In a nation known for its love of hockey, the rise of a new era of Canadian tennis is giving people plenty of conversation.
Over a bowl of buffalo wings and a pint of Molson, chances are you will be able to hold your own talking sport in Canada if the subject of the long-suffering Maple Leafs or what star export Sidney Crosby ate for breakfast arises.
With their rise up the ranks and respective runs at Wimbledon, Eugenie Bouchard and Milos Raonic are slowly but surely giving tennis – a sport more commonly associated with rich country club folk in these parts – a leg up in this hockey-mad stronghold (don’t refer to it as “ice hockey”).
On Centre Court on Thursday, 20-year-old Bouchard became the first Canadian woman to reach a Grand Slam final.
Only two years ago, she was Wimbledon’s junior champion. The 20-year-old’s ascent has been quick by today’s standards, where teenage champions are no longer the norm.
Now the Quebecer is one victory from walking away with the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday.
“I don’t have a huge sense of [the excitement in Canada] because I’m across an ocean and in my own kind of bubble,” Bouchard said. “I'm not really reading anything or caring too much about the outside talk. I just hope they’re proud of me. When I go back home, I'll be excited to go back to Canada.”
Only a day before, 1.96m Raonic became the first Canadian man to reach the semi-finals at SW19 in the Open Era. Where Bouchard’s rise has been relatively swift, Raonic’s has been steady; some would say a long time coming. The 23-year-old admits there have been plenty of bumps along the way and moments of disbelief.
“In 2011 I broke through and I did a lot of things quickly, but I cannot say I had the level or by any means the understanding of, OK, I'm going to be the next great one in a year or whatever that saying might have been,” he said. “There's a lot you have to go through ... The next steps are much harder.
“To see what Genie has been doing not just here but the last two Grand Slams is great. I've wanted the same things and more for myself always. Not just 'cause she did it, but since I've competed in my first slam obviously.”
Born in Montenegro and raised in Thornhill, just north of Toronto, Raonic is not the only Canadian of Eastern European parents making inroads on the men’s tour. World No.33 Vasek Pospisil, a pivotal part of Canada’s surprise run to the Davis Cup semi-finals two years ago, learned tennis from his Czech father, a self-taught coach who juggled jobs at a brewery and a flour mill. After defeating Tomas Berdych to reach last year’s Rogers Cup semi-finals at home (where he lost to Raonic), the 24-year-old hoped the result would have a ripple effect.
“I think if the children here in Canada can see the Canadian players having good results, it can only be positive for tennis in Canada,” Pospisil said. “I really hope this will continue, and that tennis will be able to become a major sport in Canada in the future.”
With Raonic due to take on seven-time champion Roger Federer on Friday for the chance to join Bouchard in a Grand Slam final, he knows the response back home will be bigger than what either have experienced before.
“I think not only her, the last two slams, but us doing it at the same time here is bigger than anything we've done in Davis Cup, anything we've done at Fed Cup. It has a bigger audience, a bigger meaning, a bigger recognition,” Raonic said.
For the first time on Monday, both will be ranked in the world’s top 10. Far more significant would be if either were a newly crowned Wimbledon Champion; the first Canuck to win a major.
Safe to say Crosby and co will continue to dominate sports talk over the buffalo wings and Molsons. Two names, though, have ensured Wimbledon 2014 will rate more than a passing mention.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
20:03"I already have seven. It's not like I need another one. But it would have been awfully nice to have it. I think that's what the feeling was of the people, and I felt that... I know they love tennis. They love tennis after we're all gone."View all