Photo: camerawork usa
The 2021 tennis season was a rollercoaster ride. So many twists and turns, uncertainties due to COVID-19, and thrilling matches on show. It was a joy to see fans back in the stands at events across the world and such incredible adverts for the sport.
For Canadian tennis in particular, 2021 was about (Re)building a #TennisNation after the losses incurred during the pandemic. For our elite players on tour, it was about getting back on the court, winning titles and making progress. It’s fair to say they exceeded those expectations as their performances once again forced people to ask the question “what’s in the water up there?”.
Here, we look back at the Top 10 Canadian tennis moments of the year. We already revealed numbers 10-6, and now we’re on the home stretch. Here are numbers 5-1.
5. Bianca back in action, reaches final of the Miami Open
2019 saw the breakout of Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu. Her incredible, and somewhat unexpected, runs to the BNP Paribas Open, National Bank Open presented by Rogers and US Open titles saw her shoot to No. 4 in the rankings and left her fans desperate to see more. Unfortunately, injuries meant she was unable to compete in 2020 but she returned to the court earlier this year. A run to the final of the Miami Open in April included victories over No. 28 seed Amanda Anisimova, No. 12 seed Garbine Muguruza and No. 23 seed Maria Sakkari. She was forced to retire from the championship match against No. 1 Ash Barty due to injury, but it was incredible to see her recreating the type of form that propelled her to so much success in 2019. Andreescu recently announced on social media that she will miss the upcoming Australian Open to “take some additional time to reflect, train and be ready for the upcoming 2022 tennis season”.
4. Tennis Canada hosts the country’s first major international sporting event with fans as the first edition of the National Bank Open is staged in Toronto and Montreal
Following the forced postponement of the Rogers Cup in 2020 due to COVID-19, it was cause for celebration that the National Bank Open could go ahead this year, and with fans in attendance! 90% of Tennis Canada’s investment in tennis development comes from revenue generated by the tournaments so it was critical to the organization’s mission of leading the growth of the sport across the country that they were staged. No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev won the title in Toronto, while Camila Giorgi was a surprise champion in Montreal. And there was a Canadian winner in doubles as Gabriela Dabrowski and partner Luisa Stefani paired up to beat Andreja Klepac and Darija Jurak Schreiber in the final at Stade IGA.
3. Shapovalov shines at Wimbledon with semi-finals appearance
Denis Shapovalov was riding a wave of momentum heading into Wimbledon having reached the final of the Geneva Open, the quarters in Stuttgart and the semis at Queen’s Club in the months prior. Following a first-round win over Philipp Kohlschreiber and a walkover against Pablo Andujar, the Canadian then faced Great Britain’s Andy Murray on Centre Court. It resulted in a straight-set demolition by Shapovalov, who won comprehensively 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Next up, he eased to a round-of-16 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut followed by an epic five-set, come-from-behind triumph over Karen Khachanov. In the semi-finals, it was World No. 1 Novak Djokovic standing on the other side of the net and, despite an incredible performance by Shapovalov, it was the Serbian who advanced to the final, where he beat Matteo Berrettini. Despite the heartache, it was a run that all Canadian tennis fans will remember for years to come.
2. Auger-Aliassime reaches first Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open
A stellar year for Félix Auger-Aliassime saw the Montrealer make deep runs at many events, but it was his semi-finals appearance at the US Open that was the real highlight of his season. His route to the last four included victories over No. 18 seed Roberto Bautista Agut and rising star Carlos Alcaraz Garfia who, at 6-3, 3-1 down, was forced to retire in the second set. Auger-Aliassime succumbed to the eventual champion, Daniil Medvedev, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 but no one can deny his run was further proof that a first-career title can’t be far away. Félix’s performances throughout the season saw him break into the ATP Tour’s Top 10 for the first time in November and he will finish the year at No. 11.
1. Leylah lights up the US Open, reaches the final at Arthur Ashe Stadium
Despite the many great moments Canadian tennis has enjoyed in 2021, there’s no argument over the top spot in our list. Yes, it’s teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez’s breathtaking run to the US Open final in September. Fernandez went into the tournament having won her first WTA title earlier in the year at the Monterrey Open, but it’s fair to say she was an outside bet for the trophy at Flushing Meadows. Cue three wins over Top 5 players – Naomi Osaka (No. 3), Elina Svitolina (No.5) and Aryna Sabalenka (No. 2) – and all of a sudden, the 19-year-old had done what many thought was improbable if not impossible, reached the championship match. There, she faced another teenager, Emma Raducanu of Great Britain, and would lose 6-4, 6-3 in what was a fiercely contested encounter. Her post-match, on-court speech saw her show composure and compassion far beyond her years, and her incredible performances at the event are moments Canadian tennis fans will never forget.