When people think of tennis, the Olympics aren’t often top of mind.
The quadrennial competition lacks the pedigree of the Grand Slams and may not even be considered the top-tier international event.
Indeed, Canada — for now — is the world champion in both men’s and women’s tennis, having won a maiden Davis Cup last year before a first-ever Billie Jean King Cup triumph earlier this month.
It all begs the question: what’s next?
“I could say Olympics. It would be incredible to have either one boy or one girl or both of them win a medal at the Olympics. I could say that’s our next goal or whatever. And yes, it would be a great goal,” said Sylvain Bruneau, the outgoing head of women’s tennis at Tennis Canada.
“But I think the goal is to see like a Bianca, yes she won the U.S. Open, but establish herself and maintain herself at the highest level and the same with Felix [Auger-Aliassime] and more players.”
‘We cannot be satisfied’
Tennis at the Paris Olympics next summer may be more intriguing than most as it will be contested at Roland Garros, the clay-court home of the French Open.
But if recent team tennis wins show anything, it’s that Canadians can be party crashers — perhaps even on the Olympic podium.
“It’s a really reachable goal and it shows tennis in the country has made incredible progress. But we cannot be satisfied. We need to want more,” Bruneau said.
Well, more starts this week as the Canadian men attempt to complete their Davis Cup title defence. They face a Finland team led by world No.71 Emil Ruusuvuori in the quarterfinals on Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET. Live coverage of the entire tournament from Malaga, Spain, is available on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
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If Canada wins, it’ll meet Australia or the Czech Republic in the semifinals. Novak Djokovic’s Serbia or a deep Italian team could await in the final.
Canada is fronted by the 29th-ranked Auger-Aliassime, who’s joined by Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil, Gabriel Diallo and Alexis Galarneau.
It won’t be an easy task for Canada to win a second straight title. But the 24-year-old Galarneau, who won all five of his group-stage matches, said his team is up to the task.
“Seeing how Felix, Denis [Shapovalov] and Vasek kind of handled that moment [last year] helps us and helps the team prepare this time. We feel good here in Malaga, so we’re just gonna try to enjoy and represent Canada,” he said.
But as a young player, Galarneau understands how the past successes of those like Raonic and Aleksandra Wozniak, who was once ranked as high as 21st, helped influence the current generation.
He said Canada’s current standing as both men’s and women’s world champions is “massive.”
“I don’t think anyone could have imagined that. So we’re really grateful for the structure that was put together 20 to 30 years ago and I think it’s a result of all the hard work that everyone has put in and it’s nice to be a player and to be a part of this moment,” Galarneau said.
WATCH | Canada wins 1st ever Billie Jean King Cup:
Yet another victory on the Davis Cup stage could further lay the groundwork for tennis’ growth in Canada.
Bruneau said wins on the world stage, including the Olympics, can create a “tradition.”
“The more the players are going to do well — really well — the more we’re going to talk about tennis, the more it’s going to create interest, the more people are going to watch it on TV and I think the more people will pick up the racket and play competitive or recreational,” he said.
However, it’s also imperative for Canadians to maintain that success throughout the professional seasons, to remain relevant and to contend at majors.
“We do have a pool of players that are able any given day to play against the top countries and do well and so I think it shows that tennis is in the right direction,” Bruneau said. “Obviously it’s continuous work. You can never stop and relax and take your foot off the pedal, you just always need to go at it.”
Galarneau, the 202nd-ranked Laval, Que., native, is well-aware of that objective. It’s why he says that while he would welcome an Olympic invitation, it’s not necessarily top of mind.
“My main goal is focusing on my professional career, so going up the rankings, getting into the top 100. But Olympics would definitely be a great reward for all the years of hard work and dedication,” he said.
For now, he’ll represent Canada at the Davis Cup, where a different kind of national triumph is at stake.
Bruneau said it would be “great” for the men to follow up the women’s victory with another of their own.
“That would be ridiculous.”