Auger-Aliassime Fist Pump

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The smell of freshly cut grass and the soft thud of a tennis ball bouncing (barely) off the lawn. There’s nothing quite like it.

For the next month, tennis fans get to enjoy tennis as it was initially played on the lawns of Europe, and the Canadians will be front and centre.

It started last week with a trio of Canadians getting their grass seasons underway and there are even more competing this week with Wimbledon fast approaching.

Here’s what you need to know.

In Case You Missed It: Marino ends grass drought

11 years is a long time to wait for anything. Hopefully it’s worth it.

That was the case for Rebecca Marino, who had not competed in a tennis match on a grass court since 2011 when she arrived in Nottingham last week. The Canadian did not just play her first match on the surface in over a decade at the WTA 250 event, she won it, beating Eden Silva in straight sets.

While she bowed out in round two, she did take the opening set 6-1 against world No. 5 Maria Sakkari before the Greek rallied to win in three sets.

Sakkari fell in the next round to the eventual champion Beatriz Haddad Maia, who picked up her first career singles title with a three-set win over Alison Riske.

Another notable result from Nottingham was Emma Raducanu, competing in her first match on home soil as a Grand Slam champion. However, the homecoming did not go as planned as the Brit was forced to retire in the opening set of her first-round match. Her status for Wimbledon is unclear.

Unlike Marino, Félix Auger-Aliassime is very familiar with a grass court and had reached the final of his first event on the surface each of the last two seasons (there was no grass swing in 2020).

However, that streak came to an end this week when he fell in the semi-finals of the Libema Open to one of the most surprising winners in recent memory.

Auger-Aliassime picked up where he left off after a strong finish to the clay-court season, winning his first two grass matches of 2022 in straight sets, including a solid victory over 2021 Wimbledon quarter-finalist Karen Khachanov to book his place in the semis.

That’s where he ran into Tim van Rijthoven, the big-serving local wildcard, who beat the Canadian in a third-set tiebreak.

Van Rijthoven, who was ranked 206 in the world, went on to beat now-world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev in straight sets in the final to win his first career title. The Dutchman was competing in just his second ATP Tour event, first since his debut in 2016. He had also never won a match on the ATP Tour before last week, but upset Indian Wells champion Taylor Fritz and then back-to-back Top 10 players for his maiden title.

Despite losing in the final, Medvedev returns to No. 1 in the rankings this week due to points from the 2021 French Open dropping. Alexander Zverev also ascends to No. 2, meaning Monday is the first day since November 2003 that none of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, or Novak Djokovic are ranked in the Top 2.

Like the men’s draw in s-Hertogenbosch, the top seed on the women’s side was beaten in the final, although it was less of an upset as seventh seed Ekaterina Alexandrova beat Aryna Sabalenka for the title.

Denis Shapovalov also got his grass-court campaign underway last week in Stuttgart, but was upset in his first-round match by Oscar Otte in two tiebreaks.

2021 Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini made his return to the tour in Stuttgart and showed little sign of rust, winning the title at the Boss Open.

He defeated Andy Murray, who had beaten Alexander Bublik, top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Nick Kyrgios on his way to second final on the season and first on grass since the 2016 Wimbledon final.

What to Watch: Canadian contingent grows with Andreescu and Dabrowski

The same trio of Canadians are competing this week as the grass season rolls on, plus two more.

Marino remains in the UK and is competing in Birmingham. She was drawn against top seed Jelena Ostapenko in the first round. Simona Halep is the second seed and is competing on grass for the first time since winning Wimbledon in 2019.

Shapovalov is hopping across the channel to join Marino in the UK, competing this week at the cinch Championships, better known as the Queen’s Club, in one of two ATP 500 events on the grass.

Last year, the Canadian reached the semi-finals of Queen’s, using it as a springboard to a semi-final run at Wimbledon. Like Marino, the draw has not been kind to the Canadian this week as he will open against Tommy Paul, who beat him in the Stockholm final last October.

The bottom quarter of the draw, where Shapovalov resides, is loaded. Should the Canadian beat Paul, he will meet either Frances Tiafoe or Stan Wawrinka in the second round.

Defending champion Matteo Berrettini is his likely quarter-final opponent, but the Stuttgart champion has a difficult draw of his own. He opens against local favourite Dan Evans and could have a rematch of the Stuttgart final with Andy Murray in the second round.

Roland-Garros runner-up Casper Ruud is the top seed and will make his 2022 grass debut. Shapovalov is also competing in doubles with Rohan Bopanna.

Auger-Aliassime is staying on the continent this week, competing at the other ATP 500 event in Halle.

Like Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime will be looking for a repeat, if not improved, performance from 2021. He reached the Halle semi-finals last year, beating Roger Federer in the second round.

The Canadian was beaten by the eventual champion Ugo Humbert last year and could get a look at revenge as the pair are on a quarter-final collision course. To get there, Auger-Aliassime will have to beat Marcus Giron followed by either another American Mackenzie McDonald or qualifier Marc-Andrea Huesler.

Humbert might have to beat fifth seed Hubert Hurkacz to set the quarter-final clash.

Newly re-crowned world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev is the top seed. Stefanos Tsitispas is the second seed and could meet Nick Kyrgios in the second round.

Medvedev and Auger-Aliassime will be teaming up in the doubles and will play the second seeds in the first round. .

Bianca Andreescu and Gabriela Dabrowski join the fray this week, kicking off their 2022 grass seasons at the WTA 500 event in Berlin.

Andreescu was victorious in her first grass-court match of the against Katerina Siniakova on Monday, beating the Czech doubles star in three sets. She will meet fourth-seed Karolina Pliskova in the second round. She could meet Roland-Garros runner-up Coco Gauff in the quarter-finals and is in the same half as top seed Ons Jabeur.

Other big names competing in Berlin including Maria Sakarri, Aryna Sabalenka, Belinda Bencic, Daria Kasatkina and Garbine Muguruza.

Andreescu is also competing alongside Sabine Lisicki in the doubles.

Dabrowski and Giuliana Olmos will hope that their good clay form carries over onto the grass. They are seeded second this week in Berlin.

Under the Radar: Zhao’s long-awaited victory

Another week, another title drought ended by a Canadian player.

This week, it was Billie Jean King Cup team member Carol Zhao winning her first title in five years on the ITF circuit. Having not won a title since 2017, the Canadian did not drop a set on her way to victory at the W25 event in Incheon, South Korea.

That included a straight-sets win over the top seed Na-Lae Han in the semi-finals followed by a decisive defeat of Mayuka Aikawa in the title match.

It’s Zhao third ITF title overall.

Flooding the draw is one way to ensure a good result, but it worked out splendidly for the Canadian men at the ITF event in East Lansing last week as Gabriel Diallo emerged from the pack to claim the title.

Diallo was one of six Canadian men in the 32-player draw. He beat countryman and recent NCAA national champion Cleeve Harper in the second round and was one of three Canadians, along with Liam Draxl and Joshua Lapadat, to reach the quarter-finals.

After beating Harper, Diallo beat three straight Americans, including top seed Noah Rubin, to claim his first ITF title.

Katherine Sebov also had a strong week, reaching the semi-finals of the W25 event in Madrid.  

In a non-Canadian result of note, Qinwen Zheng won her first career title at the WTA 125 event on clay in Valencia. Zheng was the only player to take a set off of world No. 1 Iga Świątek at Roland-Garros.

It’s a much quieter week for the Canadians on the ITF circuit. You can follow the Canadians in action every week here.