In days of yore when no Canadian had played a match by the first weekend in the main draw of a big tournament like the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, it meant nobody had a high enough ranking to get direct entry or that no one had made it through the qualifying event.
Nowadays Canada’s top players aren’t even starting until the weekend as is the case with Félix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Leylah Annie Fernandez at the 2022 BNP Paribas Open. With Auger-Aliassime ranked No. 9, Shapovalov No. 13 and Fernandez at No. 21, they are well within the 32 seeded players and receive byes, which means a later start in the tournament
That has been an incredible transformation in the last 10 years. Up to that point no Canadian man had ranked inside the top 40, and only Carling Bassett-Seguso (No. 8 in 1985), Helen Kelesi (No. 13 in 1989) and Aleksandra Wozniak (No. 21 in 2009) had broken the top-25 barrier among the women.
It has been a bonanza in the intervening years with Bianca Andreescu getting to No. 4 (2019), Genie Bouchard making it to No. 5 (2016) and Fernandez, just last month, ranking inside the Top 20 at No. 19. While among the men Milos Raonic reached No. 3 (2016), Auger-Aliassime No. 9 (2022), Shapovalov No. 10 (2020) and Vasek Pospisil No. 25 in (2014).
It will be difficult this year for any of Fernandez, Auger-Aliassime or Shapovalov to equal the best Canadian results at Indian Wells because Andreescu won the title (Angelique Kerber) in 2019 and Raonic finished as runner-up to Novak Djokovic in 2016.
After a disappointing fourth-round 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) loss to Shelby Rogers in the California desert last October (her first event after being a US Open finalist), Fernandez will be hoping to do better but faces some potentially stiff opposition early – beginning with Amanda Anisimova of the U.S. on Saturday. This first meeting between the two players was set up by the No. 43-ranked American’s 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 200-ranked compatriot Emma Navarro on Thursday night.
Anisimova, 21, has received a lot of sympathy on the tour since her father/coach Konstantin died suddenly at age 52 of a heart attack in August 2020.
She enters the 2022 BNP Paribas Open fresh from a windfall $150,000 (USD) winner-take-all payday at the Tie Break Tens exhibition at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Wednesday night. She beat Maria Sakkari 10-7 in the final and said that she will donate some of her prize money to relief efforts in Ukraine.
That’s a lot more money – minus the charitable donation – than the $30,130 she will earn if she reaches the third round with a win over Fernandez.
Fernandez, who was beaten by Paula Badosa at the Tie Break Tens event, will probably prefer to feed off of a doubles result on Thursday evening to get confidence for the match against Anisimova. She put on a sparkling display partnering Alizé Cornet as they upset the second-seeded pairing of Sam Stosur and Zhang Shuai 1-6, 7-6(7), [10-8] in front of a friendly, partisan crowd in Stadium 4.
Of course, Fernandez can mainly feel she’s at the top of her game after her second consecutive title at the WTA 250 event in Monterrey, Mexico, last weekend.
Anisimova is one of the biggest hitters on the tour and if Fernandez gets past the 5-foot-11 American she could play an even bigger hitter, the red-hot Latvian Jelena Ostapenko. The 2017 Roland Garros champion has recently found a rich vein of form. Fernandez – Ostapenko could be a preview of a match-up when Canada hosts Latvia in Billie Jean King Cup action next month in Vancouver.
Denis Shapovalov makes his fourth appearance in Indian Wells – best result being a round of 16 in 2019 – when he plays No. 45-ranked Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Saturday. The 22-year-old had a stern test on Thursday against No. 167 Borna Coric, the 25-year-old Croat who’s returning after more than a year off the tour following shoulder surgery. Davidovich Fokina won 6-7(5), 6-0, 7-5 in two hours and 23 minutes. It will be a first meeting between the Spaniard and his Canadian fellow 22-year-old.
Shapovalov has had a solid year with his only early losses being to Jiri Lehecka in Rotterdam and Arthur Rinderknech in Doha. In his last outing in Dubai, he appeared in a position to reach the final before losing in the semi-finals 6-7(7), 7-6(2), 7-6(3) to tournament revelation Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic.
Beyond Davidovich Fokina for the 13th– seeded Shapovalov could be No. 17 Reilly Opelka in the third round and No. 4 Rafael Nadal in the round of 16.
Shapovalov is in Indian Wells with his new coach Jamie Delgado and has added long-time Canadian stalwart Peter Polansky (see photo above) to the support team for the event. Polansky, coming in from Davis Cup in The Hague, Netherlands, last weekend, had hoped to play the qualifying but missed out by one spot.
If Novak Djokovic had withdrawn from the tournament sooner, No. 9 seed Auger-Aliassime (above with Reilly Opelka on Thursday) would have been in the top eight and possibly had an easier draw. But as it is he is not poorly positioned with an opening match on Sunday against either No. 47-ranked Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands or American qualifier No. 153 Tennys Sandgren. Auger-Aliassime is 1-0 head-to-head against van de Zandschulp (Stockholm 2021) and 1-1 with Sandgren (losing in Cincinnati 2020 and winning in Acapulco 2021).
Auger-Aliassime returns to action after winning his first title (Stefanos Tsitsipas) in Rotterdam last month before losing in the final (Andrey Rublev) in Marseille the following week. He then made one of his rare visits home to Montreal, one that included an appearance on the popular talk show Tout Le Monde En Parle.
After Indian Wells and Miami Open in two weeks, Auger-Aliassime’s schedule for the clay-court season ahead will begin in Monte Carlo on April 10, (week off), Estoril, (most off a week off), Madrid and Rome before Roland Garros starts May 22.
MIND YOUR P’s and Q’s
You may have to squint a bit – but it will be worth it to see the warning on the front door of this second-hand shop in Palm Desert.