Photo : Vesna Stakusic
From left to right: Kayla Cross, 17, Marina Stakusic, 18, Victoria Mboko, 16, Cadence Brace, 17.
Together at a training camp in Boca Raton, Florida, from November 22 to December 22, these fab four are a good segment of the potential future of Canadian tennis in the medium term.
Who’s got the best chances of breaking through?
That’s something Sylvain Bruneau, who heads women’s pro tennis at Tennis Canada, won’t comment on. He doesn’t want to raise expectations or create an awkward situation within the group.
Bruneau spent several days in Florida to assess the players’ efforts and oversee the approach. He’s quick to also mention players like Mia Kupres, Ana Grubor, Annabelle Xu, Naomi Xu, Bianca Fernandez (Leylah’s sister) and Isabelle Boulais, who are all between the ages of 16 and 18. Add Ariana Arsenault, 20, to the mix, and there’s an impressive pool of up-and-comers.
One thing’s for sure: they won’t be giving Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Fernandez a run for their money in the Top 100 in 2023. Two Grand Slam finalists in as many years and at such a young age remain a rare occurrence—something that’s difficult to achieve and repeat on today’s WTA Tour. Raducanu, Pliskova, Pavlyuchenkova, Brady and Krejcikova are all reminders of that. And that’s only considering the major tournaments in 2020 and 2021.
“That’s why I’m in Florida, doing this type of training camp. I don’t want to name names, but out of the four girls who are here, I think at least one has the potential to do something really great,” he affirmed.
But maybe not at 19 years old like Bianca and Leylah.
“There’s no rush,” he said. “What’s important at 17, 18, 19 or 20 is to keep putting your game together and progressing. And, above all, really loving your sport and staying in a healthy state of mind while playing it. That’s what’s most important. It’s not a race. I’m more interested in longevity.”
Sylvain Bruneau didn’t travel to Florida alone. He was there with coaches Elena Bovina, Simon Larose and Nathalie Tauziat, physical trainer François Ramamonjisoa and performance psychologist Dana Sinclair (left to right with the four players).
The big time for Diallo and Galarneau?
About 300 kilometres north, Guillaume Marx was front and centre in Orlando at tournaments featuring some of Canada’s young talents.
Aside from Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and Pospisil, who closed out 2022 in the Top 100, will another Canadian hit the big time next season? The two most likely candidates are 21-year-old Gabriel Diallo and 23-year-old Alexis Galarneau, of course.
“It’s a tall order, but it’s possible. We just recently found out that Gabriel’s decided to skip his last year at the University of Kentucky to play on the Tour as the World No.229. With his great results in 2022, Alexis Galarneau, who’s currently ranked No.210, should be able to capitalize on all his experience and hopefully get closer to the Top 100,” said Marx.
Including qualifiers, Galarneau played 67 matches in 2022, mostly on the Challenger circuit, for a 39–28 record. But his very honourable losses to Botic Van de Zandschulp (7-5, 7-6 ) at Davis Cup and to veteran Grigor Dimitrov at the National Bank Open (6-4, 7-5) confirmed the expectations.
“Because they’re near the Top 200, they’ll both be playing a lot of Challenger tournaments. They’ll also be able to access the qualifying rounds of bigger events, and that’s an opportunity to rise quickly in the rankings,” said the coach.
Not to mention that Galarneau and Diallo gained a tremendous amount of experience and motivation from competing alongside Félix, Denis and Vasek at Davis Cup last November.
That’s the example of collective success Marx emphasizes to spur on the two Quebecers and all the players who’ll follow. “This year, we’ll make sure the Davis Cup travels across Canada, so the public—and especially young people—will become aware of the achievement. From an educational standpoint, that’s huge for us, and it’s something kids can dream about. Our challenge is to get that out there.”
Who’s next in line?
In addition to Diallo and Galarneau, there’s 20-year-old Liam Draxl (No.526), 21-year-old Justin Boulais (No.555) and 21-year-old Taha Baadi (No.849), who play in the NCAA.
“Those three need to finish university, and we’ll try to support them next summer like we did in 2022 with Diallo, especially at Canadian tournaments. There’s no doubt it’ll take them longer, but they’ll have our support.
Last fall, despite being enrolled in university, they all competed in professional tournaments. They played in the Challenger events in Calgary and Drummondville and in the M25 Saint-Augustin in Québec, where Boulais was a finalist.
Draxl found his way to two semis and a final (M15) in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and Baadi reached the quarters of the M15 tournament in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.