I never thought I would live to see the day that a Canadian would make the final of the Canadian Open tennis tournament. That day came in August – and I lived to see it! It was a surprise and the highlight of my professional tennis watching days. Over and above all the majors (Wimbledon included), all I have ever wanted to see was a Canadian win their own national tournament. It is a source of national and personal pride. The fact that I never thought I would live to see it, makes the runner-up position sweet because now I do see a Canadian winning their own title in my lifetime.
One of the highlights of the tennis year for any Canadian tennis fan is the Canadian Open (or as it is known by its sponsorship name over the past several decades in various forms – the Rogers Cup, the Players International, the Players Challenge, the duMaurier, etc etc). I have long argued for the Canadian Open to be called just that – the Canadian Open. It tells people exactly what it is – Canada’s national open championship. Calling it by the sponsor’s name tells people who don’t follow tennis what? – the Rogers Cup of mouse racing? the Rogers Cup of lawn bowling? Why not call it the Rogers Canadian Open? Or the Canadian Open presented by Rogers?
This is purely another marketing ploy based on dollars and cents to put the sponsor’s name out there front and center. Don’t get me wrong – without a big sponsor, the Canadian Open would not enjoy the prestige it does on the tour and would not survive. I’d rather have a sponsored Canadian Open than no Canadian Open at all. I just think the name could better reflect what the tournament is all about.
I started watching the Canadian Open soon after I became interested in tennis in the mid-80s. I had already played a little but it was the success of the professional players like Carling Bassett, Helen Kelesi, Patricia Hy, Jill Hetherington, Grant Connell, Glenn Michibata and Andrew Sznajder that drew me to the tournament. Every year (much like the Canadian Open golf tournament on the PGA Tour), there was the annual story of what Canadian would make their way the furthest in the tournament with the media always reminding everyone that it had been since the 1950s that a Canadian had won either tournament.
The furthest that a Canadian has advanced in either the men’s or women’s event during the 1980s and 1990s has been the quarterfinals (Bassett, Kelesi, Hy, Connell and Sznajder). Since that time, that has been the benchmark for success. It is those players that deserve a lot of the credit for keeping Canadian tennis alive through those tough years. I cheered them on not only during the Canadian Open but on the tour as well. Since Hy’s quarterfinal appearance in 1992, Canadian tennis went through a long period of stagnation.
The arrival of Frank Dancevic and Aleksandra Wozniak in the mid 2000s signalled a promising upswing and the start of a new era. However, both have been beset by injuries which have turned promising top 10 potentials into unfortunate journeymen tour players. It was Wozniak though who became the first Canadian woman since Hy in 1992 to reach the Canadian Open quarterfinals in 2012. It was a bit of a surprise since she was in between injuries. Immediately following on the heels of that success, Milos Raonic became the first Canadian man to reach the Canadian Open quarterfinals since 1989 when Connell and Sznajder did the same.
It was a validation of the hard work put in by both the players and Tennis Canada. It was a thrilling time because it had been a long time in coming. Canadian tennis fans have had a very long wait to cheer on one of their own at home – that is why there is such fervour for Raonic. The thrills that Canadian tennis fans felt in 2012 went beyond exaltation in 2013.
What happened during the men’s Canadian Open in 2013 was simply a perfect storm. Both Raonic and Vasek Pospisil made the quarterfinals, then, providing every Canadian tennis fan with a memory to last a lifetime, they beat their quarterfinal opponents and because they were in the same section of the draw, faced each other in the semi finals. It was a dream semi final because for the first time a Canadian would play in the final in the open era. While it didn’t turn out to be a dream come true with a Canadian winning the title, it was a great weekend nonetheless.
For me, it was validation that what Tennis Canada has been doing to raise potential top tennis players is working. It also ended my wait to cheer on Canadian tennis players where I wanted them explicitly to do well. It is a source of Canadian pride for Canadian athletes to perform well at their own national championship. For these players to do what they did under intense pressure to perform shows me how far Canadian tennis has come and what a change in mental attitude the new breed of players have. I have a feeling that this is the start of something very special – I hope so anyway.
For every Canadian tennis player that came before the current crop, Canadian tennis fans should applaud them all loudly. It was this Canadian team that became the blueprint for success as a Canadian on the professional tour. These pioneers - Main, Fontana, Belkin, Urban, Rochon, Blackwood, Bickle and a host of others - were an example for the players that came after them. Canada has always had a crop of good tennis players playing at any one moment. It is these players that inspire the next generation. Already, the Raonic, Pospisil, Bouchard crop is inspiring the Felix, Denis, Charlotte crop and these players will follow suit.
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