Fernandez lifts her fist and smiles while sitting on her player cair at the US Open

Photo : Camerawork USA/Tennis Canada

In her victory speech on Sunday night, newly re-elected mayor of Montréal Valérie Plante affirmed it was possible to “win with a smile”.

Her trademark grin, which has earned her both admiration and criticism, is something I’ve also noticed in our young and talented Leylah Fernandez, for whom each tournament is like a new campaign.

Now, some experts are saying her smile and positive attitude—even when things get dicey—could help her win.

In a short video entitled Leylah Fernandez: Does Smiling Improve Tennis Performance produced by Baseline Media, researchers assert that smiling activates neuropeptides and amino acids that impact nervous system function to reduce stress and trigger the release dopamine, endorphins and serotonin—hormones that make us feel good and help us overcome physical pain.

What’s more, the feeling of delight that’s linked to smiling can enhance concentration.

In the Baseline clip, you can follow the interesting scientific findings that explain how Fernandez’s smile may get her ahead. Same for her rival Emma Raducanu, who found a way to outsmile and outplay Fernandez in New York.

The US Open battle between the brilliant and cheerful up-and-comers—and future stars of women’s tennis—is certainly a highlight of the 2021 season.

Canada vs. Latvia

After falling out of the round-robin event at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals, Canada will take on Latvia this April in an attempt to book a ticket to next year’s tournament.

At the draw ceremony on November 6, it was determined that the tie would be played here.

Canada, which is currently ranked No.10, and Latvia, which is No.10, will go head-to-head for the very first time.

Based on the rankings that came out on November 8, here’s what the balance of powers would look like if the matches were held this week and everyone competed (it’s expected they will because the tie falls during the downtime between the WTA events in Mexico and Colombia and the all-important Porsche Tennis Grand Prix).

Despite Bianca’s downturn, Team Canada still looks a lot like the favourite. The singles players are younger and rank higher than their Latvian opponents, and Canada happens to be blessed with an exceptional doubles player in No.5 Gabriela Dabrowski. But that doesn’t mean we should count World No.28 Jelena Ostapenko out.

Who’s got the edge? Canada because Gabriela will be well rested? Latvia because Ostapenko will be empowered by her singles matches?  Stay tuned, as they say!

How the mighty have fallen

Bianca Andreescu is out of the Top 10.

She’s also out of the Top 20, Top 30 and Top 40.

It was all to be expected because the ranking adjustments announced by the WTA in a release issued on September 4 finally happened on November 8.

Bianca therefore dropped 22 spots, from No.24 to No.46.

Bianca Andreescu hits a forehand volley
Photo : Camerawork USA/Tennis Canada

It was also to be expected because we knew how costly it would be to lose those points from Indian Wells 2019, even though the win was two and half years ago.

The Canadian isn’t the only big name to plummet: Belinda Bencic, who made the semis in Indian Wells, fell from No.17 to No.23, and Angelique Kerber, who made the finals and was defeated by Bianca, sunk from No.9 to No.17.

There were other notable casualties. Among the players who lost points gained in Indian Wells, Rabat or ‘s-Hertogenbosch are Allison Riske of the US (22 spots from No.52 to No.73) and Johanna Konta of Britain (39 spots from No.73 to No.112).

If you haven’t been following the rankings all that closely, know that Serena Williams has been just outside the Top 40 (No.41) since late August.

As for Venus, who spent the past three months between No.150 and No.170, she sits at No.314—that’s a dive of 144 places. In Indian Wells, she made it as far as the quarters. Here, I have to agree with Christopher Clarey of the New York Times: it’s strange to see.

Félix skips the Next Gen

On November 3, Félix Auger-Aliassime officially withdrew from the year-end showdown between the world’s top 21-and-under players of the season.

The event, which premiered five years ago, is going down in Milan, Italy.

Like Denis Shapovalov, Félix had been eligible to participate for the past few seasons. Still, only Denis actually competed, and that was back in 2017 when he was invited for the very first time. With a win and two losses, he was ousted in the semis. He skipped the next two editions.

Felix Auger Aliassime signs tennis balls for fans after a match
Photo : Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour

Auger-Aliassime qualified in 2019 but had to bow out due to an ankle injury.

This year, the Quebecer was seeded second behind Jannick Sinner, who won’t be there either—to the huge disappointment of Italian fans, especially with tournament being held in his home country.

Sinner won’t be very far, though. About 145 kilometers down the road from Milan is Turin, which will be hosting the Nitto ATP Finals. Seeded ninth in the event, Sinner is the first alternate.

Still, locals will get to see their countryman Lorenzo Musetti, who’s in Group B with Sebastian Korda of the US, Sebastian Baez of Argentina and Hugo Gaston of France. Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, Brandon Nakashima of the US, Juan Manuel Cerundolo of Argentina and Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune of Norway make up Group A.

Time for a pop quiz! Anyone remember who won the last three editions?

2017: Hyeon Chung (KOR) d. Andrey Rublev (RUS), 3-4, 4-3, 4-2, 4-2

2018: Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) d. Alex De Minaur (AUS), 2-4, 4-1, 4-3, 4-3

2019: Jannik Sinner (ITA) d. Alex De Minaur (AUS), 4-2, 4-1, 4-2

Janik Sinner holds the Next Gen Finals trophy
Photo : Peter Staples/ATP Tour

There 2020 tournament was cancelled.

Djokovic: eyes on the (year-end) prize

Novak Djokovic may not have achieved all he intended to in 2021, but he still hit an impressive milestone that probably won’t be bettered any time soon.

There was a lot of talk about the Calendar Slam—and let’s not even mention the Golden one—and the fact that he wasn’t able to secure that extra major to edge out Roger and Rafa, who each hold 20. Regardless, he is the year-end No.1 for the seventh time in his career, and that’s really something.

He was previously tied at six with Pete Sampras (2000) after he’d moved ahead of Connors, Nadal and Federer, who each held the throne five times.

Djokovic got as far as 122 consecutive weeks at No.1 between July 2014 and November 2016 and his running tab right now is 64 weeks, but the record still belongs to the Maestro (237).

And as far as the total number of weeks at No.1, Djokovic has reigned longer than Fed, his nearest challenger, with 346 weeks versus 310.

Photo : Paris Rolex Masters

In Paris, Nole competed in the 54th final of a Masters 1000 event of his career—that’s two more than previous record holder Rafa Nadal. With the win, Djokovic collected his 37th Masters 1000 winner’s trophy, another record, and moved ahead of the Spaniard, with whom he was tied.

Now, all eyes will be on the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, which Novak will be fighting to win for the sixth time. His last (and fourth consecutive) year-end triumph was in 2017.

Graphic with the players who qualilfied to the ATP Finals in 2021

If he goes all the way, he’ll be tied with Federer.

And one more thing: this year marks Djokovic’s 14th ATP Finals. That’s three fewer than Federer (yep, him again).

Still acing it at 97

Last August, I typed up a profile of 91-year-old tennis player Émilien Vallée.

His inspiring story prompted a lot of reaction and even garnered some TV coverage on Radio-Canada.

Of course, Mr. Vallée isn’t the only person to play into their nineties.

Just a few weeks ago, Rafael Nadal opened the doors to his tennis academy to 97-year-old Leonid Stanislavskyi, who dreamed of visiting the facilities and happens to hold the Guinness World Record as the oldest tennis player registered with the ITF! He was even able to convince Rafa to hit a few balls. The King of Clay paid tribute to Leonid in Instagram post.

It’s virtually impossible to find Stanislavskyi a worthy opponent in his age group, but that doesn’t stop him from competing in European and international tournaments. He’s posted wins against younger players, even if he doesn’t get around as quickly as he’d like.

For more on this remarkable Ukrainian ace, check out this profile by the Guardian.

Courriel : privard@tenniscanada.com

Twitter : @paul6rivard

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