Canadians at the Australian Open: Raonic still the torch bearer

Canada's Milos Raonic serves to France's Lucas Pouille during their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. (Andy Brownbill/AP)

The tennis gods (Thennos?) snapped their fingers on the second Wednesday of the Australian Open to eviscerate the last standing Canadian.

Big picture, it was a bit of a mixed bag for Canada. Prized prospect Felix Auger-Aliassime failed to qualify while brutal draws for all four that did make the singles main event meant it was hard to expect much. On the doubles side, Gabriela Dabrowski fell short of the lofty standards she’s set for herself as one of the top players in that category.

Still, there were signs of encouragement, led by Milos Raonic’s quarter-final appearance. Teenagers Bianca Andreescu and Denis Shapovalov put up a good fight in their effort to build on the hype they’ve received early in their career, and there’s no shame in Genie Bouchard bowing out to the GOAT, Serena Williams.

Here’s a look back on their respective times down under.

Bianca Andreescu

Round of 128: Defeated Whitney Osuigwe 7-6(1), 6-7(0), 6-3.

Round of 64: Defeated by Anastasija Sevastova 3-6, 6-3, 2-6.

There was plenty of anticipation over the powerful 18-year-old’s tournament after her impressive run to the final of the ASB Classic that included stunning defending Aussie Open champ Caroline Wozniacki. There were some concerns over a back issue that had reared its ugly head during her time in Auckland after bothering for a couple of months, and that came back to haunt her.

Despite receiving a favourable match-up against wild-card Osuigwe, the Mississauga, Ont., native struggled with her serve and won by pure grit and determination, handling the nervier moments better than her 16-year-old opponent, but also needing a lengthy medical timeout for her back in the third set before collecting her first Grand Slam singles match win.

A second-round match against 13th-seeded Sevastova was always going to prove a difficult challenge on the heels of that victory, but the belief of defeating Wozniacki and Venus Williams in Auckland showed here, as Andreescu made a spirited fightback to force a third set after dropping the first. She ultimately lost, but the couple weeks’ experience the 18-year-old gained in Auckland and Melbourne will undoubtedly aid her as she looks to forge a strong career ahead.

For now, the Cinderella run is over and she’s back to reality, seeded sixth in the Oracle Challenger Series.

Eugenie Bouchard

Round of 128: Defeated Peng Shuai 6-2, 6-1.

Round of 64: Defeated by Serena Williams 6-2, 6-2.

Expectations have completely worn off with the 24-year-old now four years removed from her magical 2014 run of two slam semis and a final. Playing challenger events the past year seems to have boosted Bouchard’s confidence, though, as the groundstrokes are certainly looking aggressive and more consistent once again.

After breaking serve six times to dismantle Peng Shuai, Bouchard had her moments against Williams despite the lopsided score. The Montreal, Que., native may have looked like a deer in the headlights early against a precise Serena blitz, but just as she’s taken the criticism for her on-court decline on the chin, she braved the initial storm that saw her trail 4-0 and came up with some laser-like groundstrokes of her own to break serve and get back to 4-2.

Serena then found another gear once again, one that Bouchard couldn’t keep up with, and that was all she wrote.

For all her criticism, Bouchard continues to fight to get back amongst the best in the game, something even Serena recognized before the match. The gap between her and those at the top of the game was clear as day against Serena, but she seems to at least be capable of being a Top 50 player again.

Bouchard is seeded third in the same challenger event as Andreescu, and already advanced to the Round of 16 after defeating Kayla Day 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Gabriela Dabrowski

The 26-year-old was always going to be Canada’s biggest hope for silverware in Melbourne, but suffered a shock as the three-seed — along with Xu Yifan — in the first round of the women’s doubles.

The Ottawa native still had mixed doubles to focus on as the defending champion with Mate Pavic, but the pair lost a heartbreaker in the quarterfinals on Wednesday — 11-9 in the final set — to unseeded Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Neal Skupski.

Such is life sometimes when you’re at the top and everyone is hunting you down, but with two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles to her name, there’s no doubt she’ll be back in contention at the French Open, where she was a winner in 2017.

Denis Shapovalov

Round of 128: Defeated Pablo Andujar 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(3).

Round of 64: Defeated Taro Daniel 6-3, 7-6(2), 6-3.

Round of 32: Defeated by Novak Djokovic 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 0-6.

Andujar has enjoyed a magnificent resurgence to his career at 33 years of age, completing a 1,619-spot ranking jump to No. 82 after missing 15 months of action due to multiple elbow procedures. To claim a quality win over a veteran and then bludgeon his way through Daniel in straight sets suggested Shapovalov could potentially be a thorn in Djokovic’s side.

Since Djokovic’s 2018 Wimbledon triumph, the Serb had fallen victim to the Next Gen three times — losing to 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, 22-year-old Karen Khachanov and 21-year-old Alexander Zverev — to offer some hope as well.

Perhaps Shapovalov needs to get into his 20s.

Despite watching Rafael Nadal on YouTube to figure out ways to beat the 14-time Grand Slam champion and putting up a brave front, the Richmond Hill native’s departure from Melbourne could have been completed much sooner, if not for Djokovic losing concentration after being displeased with a decision to turn on the stadium floodlights at 5 p.m. in the midst of the Australian summer for television reasons. Still, credit where credit is due. Winning five straight games on the brink of elimination against the World No. 1 is nothing to sneeze at.

What followed was a rude awakening of a giant in this sport, and a 6-0 drubbing in the final set should serve as good motivation for just how far the Canadian has to go despite his meteoric rise to 27th in the world.

Milos Raonic

Round of 128: Defeated Nick Kyrgios 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-4

Round of 64: Defeated Stan Wawrinka 6-7(4), 7-6(6), 7-6(11), 7-6 (5).

Round of 32: Defeated Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-4, 6-4, 7-6(6).

Round of 16: Defeated 4th-seeded Alexander Zverev 6-1, 6-1, 7-6(5)

Quarter-final: Defeated by Lucas Pouille 6-7(4), 3-6, 7-6(2), 4-6.

The odds were stacked against the Canadians the second the draw was released, and with hometown-boy Kyrgios and former-champ Wawrinka on the cards in just the first two rounds, it’s a surprise Raonic even made it as far as he did.

Still, after pulling off a memorable win over World No. 4 Zverev, Raonic had to fancy his chances against 31st-ranked Lucas Pouille. The Frenchman had previously suffered five straight Australian Open defeats, but has clearly found a spark working with Amelie Mauresmo, former Australian Open and Wimbledon champion, as well as the former coach of Andy Murray.

With 62 winners and only 24 unforced errors, Pouille was just at a different level despite a slow start, and Raonic failed to muster the consistency he showed against Zverev. Most bothersome for the Thornhill, Ont., native will be the fact that he allowed 14 break opportunities as the Frenchman really seemed to develop a read on Raonic’s highly touted serve.

This was certainly a golden opportunity to get to the semis and give Canada a second crack at Djokovic, but again, considering the obstacles set in his path from the outset, Raonic exceeded expectations.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.