Photo : Mauricio Paiz
Just a couple of weeks into the clay-court season and already clear favourites for Roland-Garros are emerging after a pair of youngsters stormed to titles last week, and they are exactly who fans might expect.
Now they can really move ahead of the pack with the first big combined event on Europe’s red dirt this week.
But could a comeback by a Canadian star throw a wrench in their plans?
Here’s what you need to know.
In Case You Missed It: Iga Regains Control
In 2022, Iga Swiatek’s domination began in February with a victory in Doha, but despite defending that title in 2023 she failed to duplicate the rest of her success and came into Stuttgart having gone two months without a title, which for her is a long time lately.
Returning from an injury that denied her a chance at defending her title in Miami last week in Stuttgart, the world No. 1 looked like her old self again, blowing away the field as she won her first clay-court event of the season.
Swiatek lost just one set on her way to the title, capping off her victory at the loaded WTA 500 event with a straight-set win over world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka for the second year in a row.
Gabriela Dabrowski was the lone Canadian playing in Stuttgart but lost in the quarter-finals of the doubles with Luisa Stefani to Alexa Guarachi and Erin Routliffe.
Two notable retirements to keep an eye on from Stuttgart are world No. 4 Ons Jabeur, who appeared to strain her calf in the semifinals against Swiatek, and the in-form Elena Rybakina, who pulled out in her second-round match. However, both are still in the draw this week in Madrid.
Denis Shapovalov got his clay season underway last week in Barcelona. He won his opening match against Jozef Kovalik in straight sets before bowing out in round three to the eventual runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas went on to lose in the final to the top seed and defending champion Carlos Alcaraz, who did not drop a set on his way to the title.
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The victory in Barcelona puts Alcaraz back in the lead as the current favourite heading towards Roland-Garros, especially after Novak Djokovic bowed out early once again last week, this time falling in the quarter-finals of the ATP 250 event in Banja Luka to Dusan Lajovic in straight sets.
Lajovic went on to win the title, defeating the Monte-Carlo champion Andrey Rublev in the final.
Match/heartbreak of the week honours belonged to the third final on the ATP Tour, as Holger Rune won in Munich despite struggling with arm and ankle injuries and trailing 5-2, 40-15 in the deciding set against Botic van de Zandschulp. The Monte-Carlo runner-up ultimately saved four championship points in a comeback that saw him take the title in a third-set tiebreak.
What to Watch: Bibi Is Back
All eyes will on a Madrid this week for the first combined 1000-level event of the clay-court season.
Particular attention will be paid to the top quarter of the draw where Bianca Andreescu will remarkably be returning to the tour having missed just a month after a nasty-looking ankle injury suffered in Miami.
Seeded 23rd, Andreescu has a first-round bye and will meet either Wang Xiyu or Varvara Gracheva in the second round. She could face 11th seed Barbora Krejcikova in the round three, seventh-seed Elena Rybakina in the last sixteen, and is in the top quarter with world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.
Andreescu is one of five Canadians with direct entry into the main singles draws.
Joining her on the women’s side are Leylah Annie Fernandez and Rebecca Marino, both of whom are unseeded.
Fernandez plays Mirra Andreeva in the first round and would face 13th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia, who beat the Canadian last year at the National Bank Open, in the second round. World No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka could be looming in the fourth round should Fernandez make it that far.
Read also: Pressure Not a Problem for Fernandez
Rebecca Marino will get some déjà-vu in her opening match as she will play Zhu Lin for the third time already in 2023. Zhu won both previous meetings and leads their overall head-to-head 3-1. Should the Canadian turn the tide, her reward will be a second-round clash with 24th seed Elise Mertens, with Petra Kvitova a possible round three opponent.
Eugenie Bouchard is looking to make it four Canadian women in the main draw as she is competing in qualifying.
Ons Jabeur is the defending women’s champion.
On the men’s side, Félix Auger-Aliassime is seeded seventh and could play last week’s Banja Luka champion Dusan Lajovic in the second round. The Serb has won both previous meetings between the two, although both were on hard courts with the last one coming in 2021.
Auger-Aliassime’s first seeded opponent could be No. 32 Ben Shelton in round three. His potential fourth-round opponent is No. 9 Frances Tiafoe, although a fourth meeting in 2023 with Francisco Cerundolo is also a possibility. No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas is the likely quarter-final opponent.
Denis Shapovalov is the 21st seed and will face either Zhang Zhizhen or a qualifier in his opening match. He could face No. 11 seed Cameron Norrie in the third round and is in the bottom quarter with second seed Daniil Medvedev.
Both Canadian men are in the bottom half of the draw, away from top seed and defending champion Carlos Alcaraz.
Notably absent from Madrid are Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Under the Radar: Team Canada success stretches to juniors
A week after Team Canada presented by Sobeys clinched their spot in the Billie Jean King Cup Finals, the nation’s junior teams followed suit by qualifying for the Junior Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cups at both the U14 and U16 level, meaning four Canadian teams will be going for international junior glory later in 2023.
All four Canadian squads finished in the top two of their respective round robin groups. The U14 girls team won their group with a 3-0 overall record (7-2 in matches), finishing ahead of the United States, Mexico, and Guatemala.
The other three teams, U16 girls, U14 and U16 boys, all finished second in their groups behind the Americans. The next stage of the competition will take place later in the year.
Canada last won the junior Davis Cup in 2015, when Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov competed. The Canadians have finished as the runner-up three times in the junior Billie Jean King Cup, most recently in 2011.
Rob Shaw nearly went back-to-back on the ITF wheelchair circuit, reaching a second consecutive final but was unable to claim another title as he and partner Heath Davidson lost a tight quad doubles final at the Japan Open to top seeds Sam Schroder and Niels Vink.
A Fernandez found herself in a final last week, but not the one Canadians fans are used to. It was Bianca Jolie Fernandez, Leylah Annie’s little sister, reaching the doubles final at the W25 event in Santa Margherita di Pula in Italy, losing a heartbreaker 11-9 in the super tiebreak.
On the ATP Challenger Tour, Steven Diez reached the quarter-finals of the Open de Oeiras in Portugal.
Gabriel Diallo, Alexis Galarneau and Benjamin Sigouin are all competing on the Challenger Tour this week.
You can follow the Canadians in action every week here.