A little closer to home:
While we’d all like their learning curves to be a little faster, the young veterans have certainly made a place for themselves among the world elite. They thrill us and keep us glued to our TVs, tablets and phones as we follow their progress and achievements among the best of the best.
When I first started thinking about this piece, I browsed through the Top 20 and considered each player’s talents and ranking.
They’re all great, but not necessarily in every aspect of the game. The closest man to ATP perfection is the leader of the pack, Novak Djokovic.
If we look beyond the recent controversy that’s plagued him, we must acknowledge that he’s masterful. And remarkably so.
Despite running behind his rivals due to that aforementioned controversy, he’s quickly catching up as far as his form. He can attribute his 27-month reign to his ability to align every quality needed in tennis on the regular.
That’s something none of his rivals have been able to do, as experienced, legendary or potentially talented as they may be.
But back to our Canadians.
This season, they hit the ground running at the ATP Cup. Since then, Félix has been the more consistent of the two, even though Indian Wells and Miami were a bit of a bust, and his start on clay failed to impress.
Last week in Rome, we would have loved for unlucky Friday the 13th to throw up a few roadblocks for their respective opponents in the quarters. Still, our heroes put up valiant battles against two big players. Shapovalov fell 7-6 (7), 7-5 to Ruud, and Auger-Aliassime lost to Djokovic 7-5, 7-6. Both matches were exciting to watch.
The Canadians have proven they have what it takes to make it in the big leagues. Even with his persistent foot injury, Rafa Nadal and his aura have the power to discourage a lot of players, but Shapo found a way to get passed him for the second time in his career. What’s more, he did it on the Spaniard’s favourite surface.
Denis and FAA still make too many unforced errors, double faults and bad decisions, but as the months and years go by, they have fewer and fewer bad habits and are adding more and more positive elements to their games.
Shapovalov can be inconsistent, but there’s a lot less yelling on the court since he’s found a way to channel his inner zen. He slipped up in Rome, but the way he’s able to claw his way back into a match is proof he’s got things under control.
As for Félix, his dependable forehand serves him well. In Rome, he started to throw in a few more drop shots, and his patience in long rallies is really starting to pay off. I don’t think it’s necessary to repeat that he’s among the quickest and most athletic players on the tour—two physical abilities that make him an exceptional player.
The time when Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov can tick off most of the boxes on the ATP report card by which only the greatest players are measured isn’t far off.
Before you know it, they’ll be fixtures in the Top 10 and the Top 5.
Novak Djokovic will remember 2022 for a lot of reasons.
His year got off to a nightmarish start, but the clay courts where the Djoker returned will always remain the place where he hit 1,000 wins—something only four ATP legends achieved before him.
His 1,000th came in the semis in Rome, the final stopover en route to Roland-Garros, with a win over Casper Ruud (6-4, 6-3).
The very next day, Djokovic hit no.1,001 when he overpowered Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final (6-0, 7-6(5)). The win also made him the first player in history to triumph at six different Masters 1000 events without dropping a set.
After just one match on the hard courts in Dubai, the World No.1 embarked on a run worthy of his ranking. A month later, his record was 10–3.
Djokovic became the fifth member of the select group of men with 1,000 wins, joining the ranks of some of the biggest names in the game.
Player Record Win %
Incidentally, take a look at the win percentages. Nadal leads the group, followed by Djokovic and Federer.
It’s pretty remarkable that there are three active players in the Top 5, and there’s little chance they’ll be ousted any time soon. Following them on the list is Andy Murray with 701.
As far as the younger generation, 25-year-old Alexander Zverev is ahead with 331. There’s also Carlos Alcaraz, who seems poised to win often and for a long time. He’s only 939 wins away from 1,000.
Let’s circle back in a few years.
He’s said it over and over again: Roland-Garros will be his last tournament. Indeed, the French Open is where it all began for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
He played in his second to last event on May 16, about 465 km south of Paris, on the clay courts in Lyon, where he lost to Alex Molcan of Slovakia (6-4, 6-4).
At the post-match presser, Tsonga said: “Roland-Garros, I could almost tattoo it on my body. At 11 or 12 years old, I had my first practice lessons there. I played in French competitions there until I was 14 or 16 years old, before I trained there. I knew every corner of the old stadium. It’s obviously symbolic to finish at the French Open.”
The Frenchman was honoured after the match in Lyon. His wife Noura El Shwekh, their son Sugar, his sister Sasha, his brother Enzo and tournament director Thierry Ascione, Tsonga’s friend, coach and business partner in their All In tennis academy, were in hand.
Back in 2008, 22-year-old Jo-Wilfried Tsonga shook the ATP when he battled his way into the finals of the Australian Open—the closest he’s ever gotten to a Slam crown. He got as far as the semis at home in Paris in 2013 and 2015.
Tsonga rose as high as World No.5 in 2012 and has lifted 18 ATP winner’s trophies and the 2017 Davis Cup.
Let’s wish him the best of luck at Roland-Garros. Tennis will miss him.
No, Isnerman isn’t a superhero franchise you may have missed.
It’s actually the fun nickname of the improbable doubles team that came so, so close to winning the men’s title in Rome on May 15.
John Isner, Diego Schwartzman and the 38 centimetres (or, if you prefer, 1’3”) that separate them joined forces at the last clay court competition ahead of Roland-Garros. Their alliance made for comical photos and gives new meaning to the expression opposites attract in tennis.
As it turns out, they make a great team!
In the Eternal City, Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic of Croatia found Isnerman far less amusing.
Last season’s no.1 men’s duo was pushed to the limit in the final and had to dig deep to seal their three-set win (6-2, 6-7 (6), 12-10).
Pavic and Mektic are No.3 and No.5 in doubles, respectively. Schwartzman and Isner are No.125 and No.20.
Previously, we’d only seen Isnerman shake hands before and after they went head-to-head in their singles matches or on the practice courts, where they sometimes like to ham it up for the cameras.
At the 2018 Laver Cup gala in Chicago, Schwartzman even introduced his teammate as his long-lost twin.
Going into Rome, Diego Schwartzman had only competed in six doubles matches in 2022 (2–4). Luckily, he was able to count on 37-year-Isner, who plays a lot and wins a lot.
This season, the American has been a contender in seven doubles events. He appeared in six out of six semis at regular tournaments (the seventh was ATP Cup), reached the final in Rome and won back-to-back titles at home in the US, in Indian Wells and Miami.
If that weren’t enough, he has an overall record of 23–5 with five different partners: Schwartzman, Taylor Fritz (ATP Cup), Jack Sock (Dallas, Indian Wells), Hubert Hurkacz (Miami and Madrid) and Hans Hach Verdugo (Acapulco).
John Isner is so much more than the servebot label he’s stuck with: he’s an excellent, well-rounded player who consistently reaches great heights.
Follow all our Canadians in action here.