Bouchard, still just 25, had trouble recapturing the magic of that astonishing 2014. But Raonic picked up where she left off, reaching the final of Wimbledon in 2016. Unlike Bouchard, whose parents are native Francophone Canadians, Raonic was 3 when his parents emigrated to Canada from Montenegro due to political unrest in the Balkans. He became both role model and benchmark for many naturalized and, in some cases, still resident-alien Canadians.
“Canada today is a very multicultural place,” McDadi said. “And many newcomers to Canada brought along a love for tennis.”
The youth at the spearpoint of the Canadian surge are mostly of immigrant stock. Auger-Aliassime’s mother is French Canadian, but his father is from Togo. Shapovalov was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, to Russian parents. Andreescu is Canadian born, but her parents are Romanian. Vasek Pospisil’s parents fled communism in what once was Czechoslovakia.
“Four of us come from an eastern European (or Russian) background (the exception is FA2), where tennis was familiar and sport is seen as a way to get yourself out of a tough situation,” Raonic, 28, told ESPN. com, “We really put in the work, but there was always that kind of talent and possibility in Canada. I think Tennis Canada has really put it together.”
The Montreal training facility remains the epicenter of the Canadian tennis boom, but the system isn’t centralized or rigid. Shapovalov grew up alongside Andreescu in Toronto, but because of his mother’s tennis coaching background, he wasn’t as closely tied to the TC effort. FA2 succeeded Raonic as the star pupil in Montreal.
“We all came from slightly different ways,” Shapovalov told ESPN.com. “But we’ve gotten to know each other well and we keep pretty close tabs on each other.”
Raonic believes that TC has been successful over the past decade in “putting people together,” steering players toward playing, and pushing each other at the tennis center, age-group tournaments and international junior events.
“It doesn’t work as well if you compete against each other just twice a year at nationals,” Raonic said. “The back and forth of playing a lot, especially against each other, is very motivating. I had that with Vasek, and then Felix and Denis had it with each other.”
Intense competition is especially valuable when the rivals are also friends, consciously helping lift each other by their tennis bootstraps. The camaraderie also helps young players deal with the emotional challenges of a pro’s life.
“We’ve been able to thrive on each other’s results,” Shapovalov said of his relationship with Auger-Aliassime. “Every time I see him win, I’m like saying to myself, ‘Come on, let’s try to win as well.’ It’s just a healthy thing we had as juniors. Let’s see how far we can climb together.”
Pretty far, it seems. Shapovalov won the junior Wimbledon title in 2016. Just two months later, Auger-Aliassime triumphed in the junior division at the US Open. It was a preview of what was to come this past March in Miami, although both of them soon landed back on earth with a loud thud. No matter, Auger-Aliassime is up to No. 21 in the world and “Shapo” is close behind at No. 25.
And even in the event those two find themselves struggling long term, FA2 said Canada has little to worry about: “It isn’t just me and Denis — there are other kids coming.”