Written by: Michael Emmett
***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs. He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet. Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada. Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s. Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***
Getting to that coveted top five world ranking is a major accomplishment for any tennis player – but it will be even more special when a Canadian finally gets there because we’ve never had anyone in that position before. The tennis community is thirsting for a young Canadian to make a major splash on the international tennis scene. And, if this past summer was any indication, we’re as close as we’ve ever been.
And NO, we are not counting Greg Rusedski who grew up in Montreal, because he bolted for Great Britain at a time when we desperately needed him the most. Rusedski, most known for his booming left-handed serve, left for the United Kingdom in June of 1995. Bolstered by a US Open finalist appearance in 1997, Rusedski achieved a career high ranking of #4 in 1997, but at that point he was no longer playing for Canada or the Canadian Davis cup team. And for this reason, we, as Canadians, have never had a player – male or female – ranked inside the top 5 in the world in the open era.
But with the current crop of Canadian superstars you’ve got to figure it’s coming shortly. The momentum is building and with the amazing summer results we know it’s going to happen sooner rather than later. So will it be Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil or Eugenie Bouchard? I think if you asked 50 tennis experts across the world, the answers would be spread evenly amongst this elite group. Before the surprising hot streak in Montreal at the Rogers Cup, Pospisil wouldn’t even have been in the discussion. But now, after taking Milos to the limit, many in the business feel these guys are virtually even. The rankings don’t say so, but the play does, and that’s what matters.
The fact that I’m even posing this question shows the enormous strides we have made on the international tennis scene in the last 18 months. All three have had fantastic results in 2013.
Three weeks ago, Bouchard defeated Sloane Stephens and Jelena Jankovic in the same tournament. The Wimbledon Junior champion, from a year ago, also posted a fantastic win over former world #1 Ana Ivanovic, blowing her off Centre court 6-3,6-3, on the grass courts at Wimbledon in June. And this past week she was a finalist in Osaka, losing to Sam Stosur in three sets.
Pospisil has wins over Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasguet, John Isner, Gilles Simon and Nickolay Daveydenko – an amazing summer for a kid who just recently cracked the top 100.
Raonic, on the other hand, with a current ranking of #11, has wins over Del Potro, Berdych & Gasquet– all top 8 players at the time of victory. And in 2012, Raonic beat 2-time grand slam winner, Andy Murray, on two separate occasions.
All quality wins that clearly show all three young Canadians have top-10 potential. But the question is who will get there first? Or will any of them ever get there and if they do, how long will it last? My belief is all three will be top-10 at some point, but only one will be a top five player.
Raonic, with his lethal serve and blistering forehand, looks like the logical choice to get there first. But does he have the goods to raise his ranking inside the top five with guys like Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Federer and Ferrer? Other than Federer, who is clearly on the way down, these guys are only getting better year-by-year. Getting to the top-10 (something he accomplished for a week after the Rogers Cup in Montreal) appears very realistic. However, a top five ranking with the top guns in the prime of their careers seems a few years away in a best case scenario. For a guy who has yet to make it to a quarter-final of a grand slam event, we may be putting the cart before the horse. Raonic’s goal to get to the top five is something he is working very hard to accomplish and Coach Ivan Ljubojic is on the right track with his attacking style of coaching – constantly pushing Milos toward the net is a great thing. But his movement is still subpar and to beat the likes of Nadal, Murray and Djokovic, this area of his game needs drastic improvement.
Pospisil is in the same boat. The Men’s game is the best it’s ever been. The quality of play is off the charts. Pospisil is a little more rounded as a tennis player – better speed, better volleys and a better backhand. But the lanky kid from Vancouver doesn’t have the weapons that Milos possesses and this could be a real factor in determining how far he can go. In today’s game you need one & maybe two major weapons to get inside the top 10. Vasek has a really good serve and a better than average forehand – but not in the same league as his Canadian counterpart. Pospisil has incredible wins that he should be very proud of. But can he string these wins together in a two week tournament and make it to the semi-finals of a slam? Unfortunately, at this point in his career, the answer is NO. Does he have the potential to surpass Milos and be Canada’s top gun on the Men’s tour? You bet he does! It should be fun to watch these guys battle it out between the lines in the coming years. Assuming both stay healthy it should be a great race to see who has the better career. Most would agree that Milos has a minuscule lead in the early going; however, Vasek showed tennis fans in Montreal that there is little to choose from in regards to these two future stars of the game.
So that leaves us with Eugenie Bouchard. And yes, I believe without a doubt that she’ll get to the top five first. My argument for this point mainly comes down to her overall competition. Eugenie’s task is so much simpler than that of Milos and Vasek. Other than Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka the Women’s game is extremely thin. The next best player on the WTA Tour in my view might be Sloane Stephens – she looks like the real deal and as we already know – Bouchard took her down a few weeks back. Bouchard can beat anybody on this tour, yes, that includes Serena Williams. Bouchard took a set from the American legend in Cincinnati in a US Open tune-up. We all know how fragile Serena is when she loses a set, she has several bad losses sprinkled throughout her career. Bouchard, given another opportunity, will beat Serena as her career starts to wind down. Bouchard’s impressive match against Serena would be the equivalent of Milos taking a set from Nadal – and at this point he hasn’t even come close, getting blown out in Barcelona and Montreal.
Bouchard has it all. There is no reason, that this Junior Wimbledon Champion can’t make it to the top of the heap in the Women’s game. She has limited competition, a perfect coach in Nick Saviano, tremendous resources, a great team supporting her, the heart of lion and eye-popping racquet speed that often leaves her opponents in a daze. She has the ability to turn defense into offense like nobody we’ve ever seen in Canada. Her court coverage stands out amongst her peers on the WTA circuit. This French Canadian born player needs a little more pop on her serve and a little more shape on her groundstrokes. With these additions to her repertoire, I see no reason why we can’t have our first grand slam champion and with that a ranking that no Canadian has ever before achieved.