PARIS – The tale of two Canadians on the opening day of the Roland Garros juniors was of a Grand Slam rookie who pulled off an impressive comeback, and another who couldn’t quite do the same.
For Taha Baadi, who turns 18 next month, a long journey finally ended up at the Grand Slam level, in his final year of junior eligibility.
After being in the Tennis Montreal program, and then training at the junior academy at Tennis 13, an indoor club close to his home, he joined Tennis Canada’s national training center in Montreal last year.
Baadi currently sits at No. 44 in the ITF junior rankings, not far off his career best of No. 37 reached in March. It’s a big jump from a year ago.
On Sunday, the Laval, Que. native imposed his stylish, fun game on qualifier Lilian Marmousez. The Frenchman has had some good results on clay but is just outside the top 100 in the ITF rankings.
Down a set and a break, Baadi ran away with it 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 6-1 to advance to a meeting with No. 12 seed Giulio Zeppieri of Italy Monday.
Tennis Canada represents
Among the large crew of Tennis Canada folk cheering Baadi on was a fellow he knows well from the Montreal center – Félix Auger-Aliassime.
The new chair of the Tennis Canada board, Jennifer Bishop, and the architect of the federation’s development program, Louis Borfiga, were also cheering him on.
Just two courts away, on the bigger Court 14, was another element of the Canadian tennis scene.
Liam Draxl, who turns 18 in December and was seeded No. 11, played another French kid, Arthur Cazaux, who was in the top 20 in the juniors at the end of 2018 and is currently ranked No. 49.
Draxl multiplied the “COME ON”s, but was unable to out-steady the French kid and fell in the first round 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.
He had trained with Milos Raonic in Toronto for a few weeks, but has been dragging an injury this spring.
Two solitudes at Roland
This Canadian did not have the same cheering section, as he’s not part of the Tennis Canada program. (Why this should matter, given he’s a Canadian player, and has been in the world junior top 10 this year is a whole ‘nother topic).
The Toronto-area native has a private sponsor. He has been coached by his father Brian, who is the head pro at the Newmarket Community Tennis Club. Draxl also has worked with longtime Milos Raonic coach Casey Curtis. And he has trained out of the Saddlebrook Academy outside Tampa, Fla.
Draxl’s parents were on hand, as was University of Kentucky men’s tennis head coach Cedric Kauffmann.
The kid is headed there in the fall, part of a recruiting class that includes two Quebec kids.
Joining Draxl will be St-Bruno’s Alexandre Leblanc, who just turned 18 and has spent several years living and training in Spain.
The third Kentucky-bound Canadian is Gabriel Diallo, 17, another tall drink of water who happens to be coached by none other than Auger-Aliassime’s father, Sam.
Sam Aliassime even brought Diallo to Indian Wells last year, when Auger-Aliassime qualified for his first Masters 1000 and defeated Vasek Pospisil in the first round.
The three kids know each other. And all had worked with the late Bruno Agostinelli, the Canadian coach who starred at the University of Kentucky. Sounds like they won’t need a day to develop some chemistry.
Top seed Fernandez up on Monday
Baadi is the only “national program” kid entered in the Roland Garros juniors.
In addition to Draxl (who is is still in the doubles), there is girls’ No. 1 seed Leylah Annie Fernandez, who does her own thing but has had coaching help from Tennis Canada on this European trip.
Hugo Di Feo, a former member of Tennis Canada’s national program who graduated from (the) Ohio State University last summer with a degree in communications and media studies, was with her last week in Charleroi, Belgium Fernandez won the Grade 1 junior event there on Saturday. The 24-year-old coach will be here in Paris as well.
The fourth Canadian is Mélodie Collard, a 15-year-old from Gatineau, Que. who has come on strong in 2019.
Rare player from the Outaouais
Collard jumped into the ITF junior top 50 last week after reaching the semifinals in both singles and doubles at a Grade A junior event in Milan two weeks ago.
She had to come to Paris straight from Belgium, where she reached the third round in singles, to play the qualifying. After winning the first set 6-0 against Ana Geller of Argentina, she lost 8-6 in the third-set tiebreak.
Collard is still in the doubles, where she and Fernandez are the No. 8 seeds.
She, also, is not part of the Tennis Canada program. Although she has gone on tours organized by the federation – notably a run of several top-level junior clay-court events in Central and South America at the start of this year under the supervision of Tennis Canada coach Simon Larose.
Her regular coach is Mathieu Toupin, who runs the TOP (Tennis Outaouais Performance) academy in the Sportèque club in Gatineau, Que.