Felix Auger-Aliassime stands next to Rafael Nadal in front of a trophy case.

Photo : @rnadalacademy

In early February, Félix Auger-Aliassime was spotted with Spanish (tennis) royalty while training in eastern Majorca.

No surprise there, since he was in Manacor—Rafael Nadal’s hometown and the site of the tennis academy the superstar founded in 2016—and since the two share an advisor in Rafa’s uncle Toni Nadal.

And there’s one more connection: Joan Nadal Vives, Toni’s son and Rafa’s cousin, with whom Félix was happy to hit.

Photos : @rnadalacademy

In case you were wondering, 18-year-old Joan is just starting out in tennis. Since the start of the season, he’s competed in a few M15 and M25 tournaments in Majorca.

The stopover wasn’t Félix’s first jaunt to the island but it certainly got more media attention, from the Academy and the ATP, than his previous visits.

Both his coaches were in tow, since Frédéric Fontang, who travels with Félix, was there also.

PHOTO : @rnadalacademy

One can only guess that they were getting back to the grind after Félix’s exit from the AO, which was undoubtedly too early for their liking. Auger-Aliassime skipped the first week back to start fresh in Rotterdam, where he locked in his very first title last year.

PHOTO : @rnadalacademy

On top of its 45 courts, the Rafa Nadal Academy is replete with attractions, including the Rafa Nadal Museum dedicated, of course, to the King of Clay. Félix, who’s netted four ATP titles, had the chance to take in all 92 winner’s trophies raised by the veteran on a tour led by the man himself.

The next few weeks are critical for the Canadian no.1, since he’s under pressure to defend the points he racked up in February 2022 after his back-to-back finals in Rotterdam and Marseille.

Tennis’ Avengers

Montage : @TennisChannel

Here’s an idea that really packs a punch.

The Tennis Channel found inspiration in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to reimagine a top 10 of tennis Avengers, superhero garb and all. It all started when Matteo Berrettini posted a photo of himself on Insta holding Thor’s war hammer with the caption “Heavy session on the forehand today.”

PHOTO : @matberrettini

Then, owing to their achievements or their affinity or even resemblance with a particular character, nine other players, five men and four women, were appointed to the superhuman team by the tennis network.

I admit I smiled when I saw Stefanos Tsitsipas as Loki. I won’t go so far as to say he’s as malicious in his strategizing as Thor’s villainous brother, but I can’t help but see a certain physical likeness.

And when I saw Marton Fucsovics as Hulk, I burst out laughing! Maybe the reason the hulking Hungarian likes to show off his chiseled physique is to impress, just like Bruce Banner’s alter ego.

Frances Tiafoe, Novak Djokovic, Aryna Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari, Ben Shelton and Jessica Pegula round out the top 9. Last but not least is no.10 Coco Gauff as Black Panther from one of the franchise’s newest series set in the futuristic country of Wakanda.

Montage : @TennisChannel

Who else in tennis would make a great addition to the Avengers? Write to me and let me know. 

A new era?

Photo : ATP

It’s almost as if he came out of nowhere.

Wu Yibing of China surprised the tennis world when he conquered the ATP 250 Dallas Open after ousting No.27 Denis Shapovalov, No.63 Adrian Mannarino, No.8 Taylor Fritz (8th) and No.39 John Isner in that order.

In the three-hour final, he withstood Isner’s torrent of 44 aces to win 6-7(4), 7-6(3), 7-6(12).

Montage : Eurosport

The last (and only) player from China to find his way to an ATP final is Pan Bing back in 1995. 

Wu’s rise has been meteoric. Less than a year ago, on March 20, 2022, he was World No.1,869. In June and July, he managed to secure three Challenger titles that moved him up to No.177: a mind-blowing 1,692 spots in two months.

His week in Dallas propelled him into the Top 100 at No.58. Do the math and you’ll see that’s 1,800 spots in less than a year. He’s now the highest ranked men’s tennis player in his nation’s history.

Photo : Daniel McEnrue/Dallas Open

Before October 2022, no Chinese citizen had ever made it to the ATP Top 100. The first to make it is the current No. 92 Zhang Zhizhen.

While Zhang and Wu have yet to go head-to-head, they have been known to work together. Last July, they got as far as the quarters in the doubles draw of the Orlando Challenger. In the photo below, they’re celebrating their respective entries into the men’s singles draw of the 2022 US Open.

Photo : ATP

Wu’s amazing ascension is a remarkable feat. Still, he isn’t a complete unknown. In 2017, just a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday, he collected the singles and doubles titles at the US Open Junior Championships.

Injuries kept him out of the game from 2019 to 2022, and that may help to explain his late emergence.

A Chinese man in the Top 100 is almost an anachronism, but that isn’t the case in the women’s game. Indeed, there are currently five Chinese women in the WTA Top 100. And for the past two decades, there have consistently been three to six Chinese women in the Top 100 at the close of the season.

It was Li Na who paved the way for Chinese players. She’s the only Chinese player to reach a career-high ranking of World No.2 and the only one to have brought home a Grand Slam. Two, actually: 2011 RG and 2014 AO.

Photo : Getty

Why is there such a disparity between Chinese women’s and men’s tennis? As you might expect, there’s a lack of interest in tennis among young boys.

In China, boys are crazy about basketball. At least according to a piece published a few weeks ago in the New Yorker on the current No.25 Zheng Qinwen, who sits just three places behind her countrywoman No.22 Zhang Shuai.

Photo : CFP

The article provides an update on the situation and sheds light on the changes brought about by the pandemic and the Peng Shuai saga that kept WTA tournaments out of China for two years. A must-read.


Email: privard@tenniscanada.com

Twitter: @paul6rivard

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