Tennis Canada – Combined forces

Tennis_Canada_162813014
By Anna Guy

Every August, the tennis world collectively focuses its attention on Canada’s Rogers Cup tennis tournaments. Unique in the circuit, Rogers Cup presented by National Bank is a rotating tournament, meaning the men’s and women’s tournaments alternate between facilities in Montreal and Toronto; for instance, this year the women’s tournament will take place at the Rexall Centre in Toronto while the men will meet at Stade Uniprix in Montreal, both having National Bank Financial Group as its presenting sponsor.

Classified as a Masters 1000 event on the ATP World Tour and a Premier 5 tournament for the WTA, , Rogers Cup is an elite event on both calendars. Situated on one of the most advantageous weeks of the calendar—week 33, the first major tournament after Wimbledon—the Rogers Cup always draws top player participation; the past five men’s champions, for example, have been Andy Murray (twice), Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

This year, alongside elite athletes, Tennis Canada is bringing an entirely new dimension to the Rogers Cup and its fans. Three years in the making, 2011 marks the first year the Montreal and Toronto tournaments will be virtually combined, which means they will both be played concurrently during the same week for the first time in the events’ rich histories. Moving the tournaments to the same week makes them stronger and allows Tennis Canada to keep its ideal calendar week, regarded by top players as an important stop to prepare for the U.S. Open, the final Grand Slam of the season.

“Tennis Canada must and has shown a willingness to invest for the fans from an innovation end,” Michael Downey, President and CEO, Tennis Canada, says.

“Virtually combining means that on TV and onsite, fans will be able to experience both tournaments at the same time. By virtually combining the tournaments, fans can follow both tournaments without having to choose between them.”

With a five-year deal for exclusive coverage of the semifinals and finals with CBC inked in late July, the television coverage will mirror that of the Grand Slam events that define the sport, where coverage during the week on Rogers Sportsnet can cover multiple games and go back and forth in what are called “Look Ins”, ensuring big points and exceptional games are never missed. Both tournaments have coordinated schedules to avoid overlap on the final weekend. “We don’t want fans to miss anything or have to choose between the big matches,” Downey says.

As for those in attendance, Downey is excited for what fans will experience. “There will be 200 TV sets onsite in Toronto and close to the same number in Montreal,” he says, “along with additional large video boards thatwill be showing the Montreal matches in Toronto (and vice versa) on the large screen on the TV sets. But we are going to go deeper than that; we are going to make both live and taped broadcasts that will give the fans in one market a behind-the-scenes look at the other market.”

With leading-edge Telepresence technology provided by Cisco, fans in one market will be able to interact with the tournament director and players in the other. Similarly, both media rooms will have the same technology for journalists to interact virtually with players in the other city.

Downey’s enthusiasm for this new dimension to the tournaments is hard to miss. President and CEO since 2004, Downey’s work has gone a long way to enhance Tennis Canada’s reputation on the international stage. Under Downey’s unclouded vision,Tennis Canada—and tennis in Canada—has benefitted greatly. The Rogers Cup tournaments are leaders in the world for combined sales and rank among the top global events in terms of attendance and profitability, and the establishment of two National Training Centres has helped Canada remain competitive with other top tennis nations.

Milos Raonic, only 20 years old and already Canada’s highest ranked male singles player ever (peaking at 25), was one of the first members of the newly formed National Tennis Centre, and is one of the brightest upcoming stars on the ATP circuit.

“It is so unfortunate that he had the injury in Wimbledon,” says Downey, “but I can tell you that he is rehabbing very well. He announced last week that he should be hitting a ball next week so we are expecting him to recover very well. He’s a strong young man with his head on straight and will rehab properly. We expect him to come back better than even and have a long, successful career.”

Downey is quick to note many people have contributed to his success and Tennis Canada is only part of it. “Credit has to go to his parents who have been phenomenal role models in our view for raising this young man.” Downey points to Raonic’s earliest coach Casey Curtis as an example of this, who coached Raonic until he was 17, at which paint when the decision to spend three years training at the National Training Centre in Montreal was made.

“At the end of the day I think the big change we made was back in 2007 when our board approved an annual investment in a National Training Centre in Montreal, for $1 million to go towards coaching and player development.”

“As do all Canadians, we have really high hopes for what [Raonic] is going to do,” says Downey. “He is already the highest ranked Canadian male singles player of all time at only 20 years of age [while] the average age of a Top 50 player is 26.”

Raonic’s success has fringe benefits—the role model influence. His success and the subsequent media coverage that he gets will motivate other young children to pick up a racquet. And whether they become high performance athletes or casual players, both, says Downey, “are wins”.

Tennis Canada is fostering the careers of many other young players, including Francoise Abanda, currently the highest ranked 14-year-old, ranked 51st, on the ITF under-18 rankings and 17-year-old Eugenie Bouchard, this year’s Wimbledon Junior Doubles Champion. “[These are] two examples of some of the talent coming up that we think are benefitting from the National Training Centre and from a system that includes supporting private academies.”

Perhaps Abanda and Bouchard will be playing Centre Court at the Rogers Cup in a few years.

“To be successful in this sport and any sport on the professional level you have to keep investing in your facilities,” Downey said.“I think that one reason Tennis Canada has done well is because of the willingness to invest in the two facilities to keep them world class [about $100 million has been invested in Stade Uniprix and Rexall Centre].

With continued investment on the recreational and professional facilities, Canada’s potential on the international circuit is limitless. 

This year’s Rogers Cup events take place August 5-14 in Montreal and August 6-14 in Toronto. Tickets are still available for purchase at www.rogerscup.com

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