Written by: Robert Bettauer
***Robert is the CEO for the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence (PISE) and has an extensive history as a senior sports leader in Canada with previous roles as the founding President and CEO of the Canadian Sport Centre Ontario and the Director of Tennis Development for Tennis Canada. As an athlete Robert won several national tennis titles and was a member of Canada’s Davis Cup Team while also holding an ATP Tour world ranking in singles and doubles for a number of years. As a national coach Robert ran Tennis Canada’s first Western Canadian high performance training centre at UBC and helped coach the Davis Cup team leading to coaching Canada’s tennis team at the Olympic Games in Seoul and Barcelona. Robert is the tennis analyst for Sportsnet and has provided television commentary and analysis on tennis for over 25 years at the Rogers Cup, Olympics and Davis Cup. Robert is also currently the Chair of the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame and is still an active tennis player and coach. An on-going presenter on sport development topics he has a Masters in sport psychology and regularly provides mental training education on enhanced performance.***
I’ve needed a day or so to let Canada’s fantastic win over Italy settle and to really reflect on what it means to so many of us for whom tennis is a way of life. I started playing tennis in the 60’s, played Davis Cup in the 70’s, helped coach the team in the 80’s, managed the team in the 90’s and have covered the team as a television analyst since. During that time I have experienced countless emotional highs and lows that have come with being connected to four decades, and counting, of Canadian Davis Cup teams. Like so many of us who have been part of and care about the team, this weekend is really a coming of age for Canadian tennis and we take such great pleasure in the success because we know the price of the steps it has taken to get here. Our Canadian team played like the Canadians we believe we are, with courage, assertiveness and a belief that we can be the best. I like that a lot! We all do!
Canada in the World Group semifinals! I love the sound of that and am already very comfortable with the notion. The Djokovic-led Serbian team will be rough stuff, likely playing us on red clay in Belgrade, but isn’t it great to be talking about being on that stage as a participant and not an observer! That’s the difference now. And the Canadian team will be very competitive as Milos Raonic has become an effective player on red clay with his serve no easier to return on that surface than any other. On clay he also has more time to set up his forehand which is why he has been able to beat the likes of Andy Murray on this surface and push Federer hard. And based on this weekend’s play we know that Canada will be very competitive in the doubles.
There are many moments from the tie in Vancouver that I will not forget, but the emotional highlight was the magnificent 15-13 in the fifth set epic doubles victory by Vasek Pospisil and Daniel Nestor over the talented, but mercurial Fabio Fognini and the rock solid Daniele Bracciali. The fifth set produced the greatest drama on court that we have experienced as Canadians at home because of the quality and closeness of the match, and the realization I think we all had that the winner of the doubles would likely win the tie. We did not want to be so close again and not finish. And therein lies the difference, we finished! Not the nice handshake and acknowledgment of a good effort for the Canadians, but the all-important “W”. That’s what it is about in competitive sports and that is what we are now seeing from our players. They really want the “W” and believe they can get it. Nestor summoned one more glorious, crafty performance in that fifth set when clearly he was physically hurting and still wrestling a bit with issues of confidence. That he gets to be part of this great victory 21 years after his stunning debut win over Stefan Edberg in the same city is poetic. Pospisil grew up before our eyes and gave a bravura performance from top to bottom in the fifth. 87% first serve percentage in the last set with a devastating display of angle jab volleys and clutch drive returns. So proud of that performance after his gut wrenching loss to the stoic metronome like play of Andreas Seppi in five sets the night before. It’s the stuff that legends are made of.
And Milos Raonic is our guy! Our first bonafide major singles star with so much more to come. We were confident he could provide his two singles points and have so much belief in him as a competitor and his ability to deliver the goods, that we did not lose faith when Seppi won the third set. We have become used to success from him and it has spilled over to the rest of our tennis nation. Pretty satisfying to see our man delivering the bombs and doing the dominating. Great to see how much the victory meant to Milos after the match with his little private flag and shirt ceremony on the court. He has become the leader of the team and has set the tone. Even having a little fun in his interviews now, another sign of growing confidence and an understanding of his place in Canadian tennis. We can look forward to enjoying many outstanding tennis moments with him leading the charge for many years, inspiring a generation of young athletes wanting to be just like him.
Finally how about that Canadian crowd in Vancouver?! We had the Italians complaining about how rough we were. As I said on the air “cry me a river”! After the decades of brutal conditions in many hostile South American ties, not to mention a pretty boisterous group recently in Israel, we Canadians are still a very reasonable bunch by comparison. But just like our growing confidence on the court, Canadian fans are not afraid to show their support for our crew, even if it means a little upset for our competing guests.
Oh well, better they complain about our noise and attitude and success then tell us what a good effort we put forth and better luck next time. Those days are gone. Welcome to the new Canadian tennis world!