June 19, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

MELBOURNE, Australia – The headliners were named Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov, Andreescu, Fernandez et al.

But there were several other Canadians who made their Australian Open debuts (in some cases, their debuts at the Grand Slam level) during this Australian Open.

We take a quick look at them in action.

Keegan Rice

The 16-year-old comes into the void in Canadian junior tennis, as the group of young women who populated the junior majors last year did not make the trip Down Under.

On the boys’ side, there was only Jaden Weekes, and Weekes has aged out of juniors and is headed to the U of Kentucky, where he’ll take the spot vacated by his fellow Montrealer Gabriel Diallo as he tries the pro tour.

Rice is a 2006 (born June 20, when he’ll be 17), a good hitter of the ball but definitely undersized compared to most of the players in the junior AO.

It’s a crazy age, where some boys look like … boys and some look like they could play in the big event.

Rice played his first pro event last October, a $25K ITF in the suburbs of Quebec City. He and Duncan Chan (another Canadian) ran the table and won the tournament, beating some pretty good players. He made his singles debut in the same event, losing to former top Canadian junior (and college standout) Liam Draxl 6-0, 6-3 in the first round.

On the junior side, he sits at a career-high No. 37 in the ITF rankings, after getting to the third of the tuneup in Traralgon. He played – and won – a LOT of singles and doubles matches in 2022.

Here’s what he looked like in his first-round doubles match.

Ellie Daniels

Daniels is another 2006 product – born May 8, a month before Rice.

Her career-best ITF ranking was No. 81 earlier this month; she currently sits at No. 95 and had to get through the qualifying to get to the AO main draw.

Daniels tried her luck at the US Open in the qualifying, but lost in the first round.

Daniels played her first pro events in 2022 – in Fredericton, Saguenay and Toronto, which are all mercifully back after the pandemic basically crushed the pro tournament scene in Canada.

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She’s big and strong, with perhaps a little too much going on with her strokes – loops and hitches – that can have her late on the ball at times.

She had the right shoulder taped up, and lost in the first round of singles and doubles in her Grand Slam debut.

Here’s what she looked like in a 6-1, 7-5 loss to Bulgarian lucky loser Elizara Yaneva.

Naomi Xu

Xu is another 2006 player – born a little later, Sept. 30.

Her career-high ITF junior ranking was No. 47 a few weeks ago; she currently sits at No. 59.

That’s more than enough to get her into the junior Australian Open, where she lost 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 to Aussie wild card Lily Fairclough in the first round.

Xu played 20 junior tournaments in 2022, which is basically a full-time job; she ended 2021 ranked No. 230, so she was able to raise that significantly.

The younger (shorter, and quite a bit feistier) sister of longtime National Centre player Annabelle Xu, Naomi did try to qualify at Wimbledon but lost in the first round.

The sisters teamed up for the doubles, and won their first-round match before losing their second-round 10-6 in the match tiebreak.

Here’s how she looked in her first-round loss to Fairclough.

And here’s how she and sister Annabel looked in the Wimbledon doubles.

Rob Shaw

Shaw, 33, is the No. 7 quad wheelchair player in the world.

But with the draws at the majors generally so tiny, it was only at last year’s US Open that he was able to make his Grand Slam debut.

He’s won plenty of matches at the lower-level events, though, hence the ranking.

In New York, he came up against Nils Vink in the opening round, a tough draw, and got two games.

In Melbourne, in his first Australian Open, he played Donald Ramphadi of South Africa in the first round of the eight-player draw and went down 7-6 (7), 3-6, 6-1.

Ramphadi was a pretty entertaining character – the samurai headband was accompanied by a “Ha-YAAAAAA” cry after his serve. Rather Vesnina-like.

Shaw and Heath Davidson also lost in the first round of doubles.

Here are some shots of Shaw and Ramphadi, late at night out on Court 14 while Novak Djokovic was taking care of Andrey Rublev in the big stadium.

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