Beyond Felix and Denis: The Next Canadian Superstar Is Playing College Tennis

BY MICHAL KOKTA

It has been a magnificent two weeks for the Canadian men at the recently concluded Wimbledon championships. For the first time ever, Canada has had two players in the quarter-finals of the event; Felix Auger-Aliassime lost a four set battle to the eventual finalist Matteo Berrettini, while Denis Shapovalov made it all the way to the semi-finals, losing to Novak Djokovic in what was surely the biggest match of Denis’ young career so far.

One can certainly hope that both Felix and Denis have – pending injuries – more than a decade of world class tennis in them. However, it is never too early to look beyond the horizon, to see, who could accompany Felix and Denis among the world’s elite. And it looks very likely that it will be a player with college tennis experience.

Here are the ATP rankings of the top five Canadian men, age 25 or younger, as of July 25th, 2021:

Name ATP Ranking (07/25/2021) Age (as of 07/25/2021)
Denis Shapovalov 10 22
Felix Auger-Aliassime 15 20
Alexis Galarneau 440 22
Benjamin Sigouin 692 22
Liam Draxl 761 19

 

Whether we’ll see more elite Canadian boys opting for the college route instead of turning pro at the conclusion of their junior careers would be an article onto itself. In the meantime, here is a quick introduction to each one of Galarneau, Sigouin, and Draxl.

Alexis Galarneau, North Carolina State

Galarneau just completed his fifth season competing for the Wolfpack, and is going to join the professional tour full time with a degree in hand. Already ranked #440 ATP, he will not have to battle through the qualifying events of the Futures tournaments. As a matter of fact, he could soon be making the jump from the Futures to the Challengers – a step from the lowest rung of the ladder to the middle step. I would assume that Alexis’ next short-term goal will be to achieve an ATP ranking in the 200-250 range; a ranking that makes it realistic to compete in the main draw of all but the strongest Challengers, as well as qualifying events of the Grand Slam tournaments.

Benjamin Sigouin, University of North Carolina

Benjamin finished his fourth season as a Tar Heel, and he might have a chance to come back for his fifth year given the ‘lost’ Covid-shortened 2020 season. When Benjamin enrolled at UNC, I was still coaching college tennis, and was admittedly a bit surprised to see a player with his junior tennis credentials going to school. After all, Benjamin was ranked as high as #4 in the world as junior. He’s had a great career in Chapel Hill so far; one thing I admire about Benjamin is the fact that he has been named the UNC team captain in 2021. North Carolina is a team with a very strong identity and culture, and the fact that Benjamin was named to a leadership role on the team speaks volumes about his work ethic and dedication to the team. I would imagine he is an easy person to coach.

Liam Draxl, University of Kentucky

Liam Draxl was only a sophomore at Kentucky this past year, yet he was already named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Player of the Year (as the first player in program history), and made it all the way to the semi-finals of the individual NCAA singles championships. I watched Liam as a junior, and his fiery personality is perfect for college tennis. He’s a tenacious competitor, with a game that’s built around consistency and endurance. The challenge for Liam, when he decides to turn pro, will be to create the same amount of energy and drive he has during a college dual match in a setting of a small Futures tournament with almost no fans in attendance.

The future of Canadian’s men’s tennis seems to be in great hands with Felix and Denis both ranked among the best 15 players in the world right now. But if you enjoy keeping an eye on the future, bookmark these three names. Coming soon to a tournament near you.

By Michal Kokta, Tennis Editor & High Performance Coach with ACE Tennis

 

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