Canadians, Americans poised for AO2020 breakthrough

  • Matt Trollope

The Australian Open has developed a reputation as the tournament at which exciting new tennis stars are unearthed. 

Back in 2006, Marcos Baghdatis, just 20 years of age, became a household name with his feel-good run to his first major final. Two years later, an unseeded 22-year-old Jo-Wilfried Tsonga exploded onto the scene with his straight-sets demolition of Rafael Nadal in the semifinals to take his place in a first Grand Slam decider.

For three years running, teenage stars Sloane Stephens (2013), Eugenie Bouchard (2014) and Madison Keys (2015) announced themselves as forces with semifinal runs at Melbourne Park.

And in 2018, young guns Hyeon Chung and Kyle Edmund did the same. In 2019, it was Stefanos Tsitsipas, who stunned Roger Federer en route to the last four.

With so many examples of emerging talents breaking through at the Australian Open, might a similar story unfold at AO2020?

Todd Woodbridge, a 22-time Grand Slam doubles champion, believes a pair of Canadian stars – Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime – could achieve similar feats later this month.

“This time last year, I did an interview piece with Felix and he’d just lost in qualies and was taking the plane home before the tournament started. Now he finds himself at 21 in the world after an extraordinary year,” Woodbridge told ausopen.com.

“He’s backed up lots of match wins, looks really confident. He’s building a pretty good, robust-looking body – looks like physically he’s going to be OK. (For his age) his body is ahead of the curve, I think. 

“The AO, with the right draw, is a really big opportunity for him. 

“We’ve seen so many (young) semifinalists, whether it be Chung, or Edmund, and Tsitsipas over the last few years. He (Auger-Aliassime) would be one that I would look for to do that.”

Woodbridge pointed to Auger-Aliassime’s compatriot Shapovalov – ranked seven places higher at No.14 – as another player who could do damage at Melbourne Park.

“His game is starting to come together,” Woodbridge observed.

“There will be the five-set issue for him that will come into play. That’s where the issue has always been (for young players) – the consistency, the concentration, and the dips within five-set matches have cost them. 

“But Shapovalov is maturing at a nice rate and is starting to play some better tennis in terms of choosing the right shot for the right time – before that it was a bit random.  

“(He and Auger-Aliassime are) two players that I look for to go deep – quarters or semis. I’m calling that for one of those two.”

TICKETS: catch Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime in action at AO2020

On the women’s side, young players are already breaking through in a big way that has yet to happen in the men’s game.

Another Canadian, 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu, won the US Open last year 12 months after a 20-year-old Naomi Osaka – the defending Australian Open champion – did the same in New York.

Woodbridge says American duo Sofia Kenin and Amanda Anisimova could be next.

Anisimova, then 17, stunned defending champion Simona Halep to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros, after reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open last January.

Ranked No.24, she could be poised to take the next step.

“For American women it was an incredibly exciting year (in 2019) with some big breakthroughs. I reckon it’s going continue (for Kenin),” Woodbridge said of the world No.14, who won three WTA titles last year before her 21st birthday and upset Serena Williams at Roland Garros. 

“She has a real look about her of confidence and self-belief. She doesn’t look flaky, for want of a better word – it looks like she can sustain some disappointment and then bring it back again. 

“She’s one I like the look of.”