“Little brother” Alexis Galarneau returns home as Canada hosts South Korea in Davis Cup

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

If his brothers could navigate on two wheels, why not him?

“He was insulted at two years old. He really said, ‘Hey, no, no, no,'” said his mother, Chantal. “He always wanted to be as good as his brothers.”

Her brothers Max-Olivier and Félix were 10 and 8 years old, but Chantal ended up giving in to the demands of her irritable toddler.

“I took the wheels off and after two or three tries he was able to drive with just 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 sporting promise as the fourth Canadian singles tennis player on the ATP Tour — 211th overall — and a member of Canada’s 2022 Davis Cup-winning team .

The 24-year-old from Laval, Quebec, hopes to help his country regain this title after losing to Finland in the quarter-finals last year.

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

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

Led by Milos Raonic, then world number 15, Canada beat South Africa 4-1 to qualify for the Elite 16 in 2012.

Galarneau now joins Raonic, Gabriel Diallo of Montreal, Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, British Columbia, and Liam Draxl of Newmarket, Ontario, on the Canadian team. Play begins with two singles matches on Friday, followed by two singles matches and a doubles match on Saturday.

“You could really feel the passion with which the players played and the pride in representing Canada,” Galarneau said of his experience in 2012. “I remember it inspired me to one day be a part of that team .”

WATCH | Canada loses to Finland in the 2023 Davis Cup final:

Finland eliminates Canada from Davis Cup with doubles victory

After winning his singles match, Otto Virtanen once again played a major role in Finland qualifying for their first Davis Cup semi-final.

Growing up as the youngest of four active children — Galarneau also has an older sister, Émilie-Anne — shaped who he is today, Chantal says.

Everything his brothers did was a good thing for young Galarneau, whether it was cycling, hockey (their father Eric played major junior), soccer or speed skating.

At the age of eight, Galarneau picked up a racket after seeing his brothers playing tennis at Champfleury Park, outside their home in Laval.

“I was watching them play and I wanted to get involved with them,” Galarneau said. “They saw my potential right away, 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 score of 162, won an ATP Challenger tournament in nearby Granby, Quebec, and made the main draws of the Australian Open and the US Open.

He also beat 38th-ranked Lorenzo Sonego, 7-6 (8), 6-4, in Canada’s Davis Cup group stage victory over host Italy in September.

This victory kicked off a streak of five consecutive victories (two in singles, three in doubles) in the Davis Cup.

“Every time I get to perform and represent Canada on the world stage, I definitely feel more motivated,” Galarneau said. “It motivates me to play my best tennis, to play for my teammates, to play for my country or my family.”

Galarneau did not participate in the Australian Open and took time off at the start of the 2024 season to nurse an upper body injury ahead of Canada’s Davis Cup tie.

He’s not yet sure how much action he’ll see against a “tricky” South Korean team, but says he’ll be ready if captain Frank Dancevic calls him onto the field.

“I feel like I can play a bigger role here year after year,” said Galarneau, who is entering his third year on the Davis Cup team.

Big dreams

Unlike his contemporaries Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, Galarneau was not ready to turn professional straight out of the national program and went to college.

Despite a longer career path, he still sets high career goals for himself.

“I want to be in the top 25,” he said. “Whatever it takes, I will do.”

Family keeps him humble

After all these years, Galarneau still plays the role of the little brother seeking approval from his older siblings when the family gets together – even as a top tennis player.

“Sometimes Alexis does something on TV or in the newspaper, and of course her siblings say ‘wow,'” Chantal said. “But every time everyone gets together, we’re like, ‘It doesn’t matter, you’re still Alexis, the little brother.’

Mental time out

Off the tennis court, Galarneau is a mental health ambassador for Tennis Canada through its Mental Timeout program, which aims to improve the well-being of tennis players in Canada.

“For me, tennis is not just about winning titles,” he said. “It’s also the impact you can have on young children and society as a whole, and I think mental health is one of the most important topics we should be talking about.”

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