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.***
I just lived a new experience for the last week in Mont Tremblant which was very insightful on many different levels. It was my first experience at an Under 14 National Championship. Mike Hall, Miron Mann and myself were the Ontario Provincial coaches in charge of the 29 strong players from Ontario. Following are my observations from my first experience with this age group.
The Good: What a Great Tournament
1) Tennis Canada has selected the perfect setting to run this tournament. With 12 courts available, the schedule runs smoothly and efficiently making the volume of matches the players dispute manageable. Tremblant is beautiful, great accommodations, great options for the kids, just a great memory for all involved.
2) The concept designed by Tennis Canada for the competition, box round robin and flight championships, provides the majority of the kids with six or seven “live” matches. You can’t buy that kind of experience.
3) Tennis Canada staff, Debbie Kirkwood, Bob Brett, Andre Labelle and Aref Jellali are there observing, talking with the kids, the parents and the coaches. This actually felt like we were all on the same team. Of course, The Bear had quite a few discussions about his perceived issues with various Tennis Canada policies. It was great to be able to at least voice these concerns and feel like we could communicate [what a great concept].
4) Tennis Canada’s policies as it relates to national regroupings [which I agree with], showed it is a great initiative as the two champions Vanessa Wong and Victor Krustev, both Under 12 players, are products of this system.
5) The overall quality of the players, according to the coaches, was much improved with at least half of the field capable of qualifying for the championship flight. These 20 players represent a twofold increase to players of this level ten years ago. The technical skills overall of the players in the tournament where definitely of better quality which certainly is due to the emphasis through progressive tennis on stroke production.
6) Ontario with its good competitive structure again dominated a nationals by having both champions, six out of eight semi-finalists and three of the four teams in the doubles finals.
7) The Tournament Director Andre Binet and Claude Lemay, the Tournament Referee, ran a great tournament.
The Bad: Where are the Other Provinces?
1) Quebec does have good young talent, plus Orange Bowl Under 14 Champion Francoise Abanda, was not at the tournament. Quebec used to be the best, as good or close to Ontario. It certainly did not feel that way, the same as in the U 16 indoor nationals of this past winter.
2) BC as always has one or two great performers but they should have much more. The same can be said for Alberta, except that their depth is even more lacking.
3) The rest of the provinces are not really competitive which is a shame in this age group.
4) It’s obvious that they are many flaws in the overall development national structure that tennis, unlike hockey, cannot produce players from Cole Harbor [Sidney Crosby] or Brantford [Wayne Gretsky]. We need more courts, more programs, more bubbles in more small communities right across this country.
5) We really need to address the problems with the competitive infrastructure which makes it impossible for children from most provinces to receive the required competitive opportunities.
The Ugly: Seeding and Black Flies
1) The seeding, again at these nationals, was a farce. The defending National Champion Maria Patrascu, who recently won the U16 selections in Ontario, as well as reaching the finals of the U18 Provincials, was seeded 8 in the original seeding. After questioning from Ontario she was moved to third, but still? In fact, the overall seeding was so bad that two of the original top six seeds did not finish in the top 20. The problem is that the poor seeding can affect overall outcome which is then used for selection and future seeding. The criteria must be revisited and the major problem is that the national ranking system which should be considered, is not very representative due to various issues with it.
2) The black flies in Mount Tremblant will not be required to be fed till next summer. Their persistent, consistent, swarming attack provided insight on how to pressure someone with constant aggressive intentions.
Tennis Canada should be congratulated on a great tournament, and this Bear tells it how it is.