Women’s tennis has no face as best hit Toronto. Is that good?

Since Bianca Andreescu went where no Canadian tennis player had gone before — the championship circle at a Grand Slam — seven different women have seized a title.

Since Serena Williams last hoisted a trophy, at the 2017 Australian Open, 14 different women have laid claim to a major triumph.

Is that good for tennis? Certainly it suggests parity, which isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. With one or two notable exceptions — Ash Barty, who shockingly announced her retirement in March, especially — nobody has come along to grab the spotlight and hang on to it for a while. No one has put a fingerprint of dominance on the women’s game.

Rather, it often feels like a carousel, a player who burns bright for a moment in time. As Andreescu did at the US Open in 2019, defeating Williams in the final. As Emma Raducanu did in Flushing Meadows as well last year, vanquishing Canada’s Leylah Fernandez in a final battle between upstart teenagers.

Andreescu, from Mississauga, hasn’t won a WTA event since her breakout year, though to be fair she’s been plagued by injuries, mental burnout, the COVID pandemic that threw all sports into disarray and a general anxiety that drove her into taking a six -month well-being furlough from the circuit, only returning to the tour in April.

Only Iga Swiatek, with a historic 37-match win streak in 2022 and a brace of French Open victories, can truly be said to have attained paramount éclat. And she got bounced in the third round of Wimbledon five weeks ago.

The thing is, no female singles player has risen high above the crowd. And few women are distinguishable to a casual tennis audience: Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, Fernandez maybe (at least in this country), Coco Gauff perhaps (largely for potential rather than actual achievements) and Raducanu (given the intense media coverage she received after coming out of qualifying nowhere in Queens). Yet the 19-year-old Brit has not progressed any further than the round of 32 in any competition post-Flushing Meadows.

They often seem interchangeable, these female elites of the courts, lacking substance and ascendancy with traction. Because the record shows that anybody can prevail in the week-to-week grind of the tour.

Fernandez, Canada’s No. 1 female player, views this as a favorable state of affairs.

“What Iga has done this year is incredible. But seeing how there’s so many different Grand Slam champions means that women’s tennis is growing, that there’s a lot of great players on tour, a lot of players who want to make a difference on tour. I’m extremely grateful that I’m able to be part of it.”

The 19-year-old from Laval, Que., ranked No. 14 in the world, is among a marquee cast of women contending for the National Bank Open, which gets properly underway Monday — following a weekend of qualifying matches — at Toronto’s Sobeys Stadium on the York University campus. Seeded 13th, Fernandez has drawn Australian qualifier Storm Sanders for her opening match Monday evening.

Fernandez hasn’t played a lick of competitive tennis in more than two months, time spent recovering from a Grade 3 stress fracture in her right foot suffered in a three-set quarterfinal loss at Roland Garros, an injury she admits probably wasn’t taken seriously enough at the time. She actually first felt discomfort in her third match, but persevered and likely made it worse. She only got the medical green light to participate in Toronto on Thursday.

“The timing is impeccable,” Fernandez observed with a grin. “I was training very hard the past two weeks. We’ve been trying extremely hard to get back into shape as quickly as possible.”

The teen is feeling “amazing,” eager to get back in the groove of competition after she was forced to miss Wimbledon and an exhibition match that had been scheduled with Gauff in Atlanta. Delighted to resume competition in a city where she has many friends and family. No longer quite the newcomer from the US Open and, she muses, a different player from nearly a year ago in some ways.

“I think I’ve become a little bit more patient, because of everything that happened. I’ve been accepting a lot more of the pressure, the stress, but also the positivity that I’ve been receiving.”

This tournament, formerly known as the Rogers Cup, boasts a glittering assembly of female players: 19 of the top 20 on the planet, 15 Grand Slam champions, seven former world No. 1 p. (Belarusian Victoria Azarenka announced on Twitter Sunday that she won’t be able to participate because her visa was declined by Canadian authorities. No further details provided.)

The lineup includes both Serena and Venus Williams, given wild cards. Serena, 23 times a Slam champion, has won the Canadian tour stop on three occasions and is looking to hone her tennis chops anew in preparation for the upcoming US Open, following her comeback from a prolonged injury at Wimbledon, where she was eliminated by Harmony Tan in the opening round.

Fernandez, meanwhile, has landed in the formidably talented top quarter of the draw, along with reigning world No. 1 Swiatek (they could face off in the third round), Serena Williams, Osaka, Garbiñe Muguruza and Olympic singles gold medalist Belinda Bencic.

Within that bracket, Swiatek is just relieved to put the short grass-court season behind her — not the Pole’s forte. The soft-spoken 21-year-old was a qualifier when last passing through the Canadian event in 2019, where Andreescu won in a walkover final against Serena Williams, whose back had gone into spasm. Widely unknown at the time, Swiatek impressively knocked off Caroline Wozniacki before falling to Osaka.

“That was actually the first tournament where I felt I could do something on the tour,” Swiatek recalled. “Basically I’m really happy to be back on hard courts, because the last couple of months I’ve been constantly switching from surface to surface. Right now I feel like I’m finally starting to have some kind of rhythm.”

Five Canadian women are in the main draw. Andreescu gets her ball rolling against 11th-seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia on Tuesday night. Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino is scheduled to play China’s Qinwen Zheng, Carol Zhao from Richmond Hill will meet Amanda Anisimova of the US, and Toronto’s Katherine Sebov takes on Yulia Putintseva from Kazakhstan.

Rosie DiManno is a Toronto-based columnist covering sports and current affairs for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *