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Canadians could contend at the French Open

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The second major of the tennis season begins on Sunday at Roland Garros in Paris — and the 2022 French Open does not appear to lack for intrigue.

On the men’s side, Rafael Nadal looks to extend a pair of records as he sits on 13 French Open titles and 21 total Grand Slam championships. The latter mark could be threatened by Novak Djokovic, who might’ve taken the record for himself at the Australian Open but was instead unable to play because he is unvaccinated. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Spanish phenom Carlos Alcaraz could crash the party with a first major championship of his own.

The women’s bracket is all about Poland’s Iga Swiatek, who’s riding 28-match and five-tournament winning streaks into France. Also, former No. 1 Naomi Osaka returns to Roland Garros, the site of her withdrawal last year after she was fined for skipping post-match press conferences to protect her mental health.

Meanwhile, five Canadians carry hopes of their own into the tournament. Here’s what you should know about each of them:

Bianca Andreescu

The 2019 U.S. Open champion is the lowest ranked of the four Canadians in singles at the French Open. And yet the betting markets will tell you that Andreescu, at No. 72, represents the country’s best shot at winning the whole thing.

That’s because ever since the 21-year-old returned in time for clay season, she’s played like her vintage 19-year-old self with six wins in nine matches. Among those victories was a straight-sets takedown of No. 6 Danielle Collins, but the best thing is that Andreescu has appeared healthy and powerful. Even her incredible 2019 campaign was marred by injuries, with the Mississauga, Ont., native essentially bouncing between missing tournaments and winning them.

Now, Andreescu may have found her groove. And when she’s on, she’s tough to beat. If she reaches the third round — and she’d likely have to beat No. 14 Belinda Bencic to do it — she’ll meet fellow Canadian Leylah Fernandez.

Leylah Fernandez

Fernandez sits solidly at No. 17, mostly thanks to a breakout 2021 season which saw her stunningly soar to the U.S. Open final, where she lost to Toronto-born Brit Emma Raducanu. But Fernandez has failed to win more than one match at each of her three clay-court tournaments this season.

Still, success isn’t too far in Fernandez’s past: she successfully defended her title at the Mexican Open in March and followed it up with a run to the Round of 16 at Indian Wells. What those hard-court victories mean for the French Open is unclear, but the 19-year-old Montrealer has certainly surprised before.

The winner of the possible all-Canadian showdown could meet Osaka and Raducanu in the following two rounds.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

At long last, Auger-Aliassime won his first ATP Tour championship at the Rotterdam Open in February, taking out the likes of Andy Murray, No. 7 Andrey Rublev and No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the process. The 21-year-old had reached eight previous finals before finally getting over the hump in the Netherlands.

But ever since, it’s been up-and-down for the Montreal native. He lost his first matches at each of the Miami Open and Indian Wells, then struggled through a slow start to the clay season. Lately though, Auger-Aliassime seems to have found his footing with three straight quarter-final appearances. His latest loss — 5-7, 6-7(1) to Djokovic — was perhaps his most encouraging outing since Rotterdam.

Auger-Aliassime could find himself in a rematch against the Serb in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. But to get there, the Canadian would first have to disappoint legions of tennis fans by taking out Nadal in the fourth round.

Denis Shapovalov

Shapovalov’s roller-coaster season makes Auger-Aliassime’s feel more like a merry-go-round. There’s no denying the lefty’s talent, but four years after his 2018 breakout there remains plenty of unfulfilled potential for Shapovalov.

There are certainly glimpses of stardom, like the Richmond Hill, Ont., native’s recent win over Nadal on clay at the Italian Open. Granted, Nadal was battling injury, but he looked relatively strong in previous matches and hey, beating the Spaniard is impressive regardless of circumstance.

But prior to that victory, Shapovalov’s season resume was basically bare dating back to the Australian Open, where he topped then-No. 3 Alexander Zverev in straight sets. In between, the most memorable moment of the Canadian’s campaign may have been a temper tantrum directed at both the chair umpire and fans during an opening-round win at Rome.

Shapovalov has a clearer path through the draw than Auger-Aliassime, with his first major test arriving in the form of Tsitsipas in the fourth round.

Gabriela Dabrowski

Dabrowski is the hottest Canadian in tennis right now. Along with Mexican women’s doubles partner Giuliana Olmos, the sixth-ranked Ottawa native has made the final in each of her past two tournaments, winning the Madrid Open before dropping the Italian.

It’s probably easier to envision Dabrowski hoisting a trophy at Roland Garros than any other Canadian.

Read more about the French Open draw here.

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