Photo montage including Leylah, Felix, Denis and Bianca

As 2021 comes to a close and we begin the countdown to 2022, the world’s major tennis tournaments are all said and done and the players are on a well-deserved break before things start up again in late December or early January.

Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed the incredible ascensions of our young talents in the WTA and ATP. We are undoubtedly in the golden age of Canadian tennis. Prior to the ranking system adjustments this fall, Bianca Andreescu and up-and-comer Leylah Fernandez mingled in the WTA Top 30. If 2022 brings her health and consistency, Andreescu, a former World No.4 (October 2019), should find her way back to the Top 10. Will Fernandez join her? It’s a definite possibility.

Photo : camerawork usa

In men’s tennis, there are two Canadians in the Top 15. Félix Auger-Aliassime (No.11) and Denis Shapovalov (No.14) have all the weapons to breeze into the Top 10 if Félix can maintain his slow climb and Denis can stay on track to bolster his raw talent and charisma.

Now, imagine if Fernandez and Andreescu had played in Billie Jean King Cup and Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov in Davis Cup this year. There’s every reason to think they would have given our Canadian squads a chance at one—if not both—titles.

After all, our young guns came this close in 2019.

Fingers crossed!

And elsewhere?

Seeing those tiny Canadian flags move up the ATP rankings this past season made me realize what a golden age this truly is for Canadian men’s tennis.

And what a golden age it also is for other nations, like ours, for which success on the world’s stage is relatively new. A Canadian in the Top 10 had happened only once. When Milos Raonic reached No.3 in late 2016, it was an incredible feat. The hope that not one but two players would rise to join the best of the best just four and five years later was the stuff of dreams. Well, those dreams came true when Shapovalov became No.10 on September 20, 2020, and Auger-Aliassime did the same on November 14, 2021.

But Canada isn’t alone.

How about the pair from the Russian Federation? No.2 Daniil Medvedev and No.5 Andrey Rublev just ended their seasons with a cherry on top: their country’s third Davis Cup championship.

There’s even a third Russian man in the Top 20: Aslan Karatsev. His surprising successes in singles and doubles have helped make the country a tennis powerhouse.

Another emerging nation is Italy. While Fabio Fognini was the lone Italian wolf at the top of the rankings and moved up as high as No.9 in 2019, a young cavalry has now sprung to his aid in No.7 Matteo Berrettini and No.10 Jannik Sinner.

I’ll wrap things up with our neighbours to the south, who are a long way off from the days when Connors and McEnroe traded places at No.1 like they did from 1979 to 1984 or the years Grand Slam champions Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang carried the red, white and blue into the Top 10. Last May marked the first time in 30 years that there was no American in the ATP Top 30 since the system was created in 1973. The Washington Post illustrated the situation quite eloquently.

But there is hope for the once brilliant tennis nation.

If No.38 Frances Tiafoe (23 years old) fulfills the hopes placed in him and the other Americans on Tour continue their progression and come into their own, two or three just may secure a spot in the Top 20 or even the Top 10. They’re players like No.22 Taylor Fritz (24 years old), No.26 Reilly Opelka (24 years old), No.41 Sebastian Korda (21 years old), No.43 Tommy Paul (24 years old), No.55 Mackenzie McDonald (26 years old), No.56 Jenson Brooksby (21 years old) and No.68 Brandon Nakashima (20 years old).

Fun fact: the US has 12 players in the Top 100, more than any other nation, followed by Spain with 10, France with 9 and Italy with 8. Out of all of them, the Americans are the youngest.

The youngest and therefore the most likely to progress. It’s pretty likely that the McEnroe Bros can’t wait to see one of their own in the ATP or WTA Top 10. The fantastic TV commentators are even doing their part to find potentially exceptional players by giving kids in the New York City metropolitan area better access to tennis courts at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Randall’s Island in Manhattan. “I worry that the greatest player in history may never pick up a racket because he or she won’t have the opportunity to play the sport,” Johnny Mac said in that same Washington Post piece.

In the WTA, the situation is a bit different. There are so many flags that the list looks like the UN General Assembly.

In addition to the five players from the US in the Top 25, there are women from 17 other countries! Besides Czechia with three and Spain with two, there is only one representative per nation. Playing for us is No.24 Leylah Fernandez, of course.

In the Top 100, the American women still outnumber their countrymen with 16 players. Czechia has maintained its regular output of talent with eight women, just like Russia. France and Romania have each placed five of their own.

Is US women’s tennis about to enter another golden age just as Venus and Serena Williams, who flew the flag for two decades, are coming to the end of their careers?

The youngest of them all just may lead the group. At 17 years old, Coco Gauff is the one to watch. If there really is strength in numbers, expect one or two American women in the Top 10. The contingent is solid but the average age is quite high. Of the 16 Americans in the Top 100, only five are under 24 years old: No.12 Sofia Kenin (23 years old), No.12 Coco Gauff (23 years old), No.47 Ann Li (21 years old), No.78 Amanda Anisimova (20 years old) and No.95 Claire Liu (21 years old).

The Russian Tennis Federation doubles down

The Russians have closed the year out in style.

As the Russian Tennis Federation, the nation managed to achieve something the tennis world hasn’t seen in 30 years. For the first time in its history, Russia was crowned the Billie Jean King Cup AND Davis Cup champion.

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In the Davis Cup final, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev posted two-set triumphs over Marin Cilic and Borna Gojo of Croatia, respectively. Medvedev, who didn’t drop a single set in five rubbers, was the undisputed tsar. He closed the books on his exceptional season of four titles including the US Open, the World No.2 ranking, an appearance in the final of the ATP Finals and now a team championship title that is the success of all of Russia.

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Just a month earlier, the Russian squad landed the Billie Jean King Cup by sweeping Switzerland in the final. A huge accomplishment.

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Russian tennis joins the elite group of nations that have won both team tennis crowns in the same year. The US has done it seven times (1963, 1969, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1990), Australia three times (1964, 1965 and 1973) and the Czech Republic once, in 2021.

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