Photo : Martin Sidorjak
The future is bright for Canada in international competition, and the best is still yet to come.
But despite lofty expectations heading into the Billie Jean King Cup last week, the Canadians are going to have to wait a little bit longer to reach the top of the mountain.
An early exit in Glasgow brought a sudden end to the season for the Canadian women in top tier competition. Now it’s the men’s turn to try and finish the year on a high note.
Here’s what you need to know.
In Case You Missed It: What might have been for Team Canada
The squad representing Canada at the Billie Jean King Cup last week was likely the strongest roster the country had ever put forward, with a pair of Grand Slam winners and a major finalist primed to take on the world.
But the event ended early in disappointment as Team Canada presented by Sobeys finished second in Group A, not enough to reach the semifinals.
It all came down to their second tie against Switzerland, where the Canadians lost both singles matches to seal their fate. Not even a dominant doubles win could save them.
First it was Bianca Andreescu losing to Viktorija Golubic despite racing through the first set, eventually falling in three. In the second singles, Leylah Annie Fernandez tried to mount one of her classic comebacks against Belinda Bencic, but came up just short in the second set and went down in two.
A blowout doubles win from Fernandez and Gabriela Dabrowski softened the blow slightly.
Switzerland went on to win the Billie Jean King Cup, beating Australia in the final, for their first title at the most prestigious women’s team event a year after finishing as the runners-up.
Canada had gotten off to a flying start at the competition, sweeping Italy in their first group stage tie.
Andreescu turned the tides of her opening singles match, rallying from set point down at 2-5 in the first set to claim a straight-set win.
At that point the Fernandez show took over as the youngest member of the team scored victories in the second singles and doubles with the loss of just two games in the two matches, including a double bagel in her revenge match against Martina Trevisan, who had beaten the Canadian in the Roland-Garros quarter-final when she was dealing with a foot injury.
Fernandez actually spent less time on court against the Italians than Andreescu despite playing two matches to the Mississauga-native’s one.
As a result of Canada going out in the group stage, they will need to go through qualifying to reach the 2023 finals. They will host Belgium in April.
The big surprise of the Billie Jean King Cup Finals was the host nation, Great Britain, who reached the semifinals despite having one of the lowest-ranked rosters at the event. Their No. 1 singles player, Harriet Dart, was ranked No. 98 in the world, making her the second-lowest national No. 1 at the event (only Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia was lower at No. 100).
Despite lacking star power, the Brits managed to win Group C, with that group coming down to the final match of the round robin against Spain, as the Brits needed a 3-0 sweep to advance, before falling to the Aussies in the semifinals.
The ATP NextGen Finals took place last week in Milan, with Brandon Nakashima claiming the title. He went undefeated, capping off the run with a win over Jiri Lehecka in the final.
Local favourite Lorenzo Musetti was the highest seeded player, but went 1-2 in the group stage and did not advance to the semifinals.
What to Watch: Felix debuts at the ATP Finals
Only eight men remain on the ATP Tour this week as the best of the best do battle at the ATP Finals in Turin.
That includes Félix Auger-Aliassime, who became the first Canadian to qualify for the event since Milos Raonic in 2016. He is in the Green Group with Rafael Nadal, Casper Ruud, and Taylor Fritz.
Auger-Aliassime actually got his campaign underway on Sunday, falling to Casper Ruud in two tight sets.
He will take on Nadal on Tuesday and Fritz on Thursday. The top two players in each group advance to the semifinals.
The Red Group features Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev, Novak Djokovic, and Andrey Rublev.
As well as the final trophy of the year, the year-end No. 1 ranking is up for grabs in Turin.
Nadal, Tsitsipas and Carlos Alcaraz are all in contention for the top spot. If Nadal wins the title, he will finish as the year-end No. 1 for the sixth time in his career. Tsitsipas would finish in the top spot if he goes undefeated, winning the title along with a 3-0 record in the group stage.
If neither Nadal nor Tsitsipas accomplish their goals, Alcaraz, who skipped Turin due to injury, will finish in the top spot.
Under the Radar:
The ATP Challenger Tour passed through Calgary last week, with Germany’s Dominik Koepfer claiming the title.
A trio of Canadian men, Davis Cup team members Vasek Pospisil, Alexis Galarneau, and Gabriel Diallo, all reached the quarter-finals, with Diallo advancing to the semifinals before losing to the eventual champion Koepfer.
On the women’s side in Calgary, American Robin Montgomery won the ITF W60 title. Four Canadian women got out of the first round, but none were able to advance to the quarter-finals in singles.
However, the young pair of Kayla Cross and Marina Stakusic managed to reach the doubles final, where they lost to the top seeds Catherine Harrison and Sabrina Santamaria.
Another ATP Challenger is taking place this week on Canadian soil in Drummondville, Quebec with six Canadian men already in the main draw and four more still alive in qualifying. There are also five all-Canadian doubles teams in the draw.
Drummondville will act as the final preparation for Diallo, Pospisil and Galarneau, all of whom have been chosen to represent Canada the following week at the Davis Cup Finals knockout stage in Malaga, Spain.
You can follow the Canadians in action every week here.