Photo : Genie Boucahrd Instagram
Imagine spotting Eugenie Bouchard and Félix Auger-Aliassime at the tennis club just seven days apart!
Not trivial, but not totally unheard of either, since I play on courts shared with the National Tennis Centre presented by Rogers. Still, I didn’t expect to cross paths with either of them as I made my way to my friendly matches on February 24 and March 3.
Let’s start with Genie. I’ll come back to Félix later.
I got in touch with Sylvain Bruneau to find out more. The head of women’s pro tennis confirmed that he’d recently spent some time with the former Billie Jean King Cup team member. “I couldn’t train with her in late February because I had other commitments, but I coordinated her physical training and tennis sessions to make things easier,” he said. “I spent time with her when she was here during the holidays. We’ve known each other for a long time, and I’m always happy to find training time with her in Montréal or share some advice whenever I can.”
Bruneau had only good things to say and mentioned how great it was to reunite with Genie considering the pandemic and all sorts of job-related circumstances: “When I was back on the court with her, I remembered how much I enjoyed the time we spent together. Eugenie has always been a pleasure to work with, and that hasn’t changed. She’s very open to comments and feedback and wants to understand your tips and advice. As a coach, you appreciate that.”
He noted that Eugenie always seems to relish her time at the National Tennis Centre, where it all began for her. He ended with a few words on how generous she is: “It may seem incidental, but, besides the fact that she’s still very motivated, she finds time to give back. For example, she hit a few balls with my 12-year-old daughter Raphaëlle. And it wasn’t for my benefit. Eugenie’s just like that.”
Sylvain revealed that the rehab for her shoulder injury is going well, and Eugenie herself provided tangible proof of that on March 5 at the Champions Series Tennis Tour starring active and retired pros in Thousand Oaks, California.
Her first match after 12 months away from the game was a huge success, to say the least: she dismantled 2020 AO champion Sofia Kenin 6-1. In doubles, she and Tommy Haas overpowered Kenin and Sam Querrey 6-3.
“I played better than I expected” Bouchard said after her win in singles. “We’re both very cold out here and it’s hard to serve sometimes with the wind. But I just tried to hit the shots I’ve been doing in practice since I’ve been training for my comeback.” Her surprise and delight were palpable: “I feel like I’ve just been smiling all afternoon, like my cheeks hurt. I’m just so happy to be back out there. It was so fun today.”
Of course, her WTA ranking has taken a beating. She’s currently No. 1,356. But just a year ago, she clawed her way to No.116 when she made it to the final in Guadalajara, where she lost to a red-hot Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain (6-2, 7-5).
Her ranking may not to her liking, but her popularity on social media remains sky-high.
Eugenie is among the top 10 most followed tennis players on Instagram (no.7 with 2.1 million followers) and Twitter (no.8 with 1.6 million followers). And Facebook? 1.5 million!
On February 25, the Montrealer documented her 28th birthday celebrations—including a Barbie birthday cake—at chic and trendy Nobu Malibu with friends and her boyfriend Mason Rudolph, quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Félix gets a jump-start
As I mentioned earlier, Félix Auger-Aliassime was also in town for a few days.
Though he remains a rare sighting at the National Tennis Centre, Montréal will always be his home, so it’s not surprising that he’d stop by.
On March 3, he trained with Jaden Weekes—a fellow Montrealer and one of our most brilliant rising stars—under the watchful eye of coach Sam Aliassime.
It was some hard-hitting tennis, believe me!
I felt privileged to be able to watch them, just a few metres from the World No.9. Afterwards, Félix made his way to the gym upstairs. He grabbed a jump rope and his phone and posted this video to Twitter to prove to his physio he could do 100 double jumps.
Head over to TikTok to catch the warm-up:
The next time you see Félix, he’ll likely be on a court in sunny California, in the spectacular setting of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, where he’ll be working hard to keep his dizzying momentum going.
Leylah prolongs her reign in Monterrey
Leylah Fernandez is back on track.
After a false start in Melbourne, the World No.21 has rekindled with her winning ways. And not just anywhere: at the site of her very first professional title, just a year later.
That means she was able to defend all the points she gained there 12 months ago.
After a three-month break, the Montrealer didn’t have the start to the season she was hoping for.
She lost to Iga Swiatek (6-1, 6-2) in the second round in Adelaide and then again to No.133 Madison Inglis in Melbourne.
After taking six weeks to regroup, the energetic young ace seems to have recaptured the vibe she had going last year in north-eastern Mexico.
And, on top of that, Fernandez became the first female Canadian player in the Open-Era to defend a title in a WTA tournament. Milos Raonic is the all-time Canadian leader, winning the same tournament 3 years in a row (2011-13).
In Monterrey, she ousted Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (No.88), Qinwen Zheng (No.77), Qiang Wang (No.116), Beatriz Haddad Maia (No.69) and Camila Osorio (No.44) in an epic three-hour final. Her triumph in Mexico also gave her more media visibility that was certainly appreciated by her new apparel sponsor, lululemon.
In case Leylah wants to pop in lululemon HQ in Vancouver for quick visit, they’re only a 15-minute drive from the Pacific Coliseum, where she and Team Canada will be going head-to-head against Latvia at Billie Jean King Cup on April 15 and 16. Joining her at the showdown—and making the matches all the more exciting for local fans and Canadian supporters alike—is hometown hero Rebecca Marino, who had an absolutely fantastic start to 2022.
On the same day Leylah was crowned in Mexico, Rebecca won her first title of the year at the Arcadia Women’s Pro Open in California, dropping only one set in five matches.
From No.312 in January 2021, Rebecca switched things up to No.123 and has a 15-4 record so far this season.
Alexis Galarneau joins the squad
Just a day after his 23rd birthday, Alexis Galarneau got a pretty great gift: the chance to play Dutch no.1 and World No.48 Botic van de Zandschulp at Davis Cup in the Hague.
Even though Brayden Schnur (No.226) could have logically taken on van de Zandschulp, it was Galarneau who was called up to get the ball rolling in qualifying play for a shot at the Finals next fall.
And his Davis Cup début didn’t disappoint. Far from it.
One might even say he took everyone by surprise, a lot like his captain Frank Dancevic did back in 2013 (more on that later).
You already know how things panned out: the Netherlands won 4-0, relegating Canada to the World Group I Play-Offs in September.
While Canada was the underdog, it’s important to recognize how solid Galarneau was. The confidence Dancevic placed in him was wholly warranted. Up against a tough opponent and member of the Top 50, Alexis demonstrated his quickness, strong defence and creativity.
Botic van de Zandschulp was in it to win it. In 13 months, he’s risen from No.159 to No.48—that’s 111 spots—and was competing on home turf in front of a crowd decked out in the customary Dutch orange.
But perfect scenarios like that can trigger nerves and doubt, especially when facing a lower-ranked player you just can’t lose to. Van de Zandschulp’s eight double faults revealed how edgy he really was. And so did his body language, even on the winning point.
He’d suffered a scare, felt the fear of joining the ranks of the countless athletes who’ve been taken by surprise by a competitor who wasn’t supposed to win. Neither the Dutch player nor coach seemed to have enjoyed the match, but Frank Dancevic grinned ear to ear, happy to see his protégé do so well.
That said, and regardless of the outcome, I doubt Alexis will ever forget his first Davis Cup appearance or the fact that he delivered and found his place on the team.
Just like Frank
Climb into the tennis time machine and travel all the way back to February 1, 2013. Canada vs. Spain in Davis Cup competition in Vancouver.
World No.15 Milos Raonic was our nation’s superstar. He fulfilled his mission by winning two singles matches, but the remaining duels in singles and doubles seemed to be in Spain’s favour.
Martin Laurendeau was team captain, and the highest-ranking players were Vasek Pospisil (No.132) and Frank Dancevic (No.166). Perhaps to preserve Pospisil for doubles play with Daniel Nestor, Laurendeau made the somewhat surprising decision to have Frank enter the fray against No.34 Marcel Granollers.
Photo : bc.CTVnews.ca
Needless to say, no one thought Dancevic would dominate, especially not by a surreal score like 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Relive the amazing moment right here.
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