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Canadian tennis players can once again cause a sensation in the “fifth slam”
The BNP Paribas Open – better known as Indian Wells for the California city where it is played – is a big deal in the tennis world. In terms of prize money, ranking points and general prestige, the only events above that are the four Grand Slams and the tour finale at the end of the season. As with the slams, Indian Wells has both a men’s and a women’s tournament that is played on the same courts at the same time. So it can feel a bit like a major, and some fans even consider it “the fifth slam”.
Usually Indian Wells is played in March. But after being canceled in 2020, it was postponed this year because of the pandemic. With the slams coming to an end a few weeks ago and the lucrative tour finale coming up next month, it’s a tough spot on the calendar – and the field reflects that. World number 1 Novak Djokovic and Ash Barty both skip Indian Wells while brand names Naomi Osaka, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are taking a break for various reasons. Women’s number 2, Aryna Sabalenka, pulled back on Saturday after testing positive for COVID-19.
However, Canada’s two best women and men singles are all up against each other and this is our last chance this year to see them all in one place. Here’s a look at what’s at stake for these four players when the main draws begin on Wednesday:
Bianca Andreescu: It seems like a million years ago, but Andreesu’s big break actually happened the last time this event took place. She had started making noise in early 2019 with some impressive runs at smaller tournaments that got her into the world rankings. But no one was prepared for what Andreescu did as an unsettled 18-year-old in Indian Wells, where she beat three top 20 players to claim her first WTA Tour title – and the most prestigious championship ever by one Canadian singles tennis was won by player (at that time). In retrospect, the full Andreescu experience could be seen there, when her enormous mix of talent and fighting spirit brought her through a painful finale – and perhaps beyond her physical limits. An injured shoulder forced her to give up in the middle of the next week’s tournament, which she probably shouldn’t have played, and two months later, after the injury worsened again, she was unable to answer the bell for her second round match at the French Open. A few months later, Andreescu roared back to win the Rogers Cup in Toronto and the US Open, defeating the great Serena Williams in both finals, and becoming the first Canadian to win a singles slam. Then Andreescu dropped a knee injury from the WTA final in late October, and it hasn’t been the same since. When she injured her knee, Andreescu finished fourth in the world and has now dropped to 21st, with a record of 16-11 since the injury. Despite all the baggage and time that has passed, she’s still the defending champion at Indian Wells. Maybe she can recapture some of that magic from 2019.
Leylah Fernandez: Tennis is cruel. Just look at the Andreescu and Fernandez arches. At the time, just two years ago, the former was the undisputed queen of Canadian tennis. But she has already been dethroned by Fernandez, who rose to stardom last month in her stunning Bianca run to the US Open final as a teenager at 73rd place. At number 28, Fernandez is still officially seven places behind Andreescu, but she is number 1 in the hearts of most Canadian tennis fans. Indian Wells is Fernandez’s first appearance since the US Open and thus her first chance to answer the big question: will she stay here or is she a one-hit wonder?
Felix Auger aliasime: There are currently no Canadians in the qualifying position for the ATP or WTA Tour Finals, which are reserved for the top eight in a special ranking system. But Auger-Aliassime has the best chance of a breakthrough among the individual players. He is currently 10th in the points race and we already know that one of the top 8 (Nadal) will fail. Given the way this season has gone with all the pandemic-related challenges, it seems like there’s a good chance at least one other guy will drop out before the finals open on November 14th. Auger-Aliassime also got his own fantastic run at the US Open, where he reached the semifinals before falling to second place in the world Daniil Medvedev. In 11th place, Felix is now Canada’s best-placed single player. We’ll see if he can keep playing like this.
Denis Shapovalov: The world number fifteenth of the men is also not out of the running to reach the tour finals. But since reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon, where he lost to Djokovic, Shapovalov has a record of 3-6. After Indian Wells, there will be another Masters-Level event for men in Paris at the beginning of November. But Shapo is running out of time to turn things around. Read more about the Canadians who play in Indian Wells here.
The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is back. Look, we all wish the Blue Jays made the playoffs. But that’s a pretty nice consolation prize. In the early to mid-2000s (when the only people who would have cared about a Facebook outage were a couple of Harvard students), the rivalry between the Yanks and the Sox was the biggest thing in the sport. It peaked from 2003 when Aaron Boone (now the manager of the Yankees) extended Boston’s epic World Series title drought with his walk-off homer in additional innings from Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Old Yankee Stadium to 85 years. The next year, the Red Sox retaliated in the sweetest possible way, recovering from a three-game deficit to beat New York in the ALCS and then defeating St. Louis in the World Series to eventually to deliver a championship for the sport’s most tarnished fan base. Hard to top, and these teams didn’t. Their rivalry has since died down. But you can feel some of the old flames being rekindled for today’s wildcard showdown in a game in Fenway Park. The Yanks are favored on the hill with ace Gerrit Cole, but the Sox have home advantage in their venerable old stadium and an excellent starter of their own in Nate Eovaldi. So maybe another memorable chapter will be written.
The National Women’s Soccer League players have agreed to return. The NWSL has been closed since last week’s allegations that the North Carolina Courage coach had emotionally abused and sexually coerced players on his team. He was fired immediately, the league canceled all games last weekend and Commissioner Lisa Baird resigned. Washington Spirit CEO Steve Baldwin resigned today, saying he “undoubtedly made some mistakes” after his team’s coach was also sacked on harassment charges. Also today the NWSL-Spielervereinigung announced that “we have decided to continue the planned competition on Wednesday evening, but our demands will be fulfilled”. Read more about the latest developments in the NWSL here.
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Beach volleyball – World Tour Final: Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes still have to jump from the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The reigning world champions came with high hopes for gold, but went without a medal after an overwhelming surprise in the quarter-finals. You will have the chance to end the season on a climax at the World Tour Finals starting in Italy on Wednesday. You can watch all of their games as part of CBC Sports’ live streaming coverage of the women’s and men’s tournaments starting Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. ET. Learn more and watch the streams here.
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