The weekend of October 29, 2022, is one for the Canadian tennis history books.
Not only did two of the brightest talents to ever represent the nation dress for a final on Halloween weekend, but they displayed flashes of mastery all month long.
Denis Shapovalov competed in two finals in five weeks, living up to his tremendous potential and steering clear of the pitfalls that have often kept him out of the Top 10.
And Félix Auger-Aliassime? On his 13-match winning streak, he did something no Canadian has ever done: he fought his way into three finals in three weeks and made room for three new pieces of hardware in his trophy case. More (a lot more) on that later.
Another sign that it was an extraordinary weekend is the fact that Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov pulled off another Canadian first when they made concurrent finals. At ATP 500 tournaments, no less. And on Sunday, they gifted fans with some great tennis.
The inspiring two days certainly harked back to the last two times two Canadians were synchronous in their brilliance: the 2013 National Bank Open in Montréal, where Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic ran into each other in the semis of their home Masters 1000, and the 2014 Citi Open in Washington, where they clashed in the final.
That’s why I’m dedicating this blog to the two Canadian stars. The past few weeks are truly unprecedented—our very own legend of the fall.
One is good. Two is better. Three is fantastic.
Félix Auger-Aliassime has won 13 straight matches and taken home three straight titles from Florence, Antwerp and Basel in just 18 days, from October 13 to 31. Ah-mazing!
A record in Canadian men’s tennis.
In Switzerland, he locked in Canada’s second-longest winning streak when he surpassed Bianca Andreescu and Eugenie Bouchard’s 10 wins in 2019 and 2014, respectively.
The no.1 spot still belongs to Bianca and her absolutely phenomenal 17-match run and titles in Toronto and New York.
Here’s the list of Canadians with the longest winning streaks:
B. Andreescu 17 2019
F. Auger-Aliassime 13 2022
B. Andreescu 10 2019
E. Bouchard 10 2014
M. Raonic 9 2016
F. Auger-Aliassime 8 2022
M. Raonic 8 2011 / 2012 / 2013
If you compare that with the international records, Martina Navratilova (74 straight wins in 1984–1985) and Steffi Graf (66 in 1989–1990) continue to reign over the women’s game, while Guillermo Vilas (46 straight wins in 1977) and Ivan Lendl (44 in 1981–1982) lead on the men’s side.
But that doesn’t take anything away from our Canadians.
A thousand words
There’s no shortage of things to say about this photo by Gabriel Monnet at Agence France-Presse.
Its composition and message: two players, two outcomes, two perspectives.
And one huge feat.
This type of show of emotion is pretty rare for Félix, who usually just shakes his opponent’s hand, throws a determined look over to his box with the satisfaction of a job well done and flashes a friendly smile to acknowledge the crowd with respect and gratitude.
But in this particular moment, after collapsing as if he’d won a major, he let out a shout.
Relief, happiness, an outlet for the escalating tension his astounding string of successes sparked. All those things.
And then there’s the specter of young Holger Rune, who’s starting to wreak havoc in the ATP but couldn’t shake the solid, quiet confidence of his 22-year-old rival on his way to the top.
A thousand words indeed.
Through the roof
Félix’s last three tournaments were in indoor arenas in Italy, Belgium and Switzerland. And let’s not forget his magical performances at Laver Cup at the O2 in London, where he overpowered former No.1 and 22-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, and at the Davis Cup Finals in Valencia, where he dismantled current No.1 Carlos Alcaraz.
Fast-forward to the semis in Basel, and the Spanish sensation was still no match for Auger-Aliassime, who sent Alcaraz packing (6-3, 6-2) and gave basically nothing away on his serve (one break point in four matches)
When it was all over, former player turned commentator Marco Chiudinelli asked Félix what it is about a roof that makes his game better.
“I guess it’s good that I grew up in Montréal, Canada, you know,” said Félix, laughing. “And you guys live this here as well. But spending half the year indoors, growing up, I guess it’s paying off now. So, I’m happy with the way I’ve been playing. I guess the indoor courts have been fortunate to me.”
Beyond his charm, his stats reveal how he dominated all three tournaments.
He averaged an amazingly low 10.5 unforced errors per match. That’s key.
Also key is his serve. In 141 service games, he gave his 13 rivals only 20 break points and was broken only 5 times. In Basel, he was never broken despite 12 attempts.
He also hit 145 aces in 13 matches, averaging 11.2 per match, and made 18 double faults, averaging only 1.3 per match.
In three weeks, he’s 67.3% on his first serves made and 83.5% on first serves won.
Through. The. Roof.
A(nother) star is born on August 8
That other star is Félix Auger-Aliassime, who shares a birthday with Roger Federer.
Their common birthdate was brought up before Basel, and a popular prediction came true when Félix clinched the title and added his name to the honour roll in his idol’s hometown (10 titles in 15 appearances between 2000 and 2019 for Federer).
That’s the same idol Auger-Aliassime defeated almost reluctantly on June 16, 2021, on the grass in Halle (4-6, 6-3, 6-2), in the earliest days of Federer’s slow slide into retirement after knee surgeries.
Many pointed out that the two titleholders are born on the same date and that the flags of Canada and Switzerland are both red and white.
Full circle moment.
Basel thanks its ball kids
It’s impossible not to be moved and charmed by the initiative of Swiss organizers to reward the ball kids for their work during the tournament.
And that look in the youngsters’ eyes as they gaze at their idol.
Every winner’s speech at every tournament includes a thank-you to the ball kids, who go about their tasks without disturbing or delaying the matches.
To see them receive a medal from one of the two finalists is, in my opinion, the most wonderful gesture by an organizing committee.
Knowing that, 30 years ago, a local kid named Roger Federer was one of them, it’s also impossible not to imagine the tennis careers the experience could inspire.
Shapovalov gets fired up
This fall, as his countryman makes tennis headlines, Denis Shapovalov is turning things around.
His second final in five weeks makes him 11-4 from September 28 to October 30. That’s in stark contrast to his dismal 1-9 record from early May to August.
Over the past few weeks, he’s clearly decided to adopt a new tactic that’s really paying off: patience.
Beyond his excellent serve, exceptional net game, phenomenal returns and frequent and effective use of the drop shot, he didn’t have the will to battle through endless rallies against the opponents who excel at them.
At the very start of his final against the Russian champion, Shapovalov won a nearly 30-shot rally with a forehand winner down the line. He then took a 2-1 lead when he broke his rival, who gave up his first break point of the tournament.
Against all odds, the Canadian stayed the course and broke again to get up 4-1 before things got complicated.
Medvedev isn’t an easy customer. Denis fought hard, but at 2-1 in the third, the former No.1 showed everyone how he got to the top of the rankings and how he’ll very likely reclaim the throne eventually. He got to every ball, couldn’t miss and executed spellbinding shots game after game to raise the winner’s trophy in 2:15 (4-6, 6-3, 6-2).
Another positive was the reassuring presence of coach Peter Polansky.
Since the start of their unexpected alliance, many have wondered what Polansky could bring that Mikhail Youzhny or Jamie Delgado didn’t.
It seems that the bond between the Davis Cup teammates is strong enough for Polansky to provide Denis with the collaboration and complementarity he needs.
Shapo’s run this fall has definitely saved his 2022 season. He’ll be competing at the Paris Masters this week and the Davis Cup Finals in Malaga at the end of November to convincingly close out the year and have something to celebrate during the break.
Follow all our Canadians in action here.