Photo: Tennis Canada
“I am a scrappy player. I’m not the tallest nor the strongest, so I find myself having to dig deep in matches.”
Aren’t those words often used to also describe Leylah Annie Fernandez, especially over the past five years since we’ve gotten to know her better? And haven’t we been enjoying the outcome?
Then, keep a close eye on 15-year-old Denny Bao.
Currently no.11 in Canada’s U16 boys’ rankings and no.37 in the U18, Denny took a tremendous step this past September when he joined the team that travelled to Turkey for the Junior Davis Cup, at which the Canadian squad finished eighth.
Along with Stefan Simeunovic (16 years old) of Oakville, Ontario, and Liam Drover-Mattinen (16 years old) of Portugal Cove–St. Philips, Newfoundland and Labrador, Denny posted an impressive win over David Fix, a higher ranked player from Germany.
Denny Bao got his first taste of tennis watching his father David and now 22-year-old brother Paul on the courts. He got into the sport in the lower echelons, more precisely his parents’ basement! “My dad first gave me a racket to play with at maybe four or five. I remember hitting the ball when I was in my basement when I was pretty young,” said Denny.
He also remembers the countless hours his mother Emily dedicated to his game, driving him to and from his training sessions.
Here he is at the age of seven, when he first discovered his passion at the Oak Bay Tennis Club in Victoria, British Columbia.
With some help from Tennis Canada
When he was 11, Denny was crowned U12 provincial champion and invited to a Tennis Canada training camp at British Columbia’s regional training centre in Vancouver, where he continues to train today with Oded Jacob. When it comes to his coach, the young ace has only good things to say: “Well, I’m lucky enough to have great coaches here, like Oded, to help me develop as a player and as a human and create a good atmosphere in training. This has allowed me to go on tours, visit different places and experience new things.”
“The program helped him tremendously,” affirmed Jacob. “First of all, he is improving his skills and physical ability by being exposed to other good players and international competition. The Tennis Canada program really opened interesting opportunities for him to improve.”
Oded Jacob knows what he’s talking about, since he led Denis Shapovalov, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Benjamin Sigouin to their 2015 Davis Cup title for Canada. He speaks very highly of Bao and believes the teen is already in a class of his own.
“Yes, he’s a scrappy player. He moves very well on the court. He’s a counterpuncher and gets a lot of balls back. He’s like a backboard. That said, he has great anticipation. Denny is among the top 2006 players in the country, if not the very best,” said Jacob.
How are his chances of making it all the way to a junior Slam? According to Oded Jacob, they’re quite good, if he competes enough: “If you want to reach a Grand Slam, you really need to play in many ITF tournaments. So, if he does that, I think he has a fair chance at a couple of Grand Slams.”
As far as being seen on the courts, Denny got a running start two years ago, in November 2019, when he won the international U14 TEN PRO Global Junior tournament at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, Spain.
Ask Denny about his idols, and he’ll mention Leylah, Denis, Félix and Bianca: “It makes me feel proud that these players are doing well. They inspire me and give me hope it could be me one day.”
Among his Canadian heroes, Bianca Andreescu holds a very special place.
“I have a photo with Bianca Andreescu. I was at a U12 camp at the Granite Club in Toronto, I believe. This was before she won Indians Wells and the US Open that year. I got a chance to meet her, and she told us a lot about her story. It was awesome to ask questions and learn about her tennis career. It was just cool because it was before she became a tennis star,” he recounted.
Denny also has a lot of admiration for Vasek Pospisil, on account of his Grand Slam crown in doubles and Davis Cup performances, as well as his resilience and success despite the injuries he’s suffered.
There’s one more Canadian tennis pro that makes Denny’s eyes light up, and that’s Rebecca Marino, who’s from the same area as him in British Columbia. He holds her in high regard for all she’s accomplished in the past decade and because he got to see her in action. “A role model for me is definitely Rebecca Marino,” he said. “I am extremely grateful to have been able to train with her throughout last year. It was incredibly inspiring to watch her come back and compete at the highest level.”
You can directly help kids like Denny become professional tennis players and fulfill their dream of competing in Grand Slam events, just like their heroes.
Learn more about the Where I’m Raised fundraising campaign. Donate today to support our tennis stars of tomorrow.
If you have any questions, get in touch with our funding development team at firstname.lastname@example.org.