marketa Vondrousova.
As a result, the three highest-ranked Canadian singles players will all go into the French Open without a victory on red clay in 2023.
At least in Madrid, doubles provided some comfort but that was not the case in Rome. Only Gabriela Dabrowski was competing in doubles and she went down in the first round as well at the hands of Marie Bouzkova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
It was not just the Canadians who struggled at the Italian Open.
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Only three of the Top 10 seeds on the women’s side advanced to the fourth round, including world No. 1 Iga Swiatek who dropped just two games in her first four sets played. She is joined by No. 7 Elena Rybakina and No. 8 Daria Kasatkina.
The rest of the Top 10 went down early, including second seed and Madrid champion Aryna Sabalenka, who was stunned by former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.
On the men’s side, week one went a little more as expected although it was not without big-name casualties, the biggest being No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz who was shocked in the third round by Fabian Marozsan.
Alcaraz was one of three Top 10 players to lose in week one along with Auger-Aliassime and Taylor Fritz.
What to Watch: Another “New Big Three” Clash?
Despite the thinning of the field on the WTA side in Rome, one potential quarter-final clash has all the makings of a major blockbuster as Iga Swiatek and Elena Rybakina, two members of the group many are trying to dub the WTA’s “Big Three” (along with Aryna Sabalenka), are on a quarter-final collision course.
Rybakina has already booked her spot. Swiatek can confirm the clash if she defeats Donna Vekic in the fourth round. This would be their third match already in 2023, with both previous meetings going the way of the Kazakhstani in straight sets. However, this would be their first-ever meeting on clay, the Pole’s preferred surface.
Swiatek and Rybakina are the two highest-ranked players left in the Rome draw. However, seven of the eight quarter-final spots will belong to seeded players. The winner between Paula Badosa and Karolina Muchova will be the lone unseeded quarter-finalist.
For the men, seven of the top eight, including world No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic, are still in the draw. The men’s event is only at the round of sixteen.
Under the Radar:
Gabriel Diallo’s consistent results on the ATP Challenger Tour took another step forward last week as the Davis Cup champion reached the semifinals of a Challenger event in Busan, South Korea.
He did not drop a set in his first three matches, including an upset of the third seed Jordan Thompson, before falling to the top seed Max Purcell in the final four.
Carol Zhao also had a semifinal showing last week, reaching the final four at an ITF W60 event in Fukuoka, Japan. She was beaten by the eventual champion Natsumi Kawaguchi.
There was a Canadian winner on the ITF circuit last week as Louise Kwong won the doubles title at the W15 in Monastir, Tunisia. It is her second ITF doubles title of the year and fourth in her career.
Stacey Fung also had a look at an ITF doubles title last week, reaching the final in Kachreti, Georgia, but the match was not played.
This week is a busy one for big-name Canadians on the lower circuits. Looking to get some wins under her belt, Leylah Annie Fernandez will be competing at an ITF W100 this week in Madrid.
Eugenie Bouchard is playing at the WTA 125 event in Florence, Italy, while Katherine Sebov and Carol Zhao are in the draw at another WTA 125 in Paris.
You can follow the Canadians in action every week here.