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Rivard: Cana-tucky?

May 05, 2021
written by: Paul Rivard
written by: Paul Rivard

A few years back, prodigies Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime took the ATP by storm. They’re currently on a mission to claim their place in the global Top 10 and stay there.

But who’s following in their footsteps?

It seems the next gen is already chomping at the bit, to say the least. According to these headlines in the men’s tennis section of the University of Kentucky Athletics website, two of the top three Wildcats are Canadians! 

Liam Draxl of Newmarket, Ontario earned All-Southeastern Conference (SEC) first-team honours and was named 2021 SEC Newcomer of the Year, no less.

He appears in the banner alongside fellow Canadian Gabriel Diallo, his teammate on the SEC first team. Draxl spent the last three weeks of the season at No.1 in the Oracle Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings, which bring together all the universities in NCAA Division I, and wrapped things up at 19-2.

Kentucky Sports Radio

In the opening round of the 2021 SEC Championship on April 20 and 21, Draxl and Diallo joined forces to eliminate the University of Arkansas 4-0 before being overpowered in the quarters by Texas A&M (4-1).

As for Diallo, the 6’7” colossus rose as high as No.12 in the ITA Division I rankings. His combined record (singles and doubles) was 14-6 at the close of the season.

Former ATP player and Tennis Canada coach Martin Laurendeau, who has spent years supporting junior athletes in their transition to the pro tours, shared some of his observations on the two aces.

“Draxl is a warrior,” he says. “He likes power struggles and long rallies. Imposing his iron will on his opponent and winning the psychological battle. In this respect, you could compare his mental strength and swagger to Shapovalov’s. He doesn’t have Denis’ big weapons but Liam can do it all. He’s got great hands and volleys and has an easy time changing the rhythm. He’s an unmatched fighter. His No.1 ranking is such an accomplishment.”

Laurendeau also raves about Gabriel Diallo: “He’s just so flexible, and that’s why he can hit such blows given his height. His serves keep getting better, his forehand is like a laser and his backhand is really, really solid. Unlike Draxl, he wants to win points quickly. He moves so well for a tall guy. He wants it; he’s hungry. He’s a diamond in the rough, and all he needs is to polished. He needs more match experience, which he gets on the NCAA circuit. He has great potential as a late bloomer. To be ranked 12th in just his second year is impressive, so keep an eye on him!”

If you look at the men’s tennis roster, the Canadian contingent at the University of Kentucky is pretty exciting. In addition to Draxl (Newmarket) and Diallo (Montréal), the Wildcats also count on Joshua Lapadat (London), Alexandre Leblanc (Montréal) and Jonathan Sorbo (Toronto). To give you an idea of how Canadians figure in NCAA Division I, here are our countrymen and countrywomen in their respective top 125 rankings on April 28.

NCAA / Division I – Men

Top 125 (Classement ITA)

RankingPlayerAgeUniversityRecord (2021)
1-Liam Draxl (Newmarket, On)19Kentucky19-2
12-Gabriel Diallo (Montréal, Qc)19Kentucky19-7
24-Alexis Galarneau (Laval, Qc)22NC State10-3
31-Juan Carlos Aguilar (Montréal, Qc)22Texas A&M15-10
57-Benjamin Sigouin (Vancouver, BC)21North Carolina 9-9
100-Taha Baadi (Montréal, Qc)19Wake Forest12-8
106-Nicaise Muamba (Laval, Qc)20Liberty16-5
109-Joshua Lapadat (London, On)18Kentucky11-10
114-Cleeve Harper (Calgary, Al)20Texas22-10

NCAA / Division I – Women

Top 125 (Classement ITA)

RankingPlayerAgeUniversityRecord (2021)
33-Vanessa Wong (Toronto, On)22Washington18-4
79-Layne Sleeth (Markham, On)19Florida9-1
103-Rosie Johanson (Vancouver, BC)22Virginia16-4
112-Rachel Hanford (Mississauga, On)18Minnesota10-8

The most recent Canadian success story in the NCAA is Brayden Schnur who, after winning the 2013 National Bank Canadian Junior Open Championship in Repentigny, opted for university instead of pro tennis.

He went on to become one of the greatest players in the history of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels before joining the ATP in 2016.

Some, like Fernandez, Andreescu, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov, move right up from the juniors to the pros, but there are more ways than one to carve out a career in tennis (and a pretty fantastic one at that). American varsity tennis remains an excellent option for our athletes. Beyond its very respectable level of competition, the socio-academic structure it provides shouldn’t be discounted. A degree and an eventual career outside tennis gives so many young people a plan B in case their initial goal to be an ATP or WTA globetrotter doesn’t work out.

You, in Roger’s shoes

If you happen to be Roger Federer’s biggest fan and have some really, really deep pockets, you should definitely book your ticket to London and a few nights at the Savoy, the Dorchester, the Connaught or Claridge’s in the third week of June, when the Swiss Maestro will make his way to Christie’s to auction off some of the memorabilia from his personal collection.

If you happen to be the FedExpress’ biggest fan but are feeling a little short on cash at the moment, power up your laptop after June 23 to browse the more modest lots.

Yep, the Mighty Fed is selling off some of the apparel, shoes and racquets that made him GOAT in 20 lots for his 20 Grand Slam titles.

Unsurprisingly, the big-ticket item is the shirt, shorts and racquet from his only major win on the red clay in Paris in 2009. Take a close look at the shoes and you’ll see some of the hallowed dirt.

The main lots will be actioned off on June 23. Here’s a quick overview of what you can expect. We’ve even converted the prices into Canadian dollars for your shopping convenience! 

  • Wimbledon 2005: shirt and shoes ($25 700 to $42 800)
  • Wimbledon 2007: outfit and racquet ($51 400 to $85 600)
  • Roland-Garros 2009: outfit and racquet ($85 600 to $120 000)
  • Wimbledon 2012: cardigan and racquet ($68 500 and $102 750)
  • Wimbledon 2017: outfit, racquet and bag ($51 400 to $85 600)

There’s also a cool video right here.

And don’t worry, Roger didn’t forget anyone.

Because he truly is the epitome of perfection, he’s set up a second online auction of 300 items that will run from June 23 to July 14. The headbands, shoes and socks start at around C$170.

The ultimate goal is to raise $2 million Swiss francs (C$2 704 000).

Why? I mean, let’s face it, he likely doesn’t need the money. But other people do.

In 2003, at the age of 22, Federer established the Roger Federer Foundation. Eighteen years later, he has raised a total of C$81 million dollars (half of which is from his personal fortune). Since its creation, the organization has invested nearly C$70 million to support projects in 7 000 schools around the world, from southern Africa to Switzerland, and provided over 1.5 million children with access to quality education.

GOAT, indeed.

We need to talk about Benoît

Unacceptable and intolerable.

Those two words suffice, even though there are many, many terms that could sum up how fans around the world feel about Benoît Paire’s recent conduct.

Benoit Paire hits a backhand
Photo : Mike Lawrence/ATP Tour

On the heels of yet another on-court tantrum by the Frenchman, the Fédération Française de tennis (FFT) has chosen to exclude Paire from qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Of course, there is no guarantee that he would have been chosen, but unless there is a major change among the French players over the next six weeks, he could have qualified. According to the Olympic rule, the singles draw is made up of 56 players, based on the June 14 ranking (at the end of the French Open). Therefore, as the 35th player in the world (as of May 3, 2021) and 4th in his country, Paire would probably have headed to Tokyo.

But the FFT has made its decision. And the right one!

On April 24, a day after the outburst, major sponsor Babolat issued a statement that sounds a lot like a warning to Paire and another mercurial player, Fabio Fognini.

At Babolat, tennis runs in our blood. We believe in the strength of our sport and, defend its values of respect, fair play, team spirit, friendship and fun of the game. Sometimes a family member can go through a complex period and forget the importance of these values and the example we must pass on to all fans of the sport. Concerned about the recent outbursts of Benoit Paire and Fabio Fognini, we have informed them that we do not approve of their behavior. Today, we reaffirmed our values and the importance of respecting them. We will think in more detail with Benoit and Fabio about the suites to be given and see together how to accompany them.”

A month after tanking against Argentinian qualifier Francisco Cerundolo on March 5 in Buenos Aires, Paire lost his game and his cool again when he erupted in a tirade in Monte Carlo.

In the 15-month period since January 2020, his record sits at a pathetic 6-22. He said himself that he doesn’t care about winning or losing because he gets a cheque just for showing up.

benoit paire sitting on the chair umpire's chair with crossed legs and a phone in his hands
Photo : Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour

But the real question is when will the ATP drop the hammer and put a stop to these sad spectacles in which an athlete spits on the sport and its fans?

YouTube has plenty of compilations of Benoît Paire’s don’t care attitude and outbursts. Paradoxically, there are also countless clips of extraordinary shots by an extremely talented player who seems to be intent on killing his career.   

Let’s hope he reaches out for the help he needs.

“I will kill you!”

Photo : @PlayinLille

Benoît Paire is neither the first nor the last in the long list of hotheaded players. 

There have been balls shot outside stadiums, broken racquets and hysterics of all sorts.

But death threats?

That’s exactly what happened on April 30 in the quarters of the Challenger in Rome.

Giulio Zeppieri, a 19-year-old Italian who is currently ranked No. 317, flew off the handle toward the end of his match against No. 176 Juan Manuel Cerundolo (yes… Francisco’s brother). Down 6-3, 4-0, Zeppieri began berating the chair umpire. Italian journalist Stefano Berlincioni promptly posted a video of the episode on Twitter. It went a little something like this:

Umpire: “Stop, stop, stop. I am not taking it personally but think before you speak.”

Zeppieri: “Do you want to argue? Come out and I will kill you. Come out if you have balls.”

At the time of writing, the ATP was silent on the matter.

I can’t really recall a more disturbing threat on the court.

Except, perhaps, for the incident in the 2009 US Open semi when Serena Williams threatened to shove a ball down a lineswoman’s throat before being thrown out of her match against eventual champion Kim Clijsters.

Deep breath, everyone. Deeeeeeeeeep breath.

Have a great week!

Get in touch with me!

Email: privard@tenniscanada.com

Twitter: @paul6rivard

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