The glass half empty view of Leylah Annie Fernandez and Bianca Andreescu is that they have slipped in the rankings since their best days. The feeling being that they’re experiencing the challenges often faced by players who skyrocket to success.
The glass half full perspective is that they are still gifted players primed to rise again in 2023.
When the 2021 US Open started, Fernandez and qualifier Emma Raducanu of Britain were relative unknowns. By the time it finished, Fernandez had turned 19 and was the runner-up. Raducanu, still two months from her 19th birthday, ended up being the surprise champion.
In the aftermath of such a momentous fortnight, the obvious conjecture was about how the pair would fare in the months and years ahead.
On that score, Fernandez has so far been the clear winner – her ranking dropping from No. 24 at the end of 2021 to No. 40 this year, while Raducanu plummeted from No. 19 to No. 80.
Both players faced physical adversity in 2022 – Fernandez suffering a grade three stress fracture on the top of her right foot that kept her out of action from early June until early August at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers in Toronto.
Raducanu endured a series of injuries that meant she had a stop-and-go year that finished with a 17-19 match record. Fernandez was 21-15.
It was an ominous sign for Fernandez when she lost 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the Australian Open to unheralded Aussie wild card Maddison Inglis. But at least it now gives her a golden opportunity to improve on that result next month at Melbourne Park.
After Australia, Fernandez got back on track at the Monterrey, Mexico, WTA 250 in February – defending her title with a 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-6(3) win over Colombia’s Camila Osorio in the final.
From there she had disappointing results in events such as Miami (Karolina Muchova) and Charleston (Magda Linette) before playing like her old self again in reaching the French Open quarter-finals with wins over No. 14-ranked Belinda Bencic and No. 28 Amanda Anisimova before that foot injury occurred early in her next match against No. 59 Martina Trevisan of Italy. Despite grimacing with pain on a few occasions, the hyper-motivated Fernandez battled on but lost not only the match 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-3, but eventually all of the grass-court season and some summer hard-court tournaments until Toronto because of the injury.
Beatriz Haddad Maia beat Fernandez in the second round at the National Bank Open and for the rest of the summer, she faced some tough Russians – losing to Ekaterina Alexandrova in Cincinnati, Liudmila Samsonova at the US Open and Daria Kasatkina in San Diego. There were also two losses to Bencic – 7-5, 6-7(10), 6-3 at the WTA 1000 in Guadalajara in October – and then 6-0, 7-5 in the Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals in Glasgow when the 25-year-old Swiss was the leader of what seemed like the team of destiny on a successful mission to win the title after finishing runner-up in 2021.
But there was an excellent final example of Fernandez at her fiery finest in Canada’s opening tie in Glasgow. She got revenge for that fateful French Open quarter-final loss to Trevisan, demolishing the world No. 28 in 44 minutes – winning 6-0, 6-0.
As much as 2022 had setbacks, Fernandez never seemed to lose her fierce competitive spirit, a good omen for a rebound next year.
These have been interesting times for Bianca Andreescu since 2019 and her remarkable US Open triumph. Knee and foot issues resulted in 2020 being a total write-off, and then in her comeback in 2021 she faced injuries and a spring-time bout of COVID-19 in Europe that set her back mentally and physically.
That was part of the reason she paused her start to 2022, with some of that time spent on a wellness break in Costa Rica to “reset, recover and grow.”
She was off the tour from October 2021, until mid-April 2022, at the indoor clay-court event in Stuttgart.
During a record of 20-13 for the season, she often played tennis worthy of her pedigree – beating players such as Halep, Kasatkina (twice), Haddad Maia, Samsonova, Cornet, Collins and Kvitova – but too often without maintaining the top-level consistency needed to get deep into draws.
She only had a single first-round loss all year and reached one final – in Bad Homberg, Germany, losing to Caroline Garcia on grass in June.
In the three Grand Slam events she played, she lost each time to a quality opponent – at the French Open to Bencic in the second round, to eventual champion Elena Rybakina in the second round at Wimbledon and to the most in-form player, Garcia, in the third round at the US Open.
Her final ranking of No. 46 after an abbreviated 2021 season was followed by No. 46 and another abbreviated season in 2022.
A key to her play in 2022 was her fitness trainer, Abdul Sillah, who helped her stay healthy and avoid injuries. He also was an enthusiastic cheerleader courtside during her matches. But when he decided to try to have an arrangement whereby he would work with Andreescu, and also with his former-client Naomi Osaka, it eventually led to the end of their relationship
When Andreescu, 22, parted ways with coach Sven Groeneveld after the season, it created an opportunity for a new departure in 2023, which should be intriguing to follow.
The feel-good story of 2022 Canadian women’s tennis was Rebecca Marino’s return to the Top 100 for the first time in 10 years.
Marino, who turned 32 on December 16, compiled a 49-24 record at all levels and paid her dues traveling the world, playing in 25 events from Australia to start the year all the way to the WTA 125 in Tampico and Billie Jean King Cup in Glasgow to end it in Mexico and Scotland – with stops along the way in India and South Korea.
She qualified for both the Australian and French Opens but lost in the opening round of the first three Grand Slam events. That changed at the US Open where she won a main-draw round for the first time since 2010 – defeating No. 103 Magdalena Frech of Poland – and then Ukrainian qualifier No. 124 Daria Segur, who had upset 7th-seeded Simona Halep in the previous round. Marino lost 6-2, 6-4 in the third round to No. 36 Zhang Shuai of China.
She won a $60,000 ITF event in Arcadia, California, in March and reached the final of another ITF $60,000 in Irapuato, Mexico the following week.
A low point in the year, especially with her grass-court friendly game, was a first-round loss at Wimbledon to qualifier Katarzyna Kawa. The 29-year-old Pole is mainly a doubles player who was No. 132 in singles.
By ranking, Marino’s best win was 6-2, 6-3 over No. 40 Fernandez in the third round of her final tour event of the season, the WTA 125 in Tampico. Marino had much of her 2022 success after establishing a coaching arrangement with former Mexican player Bruno Echagarry, and her year-end No. 64 WTA ranking, up from No. 144 in 2021, was a reward for a year of doing a lot of hard slogging.
After more than a decade with a WTA ranking – a significant part of that time spent at Stanford University where she was NCAA singles runner-up in 2015 – Carol Zhao finished for the second time in her career inside the Top 200 at No. 190 in a mercifully reasonably injury-free year. That’s up from No. 283 at the start of 2022.
Zhao, 27, played 26 (29-24) events this year with her highlights being a title at the $100,000 ITF tournament in Charleston, S.C., in June, three weeks after she won the ITF $25,000 in Incheon, Korea. She was a member of Canada’s Billie Jean King Cup team for ties in both Vancouver and Glasgow.
Katherine Sebov raised her ranking from No. 344 to No. 223 in 2022. The 23-year-old from Toronto reached the final of the $60,000 ITF event in Saguenay, Quebec, in October – losing 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to No. 308 Karman Kaur Thandi of India. She ended her season qualifying and making it to the quarter-finals of the WTA 125 tournament in Midland, Michigan. Earlier in the year, she reached four ITF tournament semi-finals – one in Nottingham, England in April, two in Madrid in June and one in Columbus, Ohio, in July.
Genie Bouchard, a sometimes forgotten figure of the Canadian women’s tennis scene, had surgery for a torn subscapularis in her right shoulder in June 2021. She returned to action for the first time since March 2021, at the Odlum Brown VanOpen in August. In a total of 15 matches (6-9) in 2022, she went from no ranking to her current No. 327. Her finest hour was at the WTA 500 in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in October. There, she defeated No. 100 Océane Dodin and No. 87 Dalma Galfi in the qualifying before a strong performance in a 6-7(7), 6-1, 6-4 loss to No. 14 Bencic.
Bouchard, Zhao and Sebov are all planning to play the 2023 Australian Open qualifying.
Gabriela Dabrowski had another stellar year in doubles. It didn’t begin well as she and Mexican partner Giuliana Olmos went 1-5 at the season start but things changed when they reached the semi-finals in Indian Wells in March – and then got hot during the clay-court season. They won the WTA 1000 in Madrid and followed that up with a runner-up finish in the Rome WTA 1000.
Their best result of a disappointing Grand Slam year was a quarter-final at the US Open. But things picked up for Dabrowski in September as she won the WTA 250 event in Chennai, India, with Luisa Stefani of Brazil (the only tournament all year without Olmos) and then the WTA 500 in Tokyo with Olmos.
She and Olmos qualified for the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas, but were eliminated in the round-robin phase after recording just one win – 7-6(5), 2-6, [12-10] over Latvian Jelena Ostapenko and Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine.
Dabrowski finished 2022 ranked No. 7 and had a neat (twice as many wins as losses) 42-21 match record, earning $588,575 U.S. in prize money.
There’s a promising crop of young Canadian girls emerging, led by Victoria Mboko and Kayla Cross, both from Toronto.
Mboko ranks No. 6 in the ITF Junior rankings and reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon and the US Open junior events. In February, she won five matches without losing a set to capture the ITF Grade 1 tournament in Porto Alegre, Brazil. A powerful player, her big breakthrough came in July when she won the ITF $25,000 tournament in Saskatoon, beating her final four opponents convincingly in straight sets – at just age 15. She turned 16 on August 26 and is already No. 487 in the WTA rankings.
Cross is a gritty lefty who made it to the third round of both the Wimbledon and US Open junior events. Her ITF junior ranking is No. 22.
Also a talented doubles player, she won the $25,000 Saskatoon ITF event in July with compatriot Marina Stakusic and was runner-up with Stakusic at the $60,000 ITF in Calgary in November.
In the juniors, she and Mboko won titles in Traralgon, Australia, in January, in Porto Allegre, Brazil, in February and Roehampon, England, in July and were runners-up in both the Australian Open and Wimbledon junior events. The 17-year-old’s WTA rankings are No. 715 in singles and No. 465 in doubles.
Feature Photo: Martin Sidorjak