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It could be a big year for Canadian tennis
All eyes in the tennis world are on Australia right now — and really, they’re on Novak Djokovic, who won his court battle to enter the country despite visa issues stemming from his vaccination status.
But Djokovic isn’t in the clear yet, with Australia’s immigration minister threatening to use his power to deport the top-ranked player. Meanwhile, the Serb said he had not travelled within 14 days of landing in Australia on his immigration form, yet he was seen both in his home country and in Spain in that time period.
The Australian Open, at which Djokovic hopes to break a tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the men’s Grand Slam championship record, begins next Monday in Melbourne.
Most competitors have been stationed in Australia for some time now, where tune-up tournaments happened throughout the country and Canada claimed its first-ever ATP Cup title.
But once the Djokovic dust settles, the season-opening major will take centre stage. Here’s where some of the Canadian tennis contingent stands:
After beating No. 17 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in the ATP Cup final, Auger-Aliassime climbed to ninth in ATP rankings — the same spot at which he’s to be seeded for the Australian Open when the draw is revealed on Thursday. Auger-Aliassime, 21, reached his first-ever Grand Slam quarter-final at Wimbledon last year, only to one-up himself with a run to the U.S. Open semis a few months later. That sets up a natural progression for the Montreal native, whose next steps should be to play for a major championship and to claim his first individual ATP singles title. In fact, Auger-Aliassime has never won so much as a single set in the eight tournament finals he’s played since 2019. Perhaps his clutch performance at the ATP Cup was the spark he needed.
Fernandez’s 2021 would be a good template for Auger-Aliassime to follow after his fellow Montrealer won both her first tournament (the Monterrey Open back in March) and reached her first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open in September. For Fernandez, the question now is how to produce a sequel, though she’s still just 19 and only two years removed from her Grand Slam debut in Melbourne in 2020. The Canadian, ranked a career-high 24th, lost in the first round of both her previous Australian Open appearances, so a victory or two Down Under could make a good building block for that follow-up campaign.
The Richmond Hill, Ont., native has been an ATP Tour staple since taking most improved player honours in 2017. In that time, he reached a career-high ranking of 10th (last August) and made three singles finals, winning his lone title at the Stockholm Open in 2019. Now 22 years old, Shapovalov appears to have reached a point in his career where he shows occasional greatness (like making his first major semifinal at Wimbledon last year) before suffering a frustrating loss (like as the top seed in the first round of his very next tournament). He beat No. 21 Pablo Carreno Busta in the ATP Cup final — but to show true growth, he’ll need to win matches like that consistently over the course of the season.
Bianca Andreescu and Milos Raonic
The oft-injured Canadians each withdrew from the Australian Open. In making the announcement more than a month ago, Andreescu said she needed more time to reset physically and mentally following a year in which multiple COVID-19 scares caused her to “not feel like [herself].” She still managed some success despite that, making the Miami Open final in April before retiring mid-match with an ankle injury. Raonic, who’s fallen all the way to 69th, cited a heel injury in backing out of the season-opening major. The 31-year-old will have missed each of the last four Grand Slams.
Other than Fernandez, the doubles player was arguably the most successful Canadian on tour in 2021. Alongside Brazilian partner Luisa Stefani, the Ottawa native made three finals, picking up a championship at the National Bank Open in Montreal. Dabrowski, 29, eventually reached a ranking of fifth — the highest ever for a Canadian women’s doubles player. But she switched partners for the coming season to No. 18 Giuliana Olmos of Mexico. The new pairing’s first big test will come at the Australian Open.
Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team is set. The roster, highlighted by Olympic stars Marie-Philip Poulin, Brianne Jenner and Sarah Nurse, didn’t feature much surprise, given there were only three cuts from the group that’s currently centralized in a bubble in Calgary. And in further effort to avoid the virus, the team won’t play another competitive game until the start of its Olympic tournament on Feb. 2 against Switzerland — two days before the opening ceremony in Beijing. After taking gold at every Games between 2002 and 2014, Canada stumbled to silver following a shootout loss to the U.S. at the most recent Winter Olympics, meaning the latest edition of the team will be charged with righting the ship. We now know three groups of Canadian athletes headed to China (figure skating and men’s and women’s curling are the others), but with a deadline to nominate athletes to the national Olympic committee next Wednesday, you can expect a flood of announcements in the coming week. Check out the full 23-woman hockey roster here.
Ontario university and college athletes are sidelined, but no one seems sure why. Under the province’s latest COVID-19 restrictions, seven “elite amateur” sports leagues were permitted to move forward, yet student-athletes — not granted that “elite” status — were shut out of the field of play. The ruling, meant to protect students from the raging Omicron variant, instead caused confusion among athletes and experts alike, with a government official simply saying that university and college sports would continue “when it is safe to do so.” One “elite” league, the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association, is a high-school circuit from which players often graduate into the post-secondary level. Meanwhile, university and college athletes are already coming off a 2020-21 campaign in which sports were wiped out due to the pandemic. Now, they find themselves in limbo once again. Read more about the decision and ensuing reaction in senior contributor Shireen Ahmed’s debut column for CBC Sports.
You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.
Tennis-‘I’m not God! Can’t win every match’ – Osaka proud despite early exit
Naomi Osaka was at peace with herself after yet another failed attempt at defending a Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and the former world number one was especially proud of the way she has managed to mould her mindset to deal with tough losses.
The former world number one crashed out from Melbourne Park after a third round loss in the deciding set tiebreaker to American Amanda Anisimova — the same stage the four-times major winner exited the U.S. Open four months back.
Following the Flushing Meadows defeat, a tearful Osaka told a news conference that she was taking a break from the sport, raising more concern about her mental health struggles that forced her to miss parts of the tennis season.
The soft spoken and self-confessed introvert declared at the start of the 2022 season that she was looking to have more fun on court and enjoy playing the sport.
“I would definitely say I’m proud of myself for this,” the Japanese player told reporters on Friday. “Though to me it didn’t feel like a short amount of time. It felt like ages ago.
“This for me is the biggest step. Even though I lost. I was really focused throughout the entire match, and I didn’t have a dip. So that’s really good. Hopefully as the season continues, I’ll be able to keep this up, and get even better at it.”
It was the fourth time that Osaka had failed to defend a Grand Slam title but on Friday she held two matchpoints against the American – something that also made her proud.
Osaka felt her defeat by 60th-ranked Anisimova showed the depth of women’s tennis.
“I fought for every point. I can’t be sad about that,” Osaka said, adding that she was yet to decide on her schedule before the WTA 1000 event in Indian Wells in March.
“I’m not God! I can’t win every match. The last match that I played in New York I think I had a completely different attitude.
“Of course I lost, but I’m happy with how it went. I just want to go into this year knowing that I’ll play the whole year and I’ll just have the greatest attitude ever.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Christian Radnedge)
Canadiens' Allen to miss eight weeks with lower-body injury – TSN
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen will miss eight weeks with a lower-body injury, the team announced early Friday morning.
Allen, 31, sustained the injury during the second period of a 5-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Jan. 12.
The 6-foot-2 goaltender has been the primary goaltender for the Canadiens this season with Carey Price unavailable due to his knee injury.
The Fredericton, N.B., native has a 5-16-2 record with a .901 save percentage and 3.15 goals-against average.
Allen has a 164-122-33 record with a .911 save percentage and 2.56 GAA in his career.
Canada's Shapovalov wins, reigning champ Osaka crashes out at Australian Open – CBC Sports
Canada’s Denis Shapovalov will face a tough test in the fourth-round after his win at the Australian Open on Friday. Meanwhile, defending champion Naomi Osaka didn’t make it to a much-anticipated contest against top-ranked Ash Barty.
The 14th-seeded Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., beat No. 23 Reilly Opelka 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Friday.
That sets up a match against Olympic gold medallist Alexander Zverev, who had a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Radu Albot, a 124th-ranked qualifier from Moldova.
Shapovalov has won two of his previous six meetings with Zverev.
WATCH | Shapovalov defeats Opelka in Melbourne:
Four-time champion Osaka was ousted by Amanda Anisimova, a 20-year-old American ranked 60th in the world, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
“I knew I had to be playing sharp if I wanted to give myself a chance,” said Anisimova, who took out Olympic champion Belinda Bencic in the second round and then accounted for the 2021 Australian Open champion.
After losing the first set, Anisimova knew she needed to get more aggressive or she would be out of the tournament.
Anisimova saved two match points in the third set, serving to stay in the match, and ended it with an ace. She hit 46 winners to Osaka’s 21.
It’s the fourth time Osaka has been unable to defend a major title, and the 11th time in a Grand Slam she has been knocked out in the third round, including last year’s U.S. Open.
Barty continues to roll at home
After winning the title last year — her second at Melbourne Park in three years — Osaka withdrew from the French Open in the second round and skipped Wimbledon as she took a break for her mental health. After an early loss at the U.S. Open, she took an extended layoff to reset and arrived at the year’s first major with a seeding of No. 13.
Barty advanced with a 6-2, 6-3 win over 30th-seeded Camila Giorgi on Rod Laver Arena, the match starting later and finishing earlier than the Osaka-Anisimova contest on the adjoining Margaret Court Arena.
Barty has only conceded eight games and spent less than three hours on court in the first three rounds at Melbourne Park. The Wimbledon champion and 2019 French Open winner is aiming to be the first Australian woman to win her home championship since 1978.
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka’s overpowered 15th-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-0, 6-2 to reach the fourth round at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2016.
Before she had a chance to analyze both players she might meet next, a question was posed to her son about the two-time Australian Open champion’s third-round performance.
Five-year-old Leo, wearing his sunglasses in the news conference room and sitting on his mother’s knee, responded succinctly: “Awesome!”
Azarenka thanked her son, then listed the positive points from her perspective. Those included: “The amount of aggressivity I could bring point after point, applying a lot of pressure, the consistency. Taking control of my end of the court.”
She will next play French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who rallied from a set and a break down against 26th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko to win 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Since a quarter-final run in Australia in 2016, Azarenka lost first-round matches last year and in 2019, and missed the hard-court tournament in 2017, 2018 and 2020.
The 32-year-old former No. 1 from Belarus is feeling comfortable right now, fulfilling the dual roles of player and mother in Melbourne.
“I always feel privileged that I’m able to have him here,” Azarenka said. “These kind of moments are really priceless for me. To be able for me to share that with my son is pretty incredible.”
Fourth-round pairings that were set up Friday include fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari against 21st-seeded Jessica Pegula and No. 8 Paula Badosa against Madison Keys, who held off Wang Qiang 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) on Friday.
Nadal cruises to victory
Rafael Nadal wrapped up the Day 5 program on Rod Laver Arena by beating Olympic silver medalist Karen Khachanov 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 and continuing his bid for a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title.
Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini fended off 18-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz 6-2, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (5).
Miomir Kecmanovic continued to make the most of the absence of fellow Serbian Novak Djokovic, reaching the fourth round at a major for the first time with a 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-2, 7-5 win over 25th-seeded Lorenzo Sonego.
He will next play 17th-seeded Gael Monfils, who beat No. 16 Cristian Garin 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-3.
Kecmanovic had been drawn to play the top-ranked Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open champion, in the first round. But Djokovic was deported on the eve of the tournament for failing to meet Australia’s strict COVID-19 regulations.
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