When Bianca Andreescu won the US Open in 2019, it gave Canadian tennis a taste of victory that it has been craving more of ever since.

The Australian Open, which gets underway this weekend in Melbourne, is the first opportunity of the season for a competitor from the Great White North to drink from that elusive chalice once again.

But even with Andreescu returning after a long injury absence and with seven Canadians in the singles draws in Melbourne, another trophy coming back to Canada seems like a long shot.

The draw at the 2021 Australian Open has not been kind to the Canadian contingent. While most of the big names like Nadal, Serena, and Halep were avoided, there are plenty of traps and tough matchups that threaten to send Canada’s stars home early.

Here is a breakdown of each Canadian singles player’s draw at the 2021 Australian Open.

Bianca Andreescu

World Rank: 8
Australian Open Appearances:  1            
2020 AO Result: DNP                   
Best AO Result: R2 (2019)
2019-21 Record: 37-7 (all 2019)                                
Best Grand Sam Result: Champion (2019 US Open)

Without question, the number one storyline for Canada at the Australian Open is the return of their champion.

When she enters the arena for her first-round match, it will be the first time fans get to see Bianca Andreescu step on court since October 2019, when she injured her knee at the WTA Finals. That injury caused her to miss the entirety of 2020.

In her short career, Andreescu has already shown that, at her best, she can beat anyone in the world. So dissecting her draw is secondary.

The bigger question is her health and fitness.

It has been 15 months since her last competitive match and the Mississauga-native pulled out of the Grampians event last week, raising questions about her health and match fitness.

Rust and health are obvious concerns going into the first major of the season. Even during her successful 2019 campaign, she only completed seven tournaments without retiring with an injury. She won four of them.

Will she be ready to come back after such a long break and play her best tennis immediately? Unlikely, mainly considering the length of the layoff. However, she proved in 2019 that she could bounce back from injury pretty quickly.

As for her draw, she got fairly lucky and has a decent path in the early rounds. She opens against luck loser Mihaela Buzernescu and her first seeded opponent could be Qiang Wang, who upset Serena Williams at last year’s Australian Open, in the third round, although Venus Williams is another potential opponent.

The first big threats are likely to come in round four in the form of 19th seed and 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova or ninth seed and 2019 Australian Open runner-up Petra Kvitova. US Open champion Naomi Osaka looms in the quarters and second-seed Simona Halep in the semis.

It is not a great draw for Andreescu, but the first few rounds should not be too tricky if she is healthy and can shake the rust off easily. But once she hits the last sixteen, she will have no choice but to be at her best. If she is not, it is hard to see the Canadian adding a second major in her comeback event.

Best Case Scenario: Semifinal

Worst Case Scenario: First Round

Prediction: Quarterfinal

Leylah Fernandez

World Rank: 89
Australian Open Appearances: 1            
2020 AO Result: R1                  
Best AO Result: R1 (2020)
2019-21 Record: 48-27                                  
Best Grand Sam Result: R3 (2020 French Open)

A year ago, young Leylah Fernandez made her Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open.

In 2021, she returns with another year of experience, a lot more matches, and even a tour-level final under her belt. And she is still only 18.

However, the draw gods were not kind to the youngest member of the Canadian contingent, as she will face 18th seed Elise Mertens in her opening match.

Even should she pull the upset, things will not get easier for Fernandez as she could face 11th seed Belinda Bencic in round three. World No. 6 Karolina Pliskova is the top seed in the section and a potential round four opponent.

Last year, Fernandez lost her first ever match at a slam in straight sets. She followed it up by getting out of the first round in the other two majors in 2020. But given the tough nature of her draw, the Montreal-native is likely in for another tough learning experience at the hands of a veteran.

No need to panic, though. She is only 18. Her time will come.

Best Case Scenario: Third Round

Worst Case Scenario: First Round

Prediction:  First RounD

Rebecca Marino

World Rank: 316
Australian Open Appearances: 3             
2020 AO Result: DNP             
Best AO Result: R2 (2011)
2019-21 Record: 22-13                                  
Best Grand Sam Result: R3 (2011 French Open)

In 2013, Rebecca Marino lost to Peng Shuai in the first round of the Australian Open, winning only three games.

That was her most recent appearance at a Grand Slam.

Marino retired not long after as she battled mental illness. But she returned to the WTA Tour in 2018 and has been working her way back towards being a regular at WTA Tour events since.

The comeback culminated a couple of weeks ago with three victories in qualifying to earn her a spot in the main draw at this year’s Australian Open, her first major appearance in eight years.

Her return to top-level play will come against 624th-ranked Australian Wild Card Kimberly Birrell, a fairly kind gift compared to the draws her fellow Canadians received. That should be a very winnable match for Marino.

Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, she could face Vondrousova in the second round. Even if she pulls the upset, she will likely have Kvitova in round three and then an all-Canadian clash with Andreescu if she goes full Cinderella.

But realistically, Vondrousova will likely be the end of the road.

Still, Marino won three matches just to get here which implies she is on her way back up, which is great to see from someone who has fought so hard to get back to this level. Just reaching the main draw in Melbourne is a huge victory for Marino.

Best Case Scenario: Third Round

Worst Case Scenario: Second Round

Prediction: Second Round

Denis Shapovalov

World Rank: 12
Australian Open Appearances: 3             
2020 AO Result: R2                 
Best AO Result: R3 (2019)
2019-21 Record: 55-45                                 
Best Grand Sam Result: QF (2020 US Open)

If draw difficulty is determined based on opponent ranking, Denis Shapovalov literally got the hardest draw possible for a seeded player.

Shapovalov will face the highest-ranked unseeded player in the men’s draw in the first round, world No. 36 Jannik Sinner.

It is not just that Sinner is highly ranked, he is red hot too. He is currently on an eight-match winning streak, which included a maiden title in Sofia to end 2020 and is currently, as of Friday afternoon Eastern Time, in the semifinals this week at the Great Ocean Road Open.

The Italian is considered one of the most promising young players on the tour and has a big backhand that gives opponents fits. It will also stand up very well to Shapovalov’s powerful lefty forehand.

It is a mouth-watering opening round match, and quite possibly a preview of a future Grand Slam final, but a brutal draw for both young guns. It will be the first of what could be many meetings between them.

Shapovalov should be worried, as Sinner is the kind of consistent baseline player that can control rallies, force the Canadian to go for too much and make the kind of mistakes he is prone to.

If Shapovalov survives the opening-match test, he has a decent draw, although he could have another meeting with his buddy Félix Auger-Aliassime in the third round. It would be the third meeting between the pair at Slams, having split first-round US Open matches in 2018 and 2019.

In terms of big opponents, Shapovalov got a bit lucky with his draw as the top seed in his section is No. 8 Diego Schwartzman, a potential round four opponent who has never made it past that very round in Melbourne.

However, he is in the same quarter as last year’s runner-up in Melbourne and reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem.

Shapovalov played really well last week at the ATP Cup, despite going 0-2, as he gave two of the world’s best players, and best baseliners, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev, everything they could handle.

Sinner is probably the biggest threat to Shapovalov reaching the quarterfinals. But that is a huge threat.

Best Case Scenario: Quarterfinal

Worst Case Scenario: First Round

Prediction: First Round

Milos Raonic

World Rank: 15
Australian Open Appearances: 10             
2020 AO Result: QF               
Best AO Result: SF (2016)
2019-21 Record: 46-24                                
Best Grand Sam Result: Runner-Up (Wimbledon 2016)

As the calendar flips over to 2021, the expectation continues to be that the next generation of Canadian tennis stars will establish themselves as the top dogs.

But not if Milos Raonic has anything to say about it.

Just like last year, the focus is on Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime, but a year ago the spotlight belonged to Raonic as he reached his fifth Australian Open quarterfinal in six years while the youngsters were bounced in the early rounds.

Melbourne has historically been Raonic’s best venue, as he has won more matches and reached more quarterfinals down under than at any of the other majors.

This year, he will be hard pressed to match his recent success as he has a tricky start to his draw before hitting a wall in the fourth round.

He will open against Federico Coria and will meet either home favourite John Millman or up-and-coming Frenchman Coretin Moutet in the second round.

In round three, he could renew hostilities with Stan Wawrinka. It would be their third meeting in Australia. Even though the Swiss leads their head-to-head 5-3, Raonic has won both previous meetings in Melbourne and all three of their best-of-five matches, all on hard court (one at the US Open).

It is by no means an easy path to the last sixteen, but very manageable if Raonic finds his rhythm.

However, his tournament will almost certainly end in the fourth round, where he could meet the world No. 1 and eight-time Australian Open champion Djokovic, who beat Raonic in straight sets in the quarterfinal a year ago, has beaten the Canadian twice in Melbourne, and overall holds an 11-0 head-to-head advantage.

Raonic is probably still having nightmares about blowing his one-set lead in the W&S Open final last year against the Serb.

Best Case Scenario: Fourth Round

Worst Case Scenario: Second Round

Prediction: Fourth Round

Félix Auger-Aliassime

World Rank: 21
Australian Open Appearances: 1            
2020 AO Result: R1                 
Best AO Result: R1 (2020)
2019-21 Record: 59-42                                  
Best Grand Sam Result: R4 (2020 US Open)

If there is a player on the ATP Tour who is waiting for the floodgates to open, it is Félix Auger-Aliassime.

The 20-year-old has been knocking on the door for a couple of years now, but just cannot seem to clear the last hurdle that would signify a major breakthrough.

He has reached three finals each of the last two seasons but has yet to win a set in any of them. He reached the last sixteen at a major for the first time last fall, only to come out completely flat against Thiem at the US Open.

He has a pretty good opening in Melbourne, however, as he has the easiest draw of any of the Canadian men.

Auger-Aliassime will open against a lucky loser in Cedrik-Marcel Stebe and has a real shot to reach the fourth round without facing a seeded opponent.

That is because the first seed he could face is Shapovalov, who may not get out of his first-round match. Of course, if Shapovalov does fall in his opener, Auger-Aliassime will likely face his conqueror, Sinner, who would be just as big a test, if not bigger, than Shapovalov himself.

At that point, Auger-Aliassime would have the same potential path as Shapovalov, with Schwartzman a possible round of sixteen opponent and a rematch with Thiem looming in the quarterfinal.

The younger Canadian has a better shot that than his buddy to reach that third-round meeting, although he would also have his hands full with Sinner. Still, getting back to the fourth round is very much within the realm of possibility which could give him a shot to avenge his brutal US Open defeat in a maiden quarterfinal.

At the same time, if there is a Canadian player likely to choke away a winnable match, especially after a big win that would likely come in the third round against Shapovalov or Sinner, it would be Auger-Aliassime.

Best Case Scenario: Quarterfinal

Worst Case Scenario: Third Round

Prediction: Fourth Round

Vasek Pospisil

World Rank: 61
Australian Open Appearances: 5      
2020 AO Result: R1            
Best AO Result: R3 (2: 2014/15)
2019-21 Record: 22-16                                 
Best Grand Sam Result: QF (2015 Wimbledon)

Sometimes the universe is just mean.

After one of the best years of his career in 2020, and really a great 18 months overall since back surgery in early 2019, Vasek Pospisil seems poised to potentially make some noise in 2021.

That will not happen at the Australian Open.

The Vernon, B.C-native was handed the worst draw by far of all the Canadians, landing world No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, who is currently on a 12-match winning streak dating back to 2020, which he finished by winning the Paris Masters and ATP Finals back-to-back.

Medvedev leads their head-to-head 2-1, although both of his wins were close whereas Pospisil’s lone victory was the most one-sided of the rivalry. Despite Medvedev’s higher ranking and greater overall success, Pospisil gives him trouble so there is a chance.

Just not a good one, especially considering Pospisil is a career-4-4 in Melbourne and has not won a match there since 2015.

If Pospisil sneaks through, his draw gets way easier with Filip Krajinovic and David Goffin being the other big seeds in the section. His potential quarterfinal opponent would be another Russian who had a great 2020, Andrey Rublev, but there is not much point in looking to far past his first-round battle.

Best Case Scenario: QF

Worst Case Scenario: First Round

Prediction: First Round

The 2021 Australian Open gets underway in Melbourne on Monday, Feb. 8. The first matches will be played Sunday night in Canada.


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