On Saturday, Canada was front and centre at Rogers Cup presented by National Bank, as five homegrown heroes spoke with the media to share their impressions of the tournament and discuss the challenges they’ve faced in recent months and their countrymen’s successes.
But the biggest buzz surrounded the meteoric rise of Quebecer Félix Auger-Aliassime, who is appearing in his very first Rogers Cup in Montréal.
“It’s really just consistency,” said Milos Raonic when asked about Auger-Aliassime’s success in 2019. “Last year, he would always be able to play at a very high level but there’d be a game where he would kind of spray a few balls and lose the handles of it for a moment. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s changed. He doesn’t have those moments anymore. And, physically, he’s incredibly developed for a guy his age. He’s also mature in his approach about his tennis.”
After kicking off the season at World No. 106, Auger-Aliassime will play his first match here on Tuesday afternoon as World No. 21.
“The attention is for sure different. I had my first practice yesterday and I wasn’t expecting any people there, but then it was full and everyone was happy to come and watch me, so, of course, it’s a different feeling. I’d be lying if I said that I’m going on court and that it just feels like any other tournament. It’s special,” he admitted.
On Friday, when the draw decided that Vasek Pospisil would be his first opponent, their fellow Canadians were in total disbelief.
“I thought it was a joke. When Frank Dancevic told me about the draw, for five minutes, I was like ‘No, but, seriously, who am I playing?’” said Auger-Aliassime.
In 2017, at the last men’s event in Montréal, amidst the celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of the National Tennis Centre and Denis Shapovalov’s back-to-back wins over Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal and semi-final berth in his first year as a pro, Auger-Aliassime watched from the stands, frustrated by a wrist injury.
He did, however, make a few appearances at IGA Stadium, and his family took in his good friend Shapovalov for the week.
“At the time, it did inspire me because were’ close. He’s a good friend of mine,” explained the Quebecer. “To see he could accomplish something like that made me think my time could come and motivated me. But, today, I don’t think about what happened two years ago.”
Shapovalov opens up
Since his brilliant performances and semi-final appearance in Miami in March, Shapovalov has managed only two wins at nine tournaments. The downturn sapped his confidence and he decided to take a step back and skip last week’s Citi Open in Washington: “I just spent it with a bunch of close friends, the people closest to me, and took some time off of tennis. I went to Niagara Falls and downtown Toronto to just chill. Went to arcades and stuff like this. Went from being a tennis player to a bit of a teenager or a young adult. I just took my mind completely off of it for about two weeks. After that, towards the end, I really wanted to be back on the court. That’s when I knew it was time to kind of start again. Ever since I’ve been back, I’ve been really motivated to get back into my top level.”
Fortunately, he chose the right tournament to return, since it’s impossible not to feel confident when everything in Montréal reminds him of his dazzling success here.
“From the first ball, it just kind of felt like home for me. It felt so comfortable,” confided Shapovalov. “I’m really excited to be back out there, in front of the Montréal crowd. I feel like they really loved me two years ago, and hopefully, it’s still the same. It’s really a nice place to be, especially at a time like this where I haven’t had the craziest success for the last two months. It’s a nice warm feeling to be back in a place like this, where you’re really loved and you feel the city is behind you but also just the memories are really great from this tournament.”
Galarneau makes his début
On Saturday, Alexis Galarneau of Laval had a dream day at Rogers Cup, despite a first-round loss in the qualifying event.
The 20-year-old, who plays NCAA tennis at North Carolina State University, played in his very first Rogers Cup—a moment he won’t soon forget.
“It was a great experience, and I’ll never forget this moment,” he said. “Playing in front of family and friends was extraordinary. I have a big family and I could hear them cheering in the stands. They’re really loud, and I appreciated their support.”
Galarneau fared well at the Gatineau and Granby Challenger tournaments. He plans to wrap up the summer at the Challenger in Vancouver and then head back to North Carolina for his last semester. In January, he will kick off the season on the Challenger circuit as a pro.