Tennis

'Little bro' Alexis Galarneau returns home as Canada hosts South Korea in Davis Cup

A two-year-old Alexis Galarneau made his displeasure clear when his mother pulled a bicycle with training wheels out of the garage for him to ride.

Canadians aiming to regain title after falling to Finland in 2023 quarterfinals

A tennis player pumps his fist.
Alexis Galarneau, seen above in September 2023, is part of the Canadian team kicking off its Davis Cup run with a tie against South Korea in Quebec. (Michele Nucci/LaPresse via The Associated Press)

A two-year-old Alexis Galarneau made his displeasure clear when his mother pulled a bicycle with training wheels out of the garage for him to ride.

If his brothers could cruise on two wheels, why couldn't he?

"He was insulted, at two years old. He was really like 'Hey, no, no, no,"' said his mom, Chantal. "He was always wanting to be as good as his brothers."

His brothers Max-Olivier and Felix were 10 and 8, but Chantal eventually caved to her petulant toddler's demands.

"I removed the wheels, and after two, three tries he was able to go with only two wheels," she said. "I was like, 'OK, my God, it's a Guinness Record."'

Twenty-two years later, Galarneau is living up to his early athletic promise as the fourth-ranked Canadian singles tennis player on the ATP Tour — 211th overall — and a member of Canada's Davis Cup-winning team in 2022.

The 24-year-old from Laval, Que., is hoping to help his country regain that title after losing to Finland in the quarterfinals last year.

He'll be on the court in a Davis Cup qualifier against South Korea this week at Montreal's IGA Stadium — not far from where his tennis career kicked off. Live coverage begins Friday at 2 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.

Galarneau, alongside best friend Felix Auger-Aliassime, watched from the stands the last time Canada played a Davis Cup tie in Montreal.

Led by then-world No. 15 Milos Raonic, Canada beat South Africa 4-1 to advance to the Elite 16 in 2012.

Galarneau now joins Raonic, Montreal's Gabriel Diallo, Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., and Liam Draxl of Newmarket, Ont., on Canada's team. Play begins with two singles matches Friday, followed by two singles rubbers and a doubles match Saturday.

"You could really feel the passion that the players played with and the pride to represent Canada," Galarneau said of his experience in 2012. "I remember that inspired me to one day become a part of that team."

WATCH | Canada falls to Finland at 2023 Davis Cup Finals:

Finland eliminates Canada from Davis Cup with doubles win

5 months ago
Duration 1:48
After winning his singles match, Otto Virtanen was again the major factor in powering Finland to its first Davis Cup semifinal.

Growing up as the youngest in a family of four active kids — Galarneau also has an older sister, Emilie-Anne — shaped who he is today, Chantal says.

Anything his brothers did was fair game for the young Galarneau, be it cycling, hockey (their dad Eric played major junior), soccer or speed skating.

When he was eight years old, Galarneau picked up a racket after watching his brothers playing tennis at Parc Champfleury outside their home in Laval.

"I was just watching them play, and wanted to get involved with them," said Galarneau. "Right away they saw the potential in me, so they told my parents."

Slow rise

At 11, Galarneau joined Tennis Canada's national training program in Montreal before leaving at 17 to play at North Carolina State University, where he earned a degree in finance, until 2021.

Last year, he reached a career-high singles ranking of 162, won an ATP Challenger tournament in nearby Granby, Que., and played in the Australian Open and U.S. Open main draws.

He also beat No. 38-ranked Lorenzo Sonego 7-6 (8), 6-4, in Canada's Davis Cup group stage win over hosts Italy in September.

The win kicked off a run of five straight victories (two in singles, three in doubles) at the Davis Cup.

"Any time that I can play and represent Canada on a worldwide scene, I definitely feel more motivation," Galarneau said. "It kind of fuels me to play my best tennis, play for my teammates, play for my country or family."

Galarneau skipped the Australian Open and took the early part of the 2024 season off to heal an upper-body injury ahead of Canada's Davis Cup tie.

He doesn't yet know how much action he'll see against a "tricky" South Korean team, but says he'll be ready if captain Frank Dancevic calls on him to take the court.

"I feel like I can take on a bigger role here year after year," said Galarneau, who's entering his third year on the Davis Cup team.

Big dreams

Unlike his contemporaries Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, Galarneau wasn't ready to turn pro right out of the national program and went to college.

Despite taking a longer route, he's still setting high career goals.

"I want to be a top 25 player," he said. "Whatever it requires, I'll do it."

Family keeps him humble

After all these years, Galarneau still plays the role of little brother seeking approval from his older siblings when the family gathers — even as a high-achiever in tennis.

"Sometimes Alexis does something on TV or in the newspapers, and of course his siblings are like 'wow,"' Chantal said. "But whenever everyone gets together it's like, 'whatever, you're still Alexis — the little bro."'

Mental Timeout

Off the tennis court, Galarneau is a mental health ambassador for Tennis Canada as part of its Mental Timeout program, which has the goal of improving the well-being of tennis players in Canada.

"For me, tennis is not just winning titles," he said. "It's also the impact that you can have on young kids and just society as a whole, and I think mental health is one of the biggest topics that we should be talking about."

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