13th seed Denis Shapovalov leads strong Canadian crew into Australian Open

Top Canadian Denis Shapovalov will begin play at the Australian Open against an unfamiliar opponent.

The No. 13 seed from Richmond Hill, Ont., will square off with world No. 66 Marton Fucsovics of Hungary in the opening round of the first Grand Slam of the season.

It will be the first career meeting between the two players.

The draw was held Thursday.

Shapovalov, 20 opened the 2020 season with wins against top-10 players Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas at the ATP Cup before losing in a third-set tiebreak against No. 2 Novak Djokovic at the team event.

The Canadian was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the ASB Classic on Thursday following a loss against Ugo Humbert in Auckland.

Shapovalov is in the same section of the Australian Open draw as Roger Federer and could face the Swiss legend in the fourth round.

Three other Canadians have secured spots in the men’s main draw — No. 20 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal, No. 32 Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., and Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil.

The 19-year-old Auger-Aliassime, who has advanced to the semifinals at the Adelaide International tuneup event, will face a qualifier in his Australian Open debut.

Raonic, who has seen limited action since last summer because of a back injury, faces world No. 48 Radu Albot of Moldova in the opening round. The two players never have squared off.

Last year, Raonic, 29, reached the Australian Open quarterfinals.

Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime share a strong bond off the court and got the chance to compete in doubles play at the inaugural ATP Cup. ( Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Pospisil, 29, is using his protected ranking of No. 73 to get into the tournament after missing the first half of last year following back surgery. He faces world No. 123 Ivo Karlovic of Croatia.

Pospisil has a 4-1 career record against Karlovic.

Brayden Schnur of Pickering, Ont., and Steven Diez of Toronto both are still alive in men’s qualifying.

No Canadians received direct entry into the women’s main draw after reigning U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., dropped out with a knee injury.

Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., has reached the third and final round of qualifying, while Leylah Annie Fernandez of Laval, Que., has advanced to the second round.

The main draw starts Monday.

Coco Gauff vs. Venus Williams, Part II

Get ready for Coco Gauff vs. Venus Williams, Part II.

That headline-grabbing pair of tennis players — Gauff, 15, is the youngest woman in the Australian Open; Venus is the oldest — will meet again in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament after Thursday’s draw at Melbourne Park put them in a tough quarter that also includes Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.

Gauff had a breakout run at Wimbledon last year, when she became the youngest qualifier in tournament history, upset Venus Williams to start her main draw run and became the youngest player to reach the round of 16 there since Martina Hingis in 1996.

The winner of Coco vs. Venus — no last names required — could meet defending champion Osaka in the third round. The winner there potentially faces Venus’ younger sister, 23-time major winner Serena, in the quarterfinals.

Serena’s chase 

Serena Williams is coming off a victory in the ASB Classic in Auckland, her first title since her victory at the 2017 Australian Open and her time off the tour to have her daughter. She is seeded eighth in Melbourne and will meet Anastasia Potapova in the first round. Osaka opens against Marie Bouzkova.

Williams is aiming to equal the all-time record for most women’s majors, held by Australia’s Margaret Court.

After her drought-breaking run to a 73rd career singles title in Auckland, Williams will again be among the favourites at Melbourne Park, where she has won the title seven times dating back to 2003.

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were drawn into the same half of the field at Melbourne Park, where play begins Monday, so they could meet in the semifinals.

Serena Williams claimed her first title at the ASB Classic in Auckland since her victory at the 2017 Australian Open and her time off the tour to have her daughter. (Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The second-ranked Djokovic has won a record seven Australian Open trophies and is coming off his unbeaten run at the inaugural ATP Cup, where he guided Serbia to the title. Federer hasn’t added to his 20 Grand Slam titles since winning the Australian Open in 2018, his sixth title at Melbourne Park.

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal could face a fourth-round match against Nick Kyrgios — their blockbuster at Wimbledon last year was memorable — and a projected quarterfinal against Dominic Thiem, the man he has beaten in the last two French Open finals.

Rally for Relief

The so-called Big Three of men’s tennis joined other stars, including Williams, Osaka and Gauff, at the Rally for Relief on Wednesday night, an exhibition event that raised millions of dollars for relief efforts for the wildfires that have devastated parts of Australia, leaving at least 27 people and millions of animals dead. Smoke from the bush fires had the air quality in Melbourne ranked among the worst in the world earlier in the week.

On the court, Gauff looked comfortable and relaxed in the company of champions.

Osaka, speaking before the draw was revealed, said she didn’t like to look at who she was playing until the day before her match. She joked in a TV broadcast that she’d leave the studio if she was forced to watch the draw.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia playfully serves drinks to some of the world’s best during the Rally for Relief Bushfire Appeal event at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. ( Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

 

It will certainly have her interest.

Osaka won back-to-back majors, claiming her first Grand Slam title at the 2018 U.S. Open before winning in Australia last year. Her best run since then was to the fourth round at the U.S. Open, where she thinks she got some benefit from the experience.

“I had a try at being defending champion at the U.S. Open. I’m more prepared this time,” she said.

Response to air quality concerns 

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended the decision to hold qualifying matches this week even though Melbourne’s air quality was among the worst in the world because of smoke from wildfires devastating parts of the country.

The tournament has drawn criticism from players for contesting matches in conditions that led one, Dalila Jakupovic, to collapse to her knees while coughing heavily, and another, Bernard Tomic, to seek medical attention because of trouble breathing.

Tiley said Thursday the conditions were under a threshold set after Australian Open organizers consulted with with sports and medical experts, and scientists from the Environmental Protection Authority.

Smoke from the East Gippsland and New South Wales Fires continues to leave a blanket of smoke haze over Melbourne resulting in hazardous air quality and has caused concern for tennis players as the Australian Open main draw approaches. ( Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

“Our medical team were satisfied with the conditions that the players were competing in, per all of the research and the data and the science that they have,” Tiley said.

He said matches would have been stopped if medical staff at Melbourne Park decided it was too unhealthy to keep playing.

“Absolutely, we understand the anger, [but] a lot of it comes from the confusion and the complexity of understanding what goes on,” Tiley said. “We’ve invited the players … to come in at any time to have a conversation.

“If anyone at any time is feeling not well, we have a full medical team. We have a respiratory specialist on hand to deal with any of these issues.”

British player Liam Broady was critical Thursday of the playing conditions he dealt with Tuesday in a 6-3, 6-0 qualifying loss to 131st-ranked Ilya Ivashka of Belarus.

“The more I think about the conditions we played in … the more it boils my blood,” Broady posted on Twitter. “We can’t let this slide. The email we received yesterday from the ATP and [Australian Open] was a slap in the face, conditions were ‘playable’. Were they healthy?”

Broady, who finished last year ranked No. 240, said people in Melbourne were advised to keep their pets indoors on the day he played, “and yet we were expected to go outside for high intensity physical competition?”

On Wednesday, Canadian qualifier Brayden Schnur was critical of officials after his first-round win over Sebastian Ofner, and said stars such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal should be more outspoken about playing conditions.

The ATP player council is set to meet before the Australian Open.



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