Abanda is the future of Canadian tennis

Caroline Cameron reports from Montreal where Eugenie Bouchard and Maria Sharapova are practicing in preparation for the Rogers Cup.

Canada, I’d like to introduce you to someone. Her name is Francoise Abanda.

She’s 17 years old, born in Montreal, and she’s the future of Canadian tennis.

I know what you’re thinking: isn’t Genie Bouchard the future of Canadian tennis?

Stay with me.

At Wimbledon in 2012, Abanda was just games away from reaching the junior girls final, where she would have faced … Genie Bouchard. Bouchard went on to win the title, and burst onto the WTA the following year. Abanda was only 15 years old at the time, three years younger than Bouchard.

Cue the comparisons.

“We would not have been able to predict when Genie was 17 that three years later she’d be sitting at seven [in the world],” says Canada’s Fed Cup Captain Sylvain Bruneau. “At the same age, you could say that Francoise’s results are very comparable to Genie’s results at the same age. I think it’s good for her to see Eugenie do so well cause they used to be competing against each other. I think she sees her now on the bigger stages, winning matches and feels that that’s going to be her way as well.”

But Abanda doesn’t want to hear it.

“I don’t want to compare too much,” Abanda admits, wise beyond her years. “We have different paths. Tennis is an individual sport … [I need] to focus [on] myself.”

Bouchard and Abanda are both young Canadians, but they are two different players with two different stories. Unfortunately for Abanda, her story has been plagued with injury. A shoulder injury forced her to miss the end of her 2012 season and most of 2013.

“It was definitely tough for me to be out,” Abanda admits. “Sometimes I was telling myself, am I going to take a step back, am I going to be able to get back? It was really hard but now I am back and I’m really glad I’m here.”

At the start of the 2014 season, Abanda was ranked 563rd in the world, but she’s risen to a current career-high ranking of 214th.

“For a 17-year-old, Francoise … is among the best in the world. She is a tremendous athlete,” Bruneau says, beaming with pride. “She hits the ball really well, very fluid, very powerful, a lot of pace. She’s a diamond in a rock. She’s fun to watch.”

Because of her success, Abanda was awarded a wild card to the Rogers Cup main draw when fellow Canadian Sharon Fichman withdrew due to injury. She’s also no stranger to Uniprix Stadium in Montreal. Since 2009 she’s trained here at Tennis Canada’s National Training Centre.

“I see the centre everyday,” Abanda says. “I’ve been training on Centre Court during winters. It’s always been a dream for me [to play in the Rogers Cup]. I’m really glad I achieved it.”

But playing on the familiar courts will be different this week, as she faces 2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the first round.

“I think it’ll be great to have a feel of what it’s like to play one of the best in the world,” Abanda acknowledges. “It’ll be a good matchup for me so afterwards I can analyze and see where my game is compared to the best in the world. [The top players] move really well, they get to the balls, get balls in the corners. For me I think my movement will be really important. I think the best in the world do it really well.”

And with that kind of attitude — wanting to continually learn and get better — we’ll be seeing Abanda a lot more in the coming years.

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