Written by: Pierre Lamarche
***Pierre Lamarche has been an outspoken proponent of Canadian tennis and how the sport should have a major place in the Canadian sport landscape. He believes this lofty ambition can only be achieved through the combination of success on the international professional competitive scene, with the required domestic infrastructure and a true partnership between Tennis Canada and the tennis private sector.
His comments are often taken as critical by those who feel targeted by his questions. His background as a player, coach, and leader [see background] in the sport and coaching industry warrants that his views, which are shared by many others, be given due process by anyone [or organization] who really wants to help Canadian Tennis achieve the proper national status it deserves in the sport community.
He now starts in ONcourt a series of editorials which specifically provides thoughts for reflection on how to make Canada a tennis superpower.***
These questions are not only raised by me but reflect the thoughts of many, even some involved in Tennis Canada’s present development plan:
- How can we identify in 1994 the need of clay courts as important for the development of Canadian players and Canadian game and respond 7 years later with the construction of a Taj Mahal four clay courts on top of Jarry Park in Montreal for a minimum overall cost in excess of $5.3 million dollars? Does this really help the development of young Canadians [8 to 12] across the country to develop the required skills associated with clay court tennis or is this an irresponsible expense which will benefit a few players [mostly of the wrong age group] in Montreal?
- The only two new bright lights in Canadian tennis, Milos Raonic and Rebecca Marino have benefited from training assistance from Tennis Canada, but not one player who trained in Montreal at the National Training Centre [at a cost in excess of $80,000 per player per year] while attending high school has managed to make a successful transition to the pros. Since the Center opened in Montreal four years ago no player has managed to make the transition to the pros [although Eugene Bouchard will, as well as the younger Abanda if she leaves the Center]. Six of the 12 players listed as members for the 2009-10 team have left the center, including outstanding prospects, Petits As winner Edward Nguyen and Orange Bowl winner Gabriela Dabrowski. The top two prospects in the country from the Toronto National Center, Under 14 players David Volson and Alejandro Tabilo have indicated to Tennis Canada that they will not relocate in Montreal next year. At $80,000 plus per player [Tennis Canada cost], close to $4 million over 4 years, we have created possibly one player who will make the transition to the pros? Is there room here for questioning?
- In our article “Nice Plan, But No Follow Up” we exposed the issues relating to the competitive structure and the faulty ranking system, which I am positive will be changed.
My question is how can these decisions get made, results not matching expectations, more money being invested than ever before, and no one owning up to the reality of the situation, and no one held accountable? What arrogance is demonstrated in this ongoing philosophy of knowing it all and refusing to address in public, issues which affect the game and the players of this country.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990, I personally was heavily involved with the vision and strategic plan for the development of tennis in Canada. Besides contributing within the Tennis Canada development group to create a Team Canada concept to develop and fuel the game of tennis in this country, I also wrote some editorials articles in the newspaper version of ONcourt.
20 years later I am again questioning how we, Canada, can achieve world class status in tennis. It is obvious that I, as many others, do not agree with Tennis Canada’s strategy for the last 8 years which has benefited from undreamt of financial resources, but which has failed miserably when compared to their own objectives. This is not a subjective comment but one which can easily be supported when comparing desired performance objectives with actual results. Many others do not speak their mind out of fear of reprisal but I do because I have nothing to lose and only a dream to follow: tennis can be a great sport in this country, it just requires an openness to discuss this dream and to harness all available resources, financial and human, in this wonderful country.
I will provide some suggestions on how we could improve the game in this country given the financial resources at Tennis Canada’s which will only get better now that the debt on the stadium in Toronto is almost paid off. My first step is to revisit the early 1990’s when we had achieved a certain status on the world scene as a progressive tennis nation with great potential. We had won for the first time the world junior team championship and qualified on two successive occasions for the World Group in Davis Cup.
The 1991 editorial in ONcourt dealt with the financial need of player development to continue on this upward path of creating a Canadian Team which could rank amongst the World Group in Davis Cup competition. At that time, we had five great junior prospects [two of which won All-American honors in the NCAA [Leblanc and Janecek], two which won Grand Slams and Gold Medals [Lareau and Nestor] and one who would get to the finals of the US Open [Rusedski]. Also in the mix was Nicolas Pereira, a winner of three junior Grand Slams and the Orange Bowl who became a Canadian landed immigrant. The only thing we needed was money to support the development of these players. Tennis Canada’s leadership decided against finding the funds for these players to deal with the many financial demands of the Canadian Open [new facilities, increase in prize money and lost of the tobacco industry sponsorship]. That decision, 20 years later, has resulted in a solid financial base for Tennis Canada and the future of the sport. What should not be forgotten is that we were almost there in 1990 and the only thing we needed was money. Rusedski and Pereira both left Canada, Leblanc and Janecek part of the World Junior Champion team, went to UCLA all because the funds for traveling and coaching were not available. What is interesting is that all we required was a $100,000 yearly support.
Since we had a plan that worked, maybe some of the philosophy, vision, and resulting concepts from that plan could be valuable in evaluating our present lack of success with the money that is being spent in development.
From 1991: Dealing with Crunch Time for Canadian Tennis
The recent 7th International Tennis Federation’s Coaches Workshop in Dublin, Ireland, provided successes and pitfalls associated with the future of Canadian Tennis.
It was the consensus of the participants that Canada has become one of the most progressive nations when it comes to planning for the long-term success of its teams in international competition. The problem with the above is that this scenario [for success in Davis Cup] is for the year 2000 and on. Meanwhile, we are faced with a situation which is very precarious for the next decade.
The perception of a sport’s success is primordial for the proper coverage in the media, television exposure, sponsorship opportunities; all elements which make it feasible to recruit athletes to a sport and to have the required funds for their proper long-term development. This success in tennis, according to a majority of the coaches at the Dublin meeting, is closely associated with the success of the men’s national team in Davis Cup. Informal studies have shown that popularity of the sport at the grassroots level, television exposure and sponsorship dollars, are directly related to the ongoing performance of countries in Davis Cup or Grand Slam success.
In the short-term, Canada is playing Sweden in January of 1992 in the first round of the World Group for Davis Cup. Success at this time can be described as ongoing participation in this elite group. 1991 marked the first year of Canada’s qualifying for the World Group after an upset victory over the Netherlands in the fall of 1990. This was the result of specific objectives established by the team in the winter of 1989 previous to the tie with favoured Uruguay in Montreal. A specific objective of qualifying for the World Group and the more subjective one of building a tradition of excellence were agreed to by the team.
Canada qualified for the World Group, ahead of many other countries which were stronger according to the world rankings. Connell and Michibata became the anchor of the team with a guaranteed point on the second day of the tie. Sznajder, Wostenholme and Connell provided leaderships in specific ties in singles. Laurendeau and Pridham were consummate team players, ready when we needed them. These guys were responsible for Canada’s achievement, except for Lareau’s outstanding performance in doubles in Cuba with Connell. These players who have given us hope and recognition are all above 25 years old, except for Andrew Sznajder who will turn 25 next May. It is unfair to ask them to carry us for the next 10 years. Who will do it?
In 1989, Canada reached an unbelievable milestone by winning the Sunshine Cup, world junior team championships. The team, made up of Sebastien Lareau, Sebastien LeBlanc, Robert Janacek and Daniel Nestor, as well as Wimbledon doubles champion Greg Rusedski, will be the pillars of Canadian men’s tennis for the next ten years. Quite simply, the future long-term success of Canada in the 21st century is dependent upon the success of these individuals in carrying on the tradition of excellence started by the current team. At first glance, the future would look good when you view the potential of the team for the next decade. Unfortunately, the proper development of these athletes and their transition into the professional ranks is a costly one which cannot be absorbed by Tennis Canada due to the many financial demands upon the organization or by the parents due to the high cost.
As of now, the private training of the players is taken care of through various sources in the private sector. Their on-the-road expenses are covered by their prize money and Tennis Canada support. The element that is missing is the money for an on-the-road coach and his related expenses (salary, housing, travel, meals). Such a person is imperative for our top prospects to achieve their potential. Ian Barclay, Pat Cash’s former coach until recently and now in charge of developing the future players in England, told me over a Guinness in Dublin, “Yeah! I know your boys. If I couldn’t make a Wimbledon champion out of one of them, I’d quit as a coach!” So the potential is there, so is the opportunity. The question is, is there a corporate sponsor, such as BP does in Australia, willing to associate themselves with a tradition of excellence? The price tag in this crunch time for Canadian tennis could be $100,000 per year.
So basically we had a plan, we were successful, we did not have the money. Now we have a plan, we are not successful and we have the money. Should we look at the plan?