Laval’s Alexis Galarneau hopes to make her mark at the Jarry Tennis Center

The young tennis pro spent five years at North Carolina State and received a wild card into the National Bank Open in Montreal.

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Félix Auger-Aliassime is one of the star attractions at next week’s National Bank Open, but he won’t be the only player hoping to put on a show for his hometown crowd.

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Alexis Galarneau, a 23-year-old from Laval, received a wild-card entry into the main draw of the ATP Masters 1000 event at the Jarry Tennis Center in Montreal and hopes to build on a strong performance last week when he reached the final of a ATP Challenger event in Winnipeg.

Galarneau is a relative newcomer to the professional ranks. He is a product of Tennis Canada’s national training center, where he practiced regularly with Auger-Aliassime. Instead of turning pro as a teenager, she followed the former Canadian champion’s advice Andrée Martin and headed to North Carolina State on a tennis scholarship.

“When I was 16, she told me to go to the NCAA and I’m glad I followed her advice,” Galarneau said Wednesday after hitting with Croatian veteran Marin Cilic. “I learned a lot on and off the court.”

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Galarneau earned All-American honors at NC State and earned a degree in finance. When COVID wreaked havoc on the professional tour schedule, he took advantage of an NCAA exemption to play a fifth season of college tennis and took additional sports management classes.

“It was difficult because a lot of tournaments, especially at the Futures and Challenger levels, were canceled and there were a lot of players trying to get into the tournaments that were held,” Galarneau said. He played just four tournaments in 2020 and played sparingly in the first eight months of 2021.

“It was good to take a break and spend some time at home, but now I’m trying to play as much as possible,” Galarneau said. “I’m not as worried about the ranking as I am about getting my game to where I want it to be. I think I should be able to get into the top 150 next year and that will allow me to get into most of the Challenger events and a few Tour qualifiers.”

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His performance in Winnipeg lifted his ranking to a career-high No. 238 and came just in time to put him in contention for a spot in qualifying for the US Open later this month.

“The only downside is that I have to play in the Granby Challenger that week,” Galarneau said. “I love playing in Granby because the people there are great, but if I get the chance to play in a Grand Slam, I have to take it.”

Even if he loses in the first round of the National Bank event, he will pocket nearly $25,000, which will be the biggest paycheck of his career.

His career earnings are close to $80,000 — a pittance compared to Auger-Aliassime’s $7.3 million — but he said he’s broken even.

“I had no expenses in college and I was able to save a little bit,” Galarneau said. “The prize money in the Challengers has increased and there is hospitality at every tournament. My mum helped and I hope to attract some sponsors.”

A perk of being at NC State is that he was able to watch the Canadiens when they visited PNC Arena, which is on the school’s campuses. He said that while he is a lifelong Canadiens fan, he has learned to appreciate the Hurricanes and was an interested observer as the teams made offers to Sebastian Aho and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

phickey@postmedia.com

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