Early signs of hope for Canada’s tennis stars

Eugenie Bouchard heads to the quarter-finals down under beating Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5.

It was a magical 2014 season. The tennis world’s biggest star was a Canadian woman; the ATP World Tour Finals were represented by Canucks in both singles and doubles for the first time. Wimbledon’s fortnight ended with Milos Raonic and Roger Federer in the gentlemen’s semifinal on Friday, Eugenie Bouchard playing in the ladies’ final on Saturday, and Vasek Pospisil winning the men’s doubles out of nowhere.

The machine was rolling.

Then the calendar flipped and the wheels fell off. Bouchard couldn’t win a match, Raonic couldn’t stay healthy and while Pospisil reached the quarters at the All-England Club, he didn’t reach his own expectations for 2015 either. As last year came to a close, there were questions about what was next: Was Raonic’s body breaking down? Could Pospisil make the breakthrough? Did Bouchard even want to play anymore, what with a lawsuit filed against the United States Tennis Association after she slipped and fell in a locker room at Flushing Meadows?

This was the backdrop as the new season—an Olympic year, no less—began, with little attention. Until, that is, seemingly out of nowhere Raonic found himself in the Brisbane final, and beat the incomparable Roger Federer for only the second time in his career. Until the ageless Daniel Nestor, who appeared to be in the ashes until a turnaround in the second half of 2015, won his 1,000th career doubles match. Until Bouchard this week has found herself in the quarterfinals of an Australian Open tune-up, a week after getting to the quarters in China.

This is a big year for Bouchard. A slip-up in Melbourne will plunge her out of the Top 50 and into the shadows, far from the most-marketable-athlete status she held just 12 months ago. Sponsors are watching. So, too, is the tennis world.

Raonic said his win over Federer in Brisbane may have been a message to his peers that he’s “back.” Raonic missed the French Open last year and wasn’t right, health-wise, for Wimbledon or the US Open. This, too, is a big year for Raonic—to prove that he can remain among the elite in the game, and compete with those big boys.

Tennis is a long season, and things can change in a hurry. But finally there is some momentum for the Canadians. It appears, for now, that Raonic’s body is holding up; that Bouchard is figuring out her game, and herself, after the misery of last year; and that Nestor may be able to make one last—and his sixth straight—Olympic appearance.

We learned in 2015 that while anything may be Pospisil, the possibilities for sustained growth will have roadblocks in the way. The Canadians ran into them head-on last season. It’s been a promising start to 2016, but the main barometer test begins with the Australian Open next week.

Prime Minister Trudeau was among those to pass along congratulations to Raonic for his Brisbane title win. The spotlight is back on these Canadians. Melbourne awaits.