It’s hard to believe that it’s already been over ten years since Milos Raonic won his first ATP Tour Title (San Jose). Since then Milos won seven more titles,
and rose to #3 on the ATP Tour reaching Wimbledon finals in 2016. And of course we now have Grand Slam Champion Bianca Andreescu (US Open 2019), and Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Alliasime well inside the Top 20 on the ATP Tour. Some tennis analysts are saying that the best period in Canadian tennis is still ahead of us, and the next ten years will be the best years ever.
One of the questions is just how did it happen, having four players in the Top 100 on the ATP tour, and two respectively on the WTA Tour? And most importantly is this growth sustainable? Or the expectations are simply too high.
I guess there is no simple answer as the growth in international tennis has dramatically changed over the past 20-30 years. Many more countries are able to produce top players (Serbia, Greece, Austria, Italy just to name a few). And of course there is the weather factor i.e. how a country with approximately 750 courts being used in the winter (this number does not include private clubs) can grow the game. More importantly, with very limited opportunities to compete nationally and internationally (the number of tennis tournaments that would allow lower ranked players to earn their first points towards their rankings is very small at this point), and unlike in many European countries there is no professional tennis league that would allow players to earn some income, can Canada consistently produce top players?
The answer does not seem to be a simple one. Milos, Denis, and most recently new up and coming Canadian star Leylah Fernandez grew outside of the Tennis Canada system, working in the traditional “one player one coach” environment. More and more young Canadian players had chosen the NCAA path rather than the professional tours. NCAA Champion is from Canada now Liam Draxl (coincidently working with the same coach as Milos Raonic in his younger years – Casey Curtis). National Training Centres, more winter courts, and more funding all seemed like a very necessary ingredients to the development of our sport, but strong participation in the process of Canadian coaches, opportunities to compete almost all the time, with chances to not only earn the ranking points but also some income to support the development process, and above all a well thought through infrastructure that would allow to implement all this seem like bare necessities.
Several years ago I had an opportunity to speak with Louis Borfiga who by many is credited for the success of Canadian Tennis about his goals. His answer was that he would like to see Canadian player winning a Grand Slam, or Canadian Team being triumphant in the Fed Cup or Davis Cup competition. Well, we almost accomplished both, Bianca winning the US Open and Team Canada playing in the finals of the Davis Cup in Madrid in 2019.
Since then we of course had the pandemic which affected the development of Canadian tennis in a very significant way (no income from the Rogers Open in 2020, and probably some limited one in 2021, cancelled events, difficulty travelling) and Louis Borfiga finished his mission in Canada.
Can the next generation of top players join Bianca, Denis and Felix? Will Draxl and Fernandez lead the new crop of Canadian players? Only time will tell.
By Peter Figura, Contributing Editor & Author of “The Future of Tennis: A Photographic Celebration of the Men’s Tour”