Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime and Leylah Fernandez Arrive at U.S. Open

Canada’s tennis success story continues so as to add chapters at breakneck tempo with Felix Auger-Aliassime and Leylah Fernandez having superior to the semifinals of the U.S. Open for the primary time of their quick careers.

Auger-Aliassime, 21, and Fernandez, 19, are a part of a brand new wave of Canadian tennis stars who’re altering the picture of the sport of their nation, reflecting its elevated variety.

Their breakthrough in New York marks the primary time Canada has had two singles semifinalists at the U.S. Open. It comes after different Canadian success at Grand Slams: Bianca Andreescu gained the 2019 U.S. Open ladies’s singles title and Denis Shapovalov reached the boys’s semifinals at Wimbledon this yr.

It stays a shocking story. Canada, with its famously rugged winters, has a scarcity of indoor courts and a dearth of junior gamers in contrast with extra established tennis nations just like the United States, France and Germany. Canada’s greatest athletes nonetheless are inclined to gravitate to ice hockey, soccer and different actions.

The 4 younger Canadian tennis stars all have at least one immigrant father or mother. Auger-Aliassime and Fernandez have been born and raised in Montreal.

“It’s great for Canada, great for Quebec,” Auger-Aliassime mentioned on Tuesday. “I never thought a day like this would come: a little girl and a little boy from Montreal both at the same time in the semifinals of the U.S. Open. It’s special for us. I hope the people back home appreciate the moment also. We do a lot.”

Auger-Aliassime is biracial. His mom, Marie Auger, is French Canadian, and his father, Sam Aliassime, immigrated to Canada from Togo. Fernandez’s mom, Irene, was born in Toronto to folks initially from the Philippines. Fernandez’s father and coach, Jorge, immigrated to Canada from Ecuador at age four along with his household.

Andreescu, born close to Toronto, is the one youngster of Romanian immigrants. Shapovalov, born in Tel Aviv, is the son of a Russian father and Ukrainian mom.

Auger-Aliassume speaking with Carlos Alcaraz after Alcaraz retired within the second set of their quarterfinal match.Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

“I think we all share that immigrant story,” Andreescu mentioned in a current interview. “I can definitely relate to a lot of people in Canada, because I think it’s very multicultural, and I think we can all be an inspiration that way.”

Sports stay an on-ramp to success in lots of cultures for immigrant households, and skilled tennis is stuffed with examples. The retired American star Andre Agassi is the son of an Iranian Olympic boxer; Michael Chang, one other retired American star, is the son of immigrants from Taiwan. Alexander Zverev, a semifinalist at this yr’s U.S. Open, was born in Germany to Russian dad and mom.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all,” Jorge Fernandez mentioned in an interview on Wednesday. “Immigrant families bring a lot of hard work with them to the court. They bring a lot of toughness and willingness to sacrifice. They may not know anything about the sport, but they know what it means to work hard.”

Jorge Fernandez was an expert soccer participant, not a aggressive tennis participant, and has taught himself in regards to the sport, very similar to Richard Williams, the daddy of Serena and Venus Williams. Auger-Aliassime’s father is a tennis coach who has an academy in Quebec City.

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Jorge Fernandez mentioned he and Sam Aliassime would evaluate notes and trade concepts as they watched their youngsters apply and compete in Montreal.

“We would share our experiences, our hopes and frustrations,” Fernandez mentioned. “I think both being immigrants, we have a lot in common.”

But whereas Jorge Fernandez has remained his daughter’s main coach, shifting the household to Florida for coaching functions, Sam Aliassime ceded the teaching function to others. Auger-Aliassime has educated since his early teenagers with Tennis Canada, the game’s nationwide governing physique. His coaches have been former professionals like Frédéric Niemeyer and the Frenchmen Guillaume Marx and Frédéric Fontang.

Fontang stays his main coach, and in December, Auger-Aliassime additionally started working with Toni Nadal, Rafael Nadal’s uncle and former coach. Toni Nadal has been in Auger-Aliassime’s nook and participant field in New York as a training marketing consultant.

“I think he’s helped me improve maybe the consistency of my game, the quality of my movement, my focus,” mentioned Auger-Aliassime, who will face No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev on Friday. “On one part you have Frédéric, my main coach, who has been with me since I’m very young and that knows every aspect of myself and my game. He has the long-term vision for me. You have Toni that has been in the places that we want to go one day, winning these big tournaments, being No. 1 in the world. I think he brings that belief that this is something doable.”

Canadian gamers even have been exhibiting one another what is feasible. Eugenie Bouchard was ranked as excessive as No. 5 in 2014, reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open and French Open and the ultimate of Wimbledon. Big-serving Milos Raonic, born in Montenegro to immigrant dad and mom, was ranked as excessive as No. three in 2016, defeating Roger Federer at Wimbledon earlier than dropping within the closing to Andy Murray.

“I think they’re all pushing each other, and I think that’s part of it,” mentioned Sylvain Bruneau, the previous coach of Bouchard and Andreescu, who’s the director of ladies’s skilled tennis at Tennis Canada. “I think Genie helped Bianca to do well by doing what she did and showing that you can be Canadian and be at a national tennis center and develop your game there and have some success. And I think Bianca has done that for Leylah. And I know there is this feeling that everything can be achieved. Fifteen years ago, we wanted to become a tennis nation and to get really serious about development. Big resources were put in place, and I think we are now seeing the benefits.”

Fernandez throughout her quarterfinal victory.Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Tennis Canada has not helped all of the gamers to the identical diploma. Shapovalov and Fernandez have usually labored independently, however Michael Downey, the president of Tennis Canada, mentioned the federation has supplied some degree of help — be it monetary or within the type of wild playing cards and coaching alternatives — to all 4 of its younger stars.

“I think all this just reinforces that there is no one way for a great player to be developed,” Downey mentioned in an interview on Wednesday. “As a federation we are there as a facilitator whether that’s developing hands-on with Felix or helping in other ways.”

The pandemic has been a problem. The National Bank Open tennis match stays Tennis Canada’s main supply of funding, and the boys’s and ladies’s occasions have been each canceled final yr, resulting in a deficit of eight million Canadian dollars, in keeping with Downey.

“That is a lot of money to a small federation,” Downey mentioned. “We didn’t have the kind of reserves to manage us through that kind of loss.”

There have been layoffs and main cutbacks within the participant improvement program, and the federation took out a mortgage of 20 million Canadian dollars. But the National Bank Open was staged this yr with restricted attendance, and Downey mentioned Tennis Canada will make a revenue this yr.

“That will make it an easier road for us to 2022 and 2023,” he mentioned. “But at the end of the day, part of the reason we’re doing better financially is we haven’t been investing in tennis development. We’re only spending at 40 percent of what we normally spend, and we really want to ratchet it back up.”

Downey, just like the Canadian gamers, is properly conscious that this can be a breakthrough second for tennis in Canada, one which it is crucial to not squander.

An indication of the occasions is that whereas that is the primary yr that Canada has had two U.S. Open singles semifinalists, that is the primary time that the United States, the standard tennis powerhouse, didn’t also have a quarterfinalist in singles.

“Who could ever have imagined that?” Bruneau mentioned.

David Waldstein and Ben Rothenberg contributed reporting