What’s next for the Canadians in the Australian Open

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And then there were three (Canadians left in the Australian Open)

How it started: seven Canadians in the singles draws. How it’s going: three left, and soon to be two or maybe only one. The details:

Bianca Andreescu made a quick exit. Her first tournament appearance in more than 15 months lasted only two matches. Wildly overseeded at No. 8, the 2019 U.S. Open champ got past 138th-ranked Mihaela Buzarnescu in the first round before getting clobbered 6-3, 6-2 by 71st-ranked Hsieh Su-Wei last night. Andreescu clearly needs more matches to regain her form, and she has the opportunity to get those by staying in Australia for a couple of lower-stakes tournaments. One in Melbourne opens this weekend, and there’s another in Adelaide starting Feb. 21.

Rebecca Marino lost in the second round too. Considering she’s ranked 317th in the world, there was no shame in falling 6-1, 7-5 to No. 19 seed Marketa Vondrousov last night. Plus, Marino picked up her first Grand Slam win in a decade by beating 747th-ranked wild card Kimberly Birrell in the first round. She can build on this.

Canada’s only hopes are on the men’s side now. With Andreescu and Marino out and unseeded teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez having already fallen in the first round, there are no Canadians left in the women’s singles tournament. In the men’s draw, unseeded Vasek Pospisil went out in the opening round, but all three seeded Canadians are still alive.

Only one or two of them will survive the third round, though. That’s because No. 11 Denis Shapovalov and No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime are about to face each other after they both cruised to easy straight-sets wins last night. No. 14 Milos Raonic won his second-round match in four sets and is now favoured to beat Hungarian veteran Marton Fucsovics, who’s ranked 55th in the world. But Raonic’s fourth-round opponent would likely be world No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic.

Shapo vs. Felix should be fun. With Andreescu’s game still a work in progress, these are the two best young Canadian tennis players at the moment. Shapovalov, 21, and Auger-Aliassime, 20, have met three times before at the ATP Tour/Grand Slam level. The first, in the opening round of the 2018 U.S. Open, ended with Felix quitting the match due to an irregular heartbeat (see video below). He beat Shapovalov in the first round of the 2019 Madrid Open, and Shapo returned the favour later that year in the first round of the U.S. Open. The Shapo-Felix and Raonic matches should all take place Thursday night or early Friday in Canadian time zones. At our publish time, the schedule hadn’t been posted yet. Read more about the Shapo-Felix matchup here.

The Canadians shared a moment at the net after Felix Auger-Aliassime had to retire from his first Grand Slam main draw event. 1:33

Quickly…

The Dallas Mavericks weren’t playing the U.S. national anthem before their home games. But now the NBA is ordering them to. With the general public barred from attending Mavericks games so far this season due to coronavirus restrictions, no one even seemed to notice the absence of the anthem until The Athletic’s Tim Cato pointed it out yesterday. Iconoclastic Mavs owner Mark Cuban confirmed it was his decision to drop the song but declined to elaborate. Now it’s not his call anymore. The league announced today that “with NBA teams now in the process of welcoming fans back into their arenas, all teams will play the national anthem in keeping with longstanding league policy.” Read more about the NBA’s crackdown here.

Major League Baseball is de-juicing its balls. In an effort to counter a longtime surge in home runs, MLB is reportedly switching to a slightly deadened ball that flies a foot or two shorter when hit more than 375 feet. Also, five more teams will begin storing their balls in humidors, bringing the total to 10. A record 6,776 home runs were hit during the 2019 regular season, and the rate of homers per plate appearance fell only slightly in pandemic-shortened 2020. All those dingers aren’t satisfying fans, though. They’re complaining more than ever about how the ball is rarely in play. MLB thinks cutting down on homers will help solve this, but it’s ignoring the bigger problem. Strikeouts, which now occur 33 per cent more often than they did only 15 years ago, are what’s really sucking the life out of the game.

Kia Nurse got traded. The WNBA’s New York Liberty sent the Canadian guard to the Phoenix Mercury as part of a package that netted a pair of first-round draft picks. Nurse is coming off a tough season. She hurt her ankle in New York’s first game, then saw star teammate Sabrina Ionescu go down for the season with her own ankle injury two games later. Forced to carry a weak squad, Nurse shot just 27 per cent and the Liberty finished dead last in the WNBA with a 2-20 record. Phoenix went 13-9 before losing in the second round of the playoffs. Read more about the trade here.

The speed skating world championships start tomorrow. The Canadian team is coming in hot after racking up 11 medals in the two meets last month that made up the shortened World Cup season. That included back-to-back golds by the women’s pursuit team of Ivanie Blondin, Isabelle Wiedemann and Valerie Maltais. The worlds are being held at the same oval in the Netherlands that hosted the World Cups. Two races are taking place Thursday, but Canada’s medal chances in them don’t look great based on recent form. The top Canadian skater in the women’s 3,000 metres is Weidemann, who finished fifth and sixth in the two World Cup races at that distance. Canada’s lone entry in the men’s 5,000 is Jordan Belchos, who placed seventh and 16th in the World Cups. Watch both races live from 8:40 a.m. ET to noon ET here.

And finally…

The Oilers almost literally can’t win without Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. One glance at the NHL scoring race tells you how vital they are. McDavid and Draisaitl top the list with 27 and 25 points, respectively. That’s comfortably ahead of the 21 points by third-place Mitch Marner of the Leafs, and way ahead of the next-best Oilers — Darnell Nurse (Kia’s brother), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tyson Barrie, who have 11 points each. But last night’s 3-2 win over Ottawa revealed an even more striking fact about McDavid’s and Draisaitl’s importance to Edmonton. It marked the first time since November 2017 that the Oilers won a game in which neither of them recorded a point.

Coming up on CBC Sports

Besides the speed skating world championships already mentioned, you can live stream the following events Thursday on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app:

Skeleton world championships: Watch the first two runs of the women’s event starting at 3 a.m. ET and the first two runs of the men’s starting at 7 a.m. ET. The final two runs in both competitions go Friday.

Alpine skiing world championships: Watch Mikaela Shiffrin try to win her second straight women’s super-G world title at 4:45 a.m. ET, and watch the men’s super-G at 7 a.m. ET.

Snowboard cross world championships: Watch the men’s and women’s events starting at 8:30 a.m. ET.

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