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Canadian tennis boom is loud and felt in Junior Orange Bowl draws

Canadian tennis boom is loud and felt in Junior Orange Bowl draws

By Harvey Fialkov

CORAL GABLES --- The recent success of Canadian tennis players at the professional ranks has clearly trickled down to the junior level. The Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships -- which brings together the world’s best girls and boys in the 14s’ and 12s’ divisions this week –- boasts an unprecedented 40 aspiring junior players from Canada.

Genie Bouchard and Milos Raonic spearheaded the Canadian tennis boom by reaching the Wimbledon final in 2014 and 2016 respectively, each breaking into the top five. Along came Bianca Andreescu, who after reaching the Junior Orange Bowl 14s’ final, won the Orange Bowl 18s title in Plantation in 2015 before becoming the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title (US Open) in 2019 at 19. Denis Shapovalov, 23, who won two junior Grand Slams, was ranked 10th in the ATP in 2020 and reached the Wimbledon semis in 2021. 

Fresh off Canada’s first-ever Davis Cup title, led by the surging Felix Auger-Aliassime (22 and now ranked 6th in the world after winning his first four ATP titles this year) youngsters such as Sienne Manashe of Ottawa -- one of eight Canadian girls in the 12s playing at the Crandon Park Tennis Center on Key Biscayne – is filled with belief.

“Felix is winning all of these tournaments and even beat [No. 1, Carlos Alcaraz); it’s inspiring,’’ said Manashe, who dropped a tough 3-setter to London’s Aleksandra Barmicheva Tuesday. “It says that we can do it, too.”

Most of these young Canadians are products of Tennis Canada and its provincial tennis centers in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. National team coach Graeme Kassautzki, who’s based in Vancouver, traveled with five girls in the 12s’ division.

“We’re coming for everyone,’’ he said with a grin. “We’re getting tennis up to the same level as hockey. It’s inspiring to see the pros who played the same national tournaments in the same facilities as our kids. It gives them a sense of confidence and belief to see someone do it from the same setting. Why can’t they do it?”

Montreal’s Marc-Edouard pulled out a three-set victory over fellow Canadian Timofey Dobrovolsky in his first-round 12s’ match on the clay at Salvadore Park. Ontario’s Danylo Glinniyi and Jasmine Li advanced as well.

Tristan de Cande of Montreal and his teammates used a series of two-day tournaments at Cooper City’s Piccolo Park in the Casely International junior events last week as a tune-up, still smiles when thinking of getting a fist-bump from Auger-Aliassime at Stade IGA tennis center.

“Hopefully, I can be on top like Felix,’’ said de Cande, 12, born in New York with a Japanese mother and French father. “It’s really cool to see him win Davis Cup. I learned to not get angry or frustrated on the court and to stay calm even if it’s an important point. … I can play for four nations, but I will pick Canada.”

It’s back to the drawing board for de Cande, who couldn’t handle ninth-seeded Advay Singh of Frisco, Texas. National team coach Nicolas Kwan, based in Montreal, has six boys and girls in the 12s and 14s with him. His disciples prefer cement and clay surfaces to ice.

“Tennis is taking over from hockey,’’ smiled Kwan. “This tournament gives them a chance to see where they are on the international level and to enjoy the weather in Miami. The better results we have in the pros the more interest for the younger kids. Davis Cup was an inspiration and shows them their dream can come true, too.”

Several Grand Slam champions were strolling the grounds keeping an eye on their children, including Johan Kriek, winner of back-to-back Australian Open titles, who watched his daughter Karolina of Palm Beach Gardens fall to ninth-seeded Raya Kotseva of Las Vegas, 6-2, 6-0 at Crandon Park Tennis Center.

Ecuador’s Andres Gomez, ranked a career-high fourth after defeating Andre Agassi in the 1990 French Open final, will be at Crandon Park monitoring a group of his country’s boys in the 14s on Wednesday as will former No.1 Lleyton Hewitt, the Australian Davis Cup captain, who will be checking out his son Cruz, seeded 17th, play his first-round match.

Russian Mikhail Youzhny, ranked a career-high 8th in 2008 and a two-time US Open semifinalist, is working part-time with Alexander Lerman, who trains at John McEnroe’s tennis academy’s Sportime branch on Long Island. Lerman, whose mother is from Ukraine and has brought over cousins and a dog to escape the war, eked out a 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 victory over Canadian Olivier Charest in his first-round 12s’ match.

“He’s big and he’s good,’’ Youzhny said. “I didn’t see all the best until I came to the 14s Orange Bowl in 1996. It’s important to see the comparison. It’s part of the process.”

Top-seeded Taiki Takizawa, a 5-foot-10 lanky lefthander and part of a large contingent of players from Australia, won the doubles title at the Level 2 Eddie Herr International Tennis Championships in Bradenton earlier this month. He coasted in his first-round 12-and-under match, 6-0, 6-1 over Andrew MacMillan.

“If he plays well, he will probably win the tournament,’’ said Takizawa’s coach Ben Mitchell, once ranked 204th and whose claim to fame is breaking John Isner’s serve in a first-round loss in the 2012 Australian Open. “We have Emerson Jones in the girls’ 14s and are rebuilding the program.”

The success of recently retired No. 1 Ash Barty, a resurgent 22nd-ranked Nick Kyrgios and Wimbledon finalist, as well as 24th-ranked Alex de Minaur have served as an energy boost to the junior program.

The third-seeded Jones allowed one game in her first-round victory over Ontario’s Theodora Dragan. Her brother Hayden recently reached the quarterfinals of the Orange Bowl 18s. Top-seeded Hannah Klugman, who grew up in Wimbledon and got to play in the inaugural 14-and-under Junior Wimbledon tournament last July, double-bageled her first opponent at the Biltmore Hotel tennis center.

Top-seeded Cho Se-hyuk of Korea, winner of the aforementioned 14-and-under Wimbledon title and the recent Eddie Herr championships, dispatched Californian Guillermo Narcio, 6-2, 6-1 at Crandon Park.

“He’s a beast out there,’’ said Bradenton’s IMG Tennis Academy coach Mike Klousin, who has worked with Cho for the past four months. “He’s mentally very calm, never panics and stays focused on what he’s doing. “He’s a great all-around, all-court player.”

Ivan Ivanov, the third seed from Bulgaria now training at Rafael Nadal’s academy in Spain, gave up two games in his first-round victory. Ivanov lost to Cho in the 14s’ Wimbledon semis, 11-9 in the third-set super tiebreaker.

Girls’ 12s top seed Christina Lyutova, a Russian training in Seattle who lost in the Junior OB 12s’ final last year, surrendered one game in her first-round match at Crandon Park. Seventh-seeded Maggie Sohns, No. 1 in New York, where she lives in Cooperstown, got past Aarini Bhattacharya, 7-5, 6-2.

“It’s important to me and fun to play international players while representing my country,’’ said Sohns, who won the Girls 12s National Championship and her first USTA gold ball last August in Georgia.

And yes, she has been to her hometown’s National Baseball Hall of Fame several times but hopes to land in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., someday.


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