Ontario Players Make Their Mark

by Mike McIntyre

December 2019

Canadian tennis has gained much respect in the pro ranks over the past few years and athletes from Ontario are a big reason for that. 2019 was another banner year, hi-lighted by Bianca Andreescu's incredible breakthrough. Can't wait for 2020!

As the 2019 tennis season approaches its conclusion, it’s safe to say that it will go down as one of the greatest – if not the greatest – professional tennis seasons we’ve ever seen from our Ontario players. The buzz started early in the year with Bianca Andreescu tearing out of the gates and she never really looked back en route to the first Grand Slam singles title in Canadian history at the US Open in September. Her success was undoubtedly the most impressive individual moment of the year, but Bianca wasn’t alone in making waves on the international tennis scene this past year. Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights that the best players in the province provided us with.

Bianca Andreesuu from Mississauga was Canada's first-ever Grand Slam singles champion!

Of course, we have to start with Bianca Andreescu who deservingly inspired the hashtag #SheTheNorth with her surge up the rankings of the WTA Tour and peaking with her first Grand Slam title in New York where she defeated none other than the greatest female tennis player of all-time in Serena Williams. Andreescu finished the year with an incredible 48-7 record along with three titles in Indian Wells, Toronto and as mentioned at the US Open. After her inspiring and physically draining victory over Angelique Kerber in California in March, Andreescu’s body could not sustain the pace and a shoulder injury would force her to skip both the clay and grass court swings. When she returned at the Roger Cup in August, expectations were low but she picked-up right where she left off and captured her hometown event with big wins over Karolina Pliskova, Kiki Bertens, Sofia Kenin and then Serena Williams in the finals. While the championship match was a let down with the American legend retiring at 1-3 in the opening set due to injury, Andreescu seized the moment to comfort her opponent and reveal her “old soul” as she spoke so eloquently to Serena and to the adoring crowd who came out to support her. Upon her return home, Andreescu was awarded the key to the City of Mississauga and had a street named after her. Recently, the WTA named her “Newcomer of the Year” and in a unanimous vote, she was awarded the Lou Marsh Trophy, emblematic of Canadian Athlete of the Year – the first tennis player to ever receive the honour. Andreescu finished the season as the No. 5 ranked player in the world and if she can stay healthy will be a continued force to be reckoned with on the WTA Tour in 2020.

Pickering’s Brayden Schnur also began his season on a strong note as he put forth a career best result on the ATP Tour at the New York Open. Not content with merely qualifying for the main draw, Schnur progressed all the way to the finals where he ultimately fell to American Reilly Opelka who defeated him 6-1, 6-7, 7-6 for the title. Schnur went on to crack the top 100 on the ATP Tour and ended his season as a member of the Davis Cup Team that made the finals in Madrid.


Commmonn! Denis Shapovalov broke through with his first ATP title in 2019!

Denis Shapovalov had his ups and downs in 2019 but such is life of a recently turned 20 year old trying to find his way on the professional circuit. Shapovalov made the semifinals of the Masters 1000 event in Miami early in the year before cooling off for a period of four months. Partnering with former ATP pro Mikhail Youzhny as his coach late in the summer seemed to reinvigorate his game and Shapovalov made the semifinals in both Winston Salem and Chengdu before capturing the first ATP title of his career at the Stockholm Open in October. Not content to stop there, Denis also made it to the finals of the Paris Masters where he fell to Novak Djokovic. That now makes four different Masters 1000 semifinals that Shapovalov has reached in his young career, quite the feat and one that gives confidence to his future capabilities in the men’s game. On the international scene, Shapovalov, along with Vasek Pospisil, was instrumental in carrying the Canadian Davis Cup team to the finals against a Rafael Nadal led Spain.

Hopefully Milos Raonic will rebound from his injuries and have a great 2020.

At 31 years old Peter Polansky finished the season just inside the top 200 and saw some success at the Challenger level. He made the semifinals in Granby in the summer and then in the fall won the event in Columbus, Ohio. The Thornhill native will be hoping to bounce back in 2020 and see if he can get his ranking back up to his career high of No. 110 that he achieved as recently as 2018.

Almost an after-thought this past year due to injury struggles was the now-veteran Milos Raonic who still managed to finish just outside of the top 30 on the ATP. Raonic started the year by storming into the quarterfinals of the Aussie Open with big wins over Nick Kyrgios, Stan Wawrinka and Alexander Zverev before falling to Lucas Pouille of France. He made the semifinals in Indian Wells losing a close three setter to Dominic Thiem and then, just as he was almost back inside the top-ten, saw his body unfortunately fail him once again. Raonic had to withdraw mid-tournament from three events due to injuries, including at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal. When healthy, the 28 year old is still a major force, but unfortunately too often, his body seems to refuse to cooperate.

Once again, Gaby Dabrowski proved to be a doubles force on the WTA tour in 2019.

Too finish-up we can’t overlook the continued success achieved in doubles from Ottawa’s Gaby Dabrowski who once again proved to be a threat in every event she entered. A third straight season of qualifying for the year ending WTA Tour Championships alongside her partner Julie Xu confirmed that Gaby is a world class doubles player. She’s been looking forward to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, basically since the previous summer games ended in Rio in 2016 and will certainly be in contention for a medal if partnered with Bianca Andreescu. Highlights in 2019 for Dabrowski included a tournament win in Nurnberg along with finalist results in Madrid and at Wimbledon as well. She also made the finals at Roland Garros in the mixed doubles event with regular partner Mate Pavic.

For now, all our top pros are already hard at work during their short off season, getting ready for what’s to come. Only a few more weeks until the 2020 tennis season kicks-off and before you know it, we’ll have some Grand Slam action at the Australian Open in Melbourne. If 2019 was any indication, there should be plenty more great moments from our solid crop of Ontario players. We’re looking forward to sharing those moments with you in the coming year!