NEW YORK — Leylah Fernandez stood on the court as every person sitting in Arthur Ashe Stadium looked on, enraptured by her every word.
The 19-year-old had just won her quarterfinal match at the US Open against No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5), and advanced to her first major semifinal. After such a seemingly-improbable run, ESPN’s Rennae Stubbs asked the question that many had been thinking and tweeting throughout the tournament.
“What is it that they’re feeding you up North in Canada that’s producing such incredible, inspiring tennis this week?”
Without missing a beat, Fernandez answered:
“I would say it’s the maple syrup.”
The audience roared in appreciation, and the moment went immediately viral. While Fernandez was obviously joking, it has become abundantly clear that something special is happening with Canadian tennis.
Just hours after Fernandez’s triumph, countryman Felix Auger-Aliassime, 21, followed suit with a win via retirement over Carlos Alcaraz. It marks the first time Canada has two players, male or female, in the semifinal round at the US Open during the Open era and is just the second time at any major. It’s the latest in a string of history-making results for the federation, two years after Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title (at the 2019 US Open).
“A decade ago, there were only about 50,000 kids in Canada playing tennis regularly,” said Michael Downey, CEO of Tennis Canada. “But now our most recent research says there are about 250,000. And we know that’s all credit to our players who have paved the way. The first inspiration was Milos [Raonic] in 2011 at the Aussie Open and afterward, and then Eugenie Bouchard at Wimbledon in 2014. This motivated the next generation.
“And then you had what Bianca achieved in 2019, and the men reaching the Davis Cup final that year. These are all the waves that inspired kids to pick up a racket. And now we’re in a situation where the country’s getting great results and Leylah and Felix, and Bianca and [world No. 10] Denis Shapovalov, are just feeding off each other and making each other better.”
Canada hasn’t always produced Grand Slam-contending talent. When Downey took over the CEO role at the federation in 2004, there wasn’t a single player, male or female, ranked in the top 100. And that wasn’t a fluke — Downey said it had been seven years since a Canadian player had made it into double digits.
In a country known for its cold weather, it’s an uphill battle to produce top-quality tennis players. Indoor courts are often hard to find, and many players still don’t have consistent access. In the past it was hard to attract promising young athletic talent, especially when competing with the uber-popular hockey.
But things began to change with Raonic’s success. After his run in the Australian Open in 2011, where he went through qualifying and into the round of 16, and his first ATP title at the Pacific Coast Championships soon after, he became the highest-ranking Canadian male player in history at No. 37.
By 2013, he had reached the top 10.
Bouchard captivated the world with her 2014 season, when she reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and the French Open, and then the final at Wimbledon. As she and Raonic both made the final four at the All England Club, it was the first time two Canadians had done so.
Bouchard lost in the Wimbledon final, but she became the first Canadian to crack the top five in the rankings — and her global popularity skyrocketed.
After Fernandez’s win over defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round, she credited Bouchard as an early inspiration. She was an 11-year-old training in Montreal, also Bouchard’s hometown, during Bouchard’s breakthrough and the achievement had a lasting impact.
“It’s not just Leylah, all of these kids — Felix, Bianca and Denis — were all inspired by Genie and Milos,” Downey said. “They both trained at the National Training Centre in Montreal, and then Leylah and Felix were at that same facility, and then they’re saying, ‘Wait a minute, they were right here a few years ago, if they can win, I can too.’ I think that created this belief in themselves and their ability to win.
“The bar used to be, ‘How can I make it to the top 100?’ but now that’s just an amber street sign — they’re driving right through it now. In the past decade, I think it’s gone from, ‘I don’t belong’ to ‘I belong and should go deep in tournaments’ to ‘I know I can win.’ It’s a fundamental culture change that you’re seeing.”
There were six Canadians competing in the main draw at the US Open — Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil on the men’s side and Fernandez, Andreescu and Rebecca Marino on the women’s. Raonic and Bouchard are both currently sidelined with injuries. Gaby Dabrowski, 29, is still alive in the doubles competition and will be playing in the semifinals with her partner, Luisa Stefani (of Brazil), looking to clinch her first major doubles title. She has twice won in mixed doubles.
Two matches now stand between Fernandez and Auger-Aliassime and their respective titles, but they both will have their hands full in the semifinals. Fernandez takes on world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka on Thursday, and Auger-Aliassime plays two-time major finalist Daniil Medvedev on Friday.
Downey hopes no matter what happens, what they’ve accomplished will enthuse the next generation of Canadian players and spark someone else to pick up a racket for the first time. Both with multicultural backgrounds and both the children of immigrants — Fernandez’s father is from Ecuador and Auger-Aliassime’s father is from Togo — he believes Fernandez and Auger-Aliassime represent the “essence of Canada” and subsequently have the power to reach even more of the population.
Instead of being in New York cheering them on, he remains in Toronto and is trying to capitalize on their momentum, advocating for more indoor courts across the country and convincing local municipalities to put temporary bubbles on outdoor courts as the winter months near. Growing the game remains his top priority, he said, but will cross the border for the weekend if one or both advance to the final.
Fernandez and Auger-Aliassime have undoubtedly furthered raised the rapidly growing profile for Tennis Canada during their impressive runs, as well as proven to be part of an exciting group of young players from all over the world expected to dominate the game for years to come. Auger-Aliassime is proud of what he and Fernandez have already achieved but believes it could be even better.
“It’s great for Canada,” Auger-Aliassime said on Tuesday. “It’s great for Quebec. We’re both born in Montreal. I mean, I never thought a day like this would come. Both a little girl and a little boy from Montreal, both at the same time in the semifinals of the US Open. It’s special. It’s special for us. I hope the people back home appreciate the moment also. We do a lot.
“It’s great. But it would be amazing if we were both in a final, right?”
Sick Jon Rahm withdraws from Fortinet Championship's Wednesday pro-am – Golf Channel
World No. 1 Jon Rahm withdrew from the Fortinet Championship’s Wednesday pro-am because of a stomach illness.
Rahm was supposed to tee off at 8:40 a.m. PST and moved his press conference to 2 p.m. But he then canceled his pre-tournament presser altogether and the Tour announced he would not appear at Silverado Resort and Spa’s North Course at all on Wednesday.
The 26-year-old Spaniard is scheduled to tee off at 7:44 a.m. local time in Round 1.
After competing this week in Napa Valley at the PGA Tour’s season opener, Rahm is expected to travel to Whistling Straights, Wisconsin, for next week’s Ryder Cup.
Oilers Rookie Notebook: Dylan Holloway’s wrist injury a tough blow – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — The first blow came even before Edmonton Oilers rookie camp had opened, with prized prospect Dylan Holloway going under the knife Tuesday to repair a broken scaphoid bone in his left wrist.
What made it even more disappointing was, after busting the bone in the NCAA playoffs with the University of Wisconsin, Holloway had surgery after Wisconsin’s season ended in late March in Chicago that was designed to have him ready to play hockey this fall. But that surgery failed.
Holloway, Edmonton’s first-round pick in 2020 (14th overall) lunched with Holland during a Calgary world junior camp in August, and the Oilers GM didn’t like what he heard.
“He was telling me that he couldn’t shoot, couldn’t take draws. He was getting frustrated,” Holland said. “We were five to six months down the road … and there was very little healing going on. Probably about 30 per cent. The decision was made: nothing was really happening, and we’d need to start the process all over again.”
Holloway is only 19, but can play in the American Hockey League. He was likely destined for Bakersfield this year, which is definitely where he will be assigned when he heals up sometime around the new year.
No Room At The Inn
The Oilers roster is pretty much set with veterans, with precious few (if any) spots for a youngster to worm his way into the NHL.
But two left shot defencemen who may have the best shot — along with left winger Tyler Benson — are both in town and ready to begin their North American transition in earnest. Dmitri Samorukov and Philip Broberg are at the Rookie Camp prep’ing for main camp, where it isn’t a total reach that one might be able to stick around.
“They’re both going to be in North America,” said Holland, who had good news when doctors cleared Samorukov for full contact after a January shoulder injury suffered in Moscow. “He was playing very well in the KHL, but hasn’t played hockey since January. Two years of pro — one in Bakersfield, one in (the KHL) — and I’m also excited to see where Broberg is at, like everybody else.
“Do they force their way onto the Edmonton Oilers roster? Or do they have to go down to the American League and continue their development into NHL defencemen? That’s what we’re trying to find out, but they are both here (in North America) to stay.”
Samorukov, 22, played a season in Bakersfield then went home to CSKA Moscow last year, the club where he was raised as a player. Broberg, 20, spent two developmental seasons in Sweden’s top league with Skelleftea, while limping through the 2021 World Junior here in Edmonton.
“I had a knee injury and a shoulder injury at the World Juniors. It was difficult,” said the defenceman, who played through the pain. “It is an honour to play for your country, especially at the World Juniors.”
Broberg said he was about “80 percent” when he returned to Skelleftea, and by season’s end, his minutes were down. Samorukov injured his shoulder in a January battle drill during practice and lost the back half of his KHL season, but says the last two seasons have him ready to challenge for a spot on an NHL blue line.
“When I first came to the AHL two years ago, it was really good for me. Learning how to be a pro player,” he said. “Then, the season in the KHL, I established myself as a pro player. Now, we’re trying to knock in the door. To do our best.”
Remember, Samorukov first came over as a 17-year-old to play three junior seasons for the Guelph Storm. He had 45 points in 59 games in his 19-year-old season and then nicely quarterbacked the Russian powerplay at the World Juniors in Vancouver-Victoria. But the 197-pounmder has settled on a less offensive game as a pro.
“Of course when you come from junior you have a lot of points. You think you might be something special,” he smiled. “Then you realize you have some guys who can really get points. (You learn) what kind of game you have to play. I know who I am right now.”
Samorukov was part of the ask by Arizona when they were peddling goalie Darcy Kuemper, a package considered too rich by Holland. Now, we’ll begin to get a closer look at the 2017 third-rounder, who moves a nice puck and stands six-foot-three.
“This rookie camp offers him a good chance to get up and running,” said Bakersfield head coach Jay Woodcroft, “so he’s feeling confident heading into main camp next week.”
Is this finally the year that Tyler Benson cracks the Oilers roster? It had better be — he is waiver eligible now, at age 23 years of age with four pro seasons under his belt.
With left wingers Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Warren Foegele in town, it’s pretty clear that Benson will have to make the club as a fourth-line left-winger and try to move up from there. He’s in against Devin Shore and Brendan Perlini for that 4-LW spot, as a former candidate for exceptional status as a junior now finds himself in a utility role if he wants to get his NHL career off the ground.
“We came up with a plan to develop different areas of his game (in Bakersfield last season),” Woodcroft said. “For example, his board work. Introducing him to the penalty kill. Something he had minimal experience on, but something we felt provided a line of sight or a pathway to … make our parent club.
“Tyler was a point-per-game player last year and played on what I felt was the most dominant line in the Pacific Division of the AHL. He made plays,” his coach said. “The opportunity before him is obvious. He feels like he’s in top shape, mentally ready to go, and he’s excited about that opportunity.”
Edmonton’s recent first-round pick (22nd overall) Xavier Bourgault hit the gym hard this summer, putting on 10 lbs. He comes to camp at six feet tall and 172 pounds, so he has a ways to go.
Blue Jays optimistic Jose Berrios won’t miss next start after abdominal scare – Sportsnet.ca
After the Blue Jays’ 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, the team reported that Berrios left the game due to abdominal tightness on his left side and received post-game treatment.
Berrios threw seven innings of one run ball Tuesday, striking out six and allowing only four hits.
“He’s doing fine,” Montoyo said. “He’s doing a lot better than we thought, which is great news. Actually, you might get to see him playing catch in a little bit to see how he’s doing. He did all the tests. Everything looks good.”
The right-handed pitcher who the Blue Jays acquired at the trade deadline is 11-8 on the season, with a 3.43 ERA in 173.1 innings pitched.
The Blue Jays wrap up their series with the Rays on Wednesday at 3:07 p.m. ET/ 12:07 p.m. PT on Sportsnet and SN Now.
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