Photo: Canadian Press
MONTREAL – Two-year-old Alexis Galarneau was visibly upset when his mother pulled a bicycle with training wheels out of the garage for him to ride.
If his brothers could navigate on two wheels, why couldn't he?
His mother, Chantal, said: “He was humiliated when he was two years old. He would tell him: ‘No, no, no.’ He always wanted to be as good as his brothers.”
Max's brothers Olivier and Felix were 10 and 8 years old, but Chantal eventually succumbed to the demands of her moody toddler.
“I took the wheels off, and after two or three tries, he was able to walk on just two wheels. I said, 'Well, my God, that's a Guinness World Record,'” she said.
Twenty-two years later, Galarneau is fulfilling his early athletic promise as the fourth-ranked Canadian 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 the title after losing to Finland in the quarter-finals last year.
He'll be on court for a Davis Cup qualifier against South Korea this week at Montreal's IGA Arena – not far from where his tennis career began.
Galarneau, along with his best friend Felix Auger-Aliassime, watched from the stands the last time Canada played a Davis Cup match in Montreal.
Led by then world No. 15 Milos Raonic, Canada beat South Africa 4-1 to advance to the Elite 16 in 2012.
Jalarneau now joins Raonic, Gabriel Diallo of Montreal, Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, British Columbia, and Liam Draxel of Newmarket, Ontario, on the Canadian squad. 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 that inspired me to one day be part of this team.”
Chantal says growing up as the youngest in a family of four active children — Galarneau also has an older sister, Emily Anne — shaped who he is today.
Anything his brothers did was fair game for the young Galarneau, whether it was cycling, hockey (their father Eric played as a junior), soccer or speed skating.
When he was eight, Galarneau picked up a racket after watching his brothers play tennis at Parc Champfleury outside their home in Laval.
“I was just watching them play, and I wanted to be involved with them,” Galarneau said. “They immediately saw the potential in me, so they told my parents.”
At the age of 11, Galarneau joined Tennis Canada's National Coaching 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 No. 162, won the ATP Challenger tournament in nearby Granby, Que., and played in the main draw of the Australian Open and US Open.
He also beat No. 38 seed Lorenzo Sonego 7-6(8), 6-4 in Canada's Davis Cup group stage win over host Italy in September.
The win started a streak of five straight victories (two in singles and three in doubles) in the Davis Cup.
“Any time I can play and represent Canada on the world stage, I definitely feel more motivated. It kind of motivates me to do my best, play for my teammates, play for my country or my family,” Galarneau said.
Galarneau missed the Australian Open and took the early part of the 2024 season off to recover from an upper-body injury before facing Canada in the Davis Cup.
He doesn't know yet how much action he will see against a “tough” South Korean team, but says he will be ready if captain Frank Dansevic calls him to court.
“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.
Unlike his contemporaries Auger Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, Galarneau was not ready to turn professional after he graduated from the national program and went to college.
Despite taking a longer path, he still sets high career goals.
“I want to be among the top 25 players,” he said. “Whatever it takes, I will do it.”
Family keeps him humble
After all these years, Galarneau still plays the role of the younger brother who seeks the approval of 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 his brothers say, ‘Awesome,'” Chantal said. “But when everyone gets together, it's like, ‘Whatever, you're still Alexis — the little brother.'” “
Mental time limit
Off the tennis court, Galarneau is a mental health ambassador for Tennis Canada as part of the Mental Timeout program, which aims to improve the well-being of tennis players in Canada.
“For me, tennis is not just about winning titles. It's also the impact it can have on young children and society as a whole, and I think mental health is one of the biggest topics we need to talk about,” he said. “around around.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published January 31, 2024.