Felix Auger-Aliassim himself could hardly believe it. “I never thought that one day such a day would come. A little girl and a little boy from Montreal reach the semifinals of the US Open. This is something very special,” the 21-year-old tennis professional said on Tuesday after his quarter-final win against Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz.
A few hours earlier, Leyla Fernandez continued her impressive winning streak with another sensational victory at Flushing Meadows and dramatically beat world number five Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, behind former champions Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber. When asked about the secret to Canada’s success, the 19-year-old left-handed woman smiled mischievously: “I think it’s maple syrup.”
For the first time ever, a Canadian player will advance to the semifinals of two individual competitions at the US Open. A development that, upon closer inspection, is no longer as surprising. Auger-Aliassim was already in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon after beating eventual Olympic champion Alexander Zverev, with his compatriot Denis Shapovalov also making the semi-finals in London.
And two years ago Bianca Andreescu won Canada’s first Grand Slam title in New York. Ice hockey’s homeland is suddenly a force in tennis as well, with no other country being represented twice in the individual semifinals at the US Open.
heady style of play
Auger-Aliasime, referring to the great efforts made by Canadian tennis in recent years, said, “I hope those back home will appreciate these successes.” In fact, the vast country with only 37 million residents has a national elite program, which sees tennis talent in its infancy. Leyla Fernandez almost fell through the cracks. Trainers in the province of Quebec considered her too thin, and so her father, George, took over the training of his daughter.
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Fernandez, who thrilled people at Flushing Meadows with his daring offensive game, is still short for tennis position with 1.68m. But that doesn’t stop him from developing an incredible stretch, especially with his forehand, and from acting extremely powerful. She impresses herself with her playing style and lives up to her emotions after almost every point on the pitch.
It goes well with the audience and Fernandez knows how to use it cleverly. “Thank you very much. You helped me to this day”, she said against Svitolina after 6:3, 3:6 and 7:6 (7:5).
ahead of the semifinals
All the young Canadians who are currently so strong have one thing in common: they all come from immigrant families. Fernandez’s mother has Filipino roots and his father was born in Ecuador. Andreescu’s family came from Romania, Shapovalov’s from Russia and Auger-Aliassim’s father from Togo. Milos Raonic also fits the list, having moved with his parents from Montenegro to Canada at the age of three and is still the only male Wimbledon finalist in the country to this day.
As for the US Open, the former number three in the world rankings had to be canceled again due to injury, but has now found a worthy successor. And in the semi-finals, Fernandez and Auger-Aliasime shouldn’t end there, even as Russia’s Belarusians Aarya Sabalenka and Daniil Medvedev both await their respective world rankings on Thursday and Friday. “Because it would be great if we both made it to the finals, wouldn’t it?” Auger-Aliasim looked ahead confidently.
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