Photo: Tennis Canada
On July 24, 15-year-old Victoria Mboko won her very first professional title at the $25,000 Saskatoon Challenger. She is one of the youngest Canadian women to achieve a feat that only three others have managed to accomplish in the past 40 years.
It therefore came as no surprise when she was awarded a wild card for the qualifying event of the National Bank Open, which gets rolling on Saturday, August 6 in Toronto.
Since her talent was discovered, and she joined the National Tennis Centre in Montréal, the young Torontonian has stood out as one of the most formidable raw talents to emerge on the international scene.
Yet another, I might add.
In recent years, Canada has been increasingly positioning itself as a major player in the WTA and ATP: a tennis nation that commands respect on the courts and attracts a lot of attention when it comes to player development.
To make a long story short, something’s going on.
A decade ago, Wimbledon finalists Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic and Wimbledon men’s doubles champion Vasek Pospisil were in all the tennis headlines.
Over the past five years, the Bianca–Leylah–Félix–Denis quartet has taken their place. While Bianca Andreescu holds the only Grand Slam singles title in the country’s history (2019 US Open), Leylah Fernandez came this close two years later. In the ATP, Félix and Denis have each earned a title and even share one for Canada thanks to their great performances last January at the ATP Cup.
But back to Victoria.
I mentioned earlier that three other Canadian women come before her in the rankings of the youngest players to win a professional title. They are Aleksandra Wozniak (Blainville, QC), Sharon Fichman (Toronto, ON) and Carling Bassett (Toronto, ON), respectively.
On June 30, 2002, Wozniak was 14 years, 9 months old when she secured the ITF title in Lachine, Québec. Three years later, on November 27, 2005, Sharon Fichman was only two months older than Aleksandra (14 years, 11 months) when she won her first crown at an ITF tournament in Ashkelon, Israel.
The third woman to make the list is Carling Bassett, and she did it over two decades ago at age 15 years, 4 months. The daughter of Canadian entrepreneur and former Davis Cup team member John Bassett, Carling won the Virginia Slims indoor tournament in Hershey, Pennsylvania, which is actually a higher-level tournament than the others since it was on the WTA Tour.
Take a look at the 12 youngest Canadian women to win their first professional title, and you’ll also see Helen Kelesi’s name. On October 19, 1986, Hurricane Helen (16 years, 11 months) lifted the Japan Open winner’s trophy three years after Darling Carling.
Victoria Mboko therefore comes in at no.4, since she secured her title in Saskatoon at 15 years, 10 months old. Her tremendous win, which marks the dawn of a hopefully promising career, was earned at the outcome of an impressive run.
See for yourself.
After losing the first set of her opening match 7-6(4), Victoria toppled top seed Valentini Grammatikopoulou (6-1, 6-3). In her next four matches, the young Canadian didn’t drop a single set and let only 16 games slip away. In the final against 19-year-old Madison Sieg of the US (No.689), she triumphed 6-2, 6-0.
Here’s how her rivals stacked up:
Valentini Grammatikopoulou (GRE), 25 years old, No.188
Kayla Cross (CAN), 17 years old, No.1476
Stacey Fung (CAN), 25 years old, No.505
Elysia Bolton (USA), 22 years old, No.523
By the way, Victoria was No.772 in Saskatoon. The following week, she shot up an unbelievable 256 spots to No.516!
In her rankings, which are the ITF junior standings, she’s No.13.
And don’t forget how successful she’s been in doubles. This season, she and Kayla Cross battled their way into the final of the junior AO and junior Wimbledon.
There’s no doubt that Victoria Mboko knows what it takes to get ahead in a tournament and tackle adversity. She is remarkably mature for an athlete who turns 16 on August 26.
With players like Kayla Cross, Annabelle Xu, Mia Kupres, Marina Stakusic and Bianca Fernandez, the new generation is shaping up to be a strong one, but Victoria Mboko’s potential is absolutely dazzling.
If you’d like to get to know her a little better, I suggest you read this piece from last December.
Unsurprisingly, first titles come a little later in the men’s game.
Félix Auger-Aliassime is the youngest man to lift his first professional title. He was 16 years, 2 months old when he seized the crown at the Challenger in Birmingham, Alabama, on November 6, 2016.
In doing so, he dethroned his good buddy Denis Shapovalov, who won his first winner’s trophy on the clay courts in Weston, Florida, at the age of 16 years, 9 months.
Next on the list of the youngest Canadian men to earn a pro title are Schnur, Raonic, Dancevic, Diez, Polansky and Rusedski, who were all 18.
I must thank superstatistician Andras Ruszanov of db4tennis.com for the data on our Canadians.
Now, as far as the world records, our Canadians are outclassed.
In 1997, Martina Hingis was 16 years, 6 months old when she won not a WTA tournament but a Slam in Melbourne. Michael Chang was 17 when he conquered Roland-Garros in 1989.
Still, the Canadian triumphs must be celebrated. They give us such hope for the future.
Caroline comes back to life
They come and go.
In tennis, for all the Williams, Nadal, Barty, Djokovic, Halep, Federer, Osaka and other big names, there are dozens of competitors who come close to the Top 10 and even the Top 3 for just a few weeks.
Then, they quietly fade into oblivion.
Sometimes it’s pressure; sometimes it’s an injury to the body or soul. Regardless, getting to the top is tough, and staying there is even tougher.
But sometimes, despite a long absence, they manage to come back.
Just like Caroline Garcia.
By defeating the World No.1 on her home turf in Warsaw, Garcia clinched her 2nd title in just 35 days and the 9th of her career.
She’s triumphed in 18 of her last 21 matches and is in full flight. Or, should I say, she’s back in full flight. On Monday morning, she was the new No.32 after rising 43 spots in the rankings over the past 7 weeks.
She’s come a long, long way.
Back in October 2017, much like the flight she takes after winning a title, she was reaching new heights.
She won back-to-back WTA 1000 events in Wuhan and Beijing and played her way into the semifinals of the WTA Finals to rise to No.8. On September 23, 2018, she wrapped up a great season at No.4, where she spent 3 weeks.
But she never managed to build on the momentum in the years that followed.
In 2019, 2020 and 2021, she posted 61 wins and 63 losses. On May 22, 2022, she sat at No.79.
Then, out of nowhere, she bounced back. In a major way.
In June, she defeated Bianca Andreescu in an exceptional final at the Bad Homburg Open. She had solid performances at Wimbledon, in Lausanne and in Palermo and then won the title in Warsaw.
On her way to the Polish crown, she overpowered hometown hero and World No.1 Iga Swiatek in the quarters (6-1, 1-6, 6-4), effectively ending her rival’s 18-match winning streak on clay, no less. Swiatek’s quick handshake spoke volumes about her frustration and what her opponent had achieved.
Caroline Garcia is 28 years old. Like many, many players before her, she’s living proof that you should never throw in the towel when bad runs and even bad seasons start piling up.
Watching her play, it’s as if nothing could stop her from winning a Slam—a dream that seemed unattainable not too long ago.
Federer on the roof
Let’s go back two years.
The lockdowns in many countries brought out the creativity in a lot of people and tennis fans in particular, who found new ways to stay active and have fun.
Vittoria and Carola, two Italian teenagers from Liguria in northwestern Italy, went viral when they posted a video of themselves playing rooftop tennis with the space between two buildings serving as a net.
They’d made the best of physical distancing by pushing the concept to the extreme.
When Italian pasta giant Barilla got wind of the story and decided to make a sequel full of pure emotion, it enlisted the help of its illustrious spokesperson Roger Federer to surprise the young players.
I rewatched the behind-the-scenes of the surprise and the match between Fed and the young women, and it still brings tears to my eyes.
And because Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are friends, it didn’t take much for him to convince the King of Clay to invite Vittoria and Carola to a fantastic summer camp at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar in Mallorca as a gift.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that the rooftop tennis match was played in the commune of Finale Ligure.
Finale! You can’t make this stuff up!
Follow all our Canadians in action here.