Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Where's the Racquet?

After a remarkable Wimbledon final in July and two weeks of prime time television for the US Open (which wrapped up Monday with the fabulous Roger Federer claiming his 13th Grand Slam title), it seems tennis is making a bit of a comeback.

I have yet to hear people talking about their fantasy tennis leagues, but in terms of buzz and media attention, tennis is definitely on the rise.

And if you're a sports fan that's a good thing. Because even though we love hockey and/or basketball and/or baseball and/or football, there's always room for more, provided you can find someone or something to which you can attach yourself.

And that is where the problem begins for Canadians. As a country we have been starved for legitimate tennis talent. We are famished. Where is the Canadian version of Roger Federer or Serena Williams?

The only Canadian ever ranked inside the top 10 in singles on either professional tour was Carling Bassett, who ascended to No.8 in the mid 80's and even made the semi-finals of the US Open in 1984. Helen Kelesi reached as high as 13th in 1989. Patricia Hy got to 28th in 1993. Glenn Michibata rose to 48th in 1986 and Andrew Sznajder matched his ranking in 1989. Jill Hetherington hit No.64 in 1988 and Grant Connell made it all the way to 67th in the world in 1991. Sebastien Lareau topped out at 76th in 1995.

That's it, that's our list. The players mentioned combined to win a few mid-level tournaments but overall their collective accomplishments were less than impressive. To say our performance as Canadians in the tennis world has been disappointing might be too much of a compliment. Awful, pathetic, and sorry are probably more appropriate descriptions.

And not to take anything away from Daniel Nestor and his four Grand Slam doubles titles or the Olympic Gold he won with Sebastien Lareau in Sydney, but doubles tennis is just not the same. It doesn't resonate with the sporting world the same way as singles play does.

Some people are quick to point out that Greg Rusedski was born and raised in Canada, but he ultimately decided to compete under the British flag after a falling out with Tennis Canada. Rusedski was a total knucklehead (often complaining like he was Jon McEnroe) and generally acted like a big baby, but he did reach the US Open finals in 1997 and was the No.4 player in the world later that year. Mary Pierce was born in Montreal but grew up in the States and later claimed allegiance to France. She won the Australian Open in 1995, the French in 2000 and reached a career-high 3rd in the rankings in 1995.

If either of Rusedski or Pierce had committed to playing for Canada our tennis history might be significantly different. Maybe they would have inspired hundreds of young Canadians to take up the sport, or allowed them to realistically dream of following in their footsteps. Instead we've been in virtual hibernation for more than 10 years.

Which brings us to the present and Aleksandra Wozniak and Frank Dancevic, who are currently Canada's top two tennis talents. After winning a second tier event in Stanford earlier this summer, Wozniak rose to 41st in the rankings. Dancevic won a main event last year in Indianapolis and hit No.65 in the world in September 2007 but is now outside the top 100. Neither appears capable of changing the Canadian tennis landscape.

The first Canadian to ever crack the top 100 singles rankings was Rejean Genois who did it in the 70's. Four decades later and we haven't made much progress.

1 comment:

  1. It's totally illogical. We have tennis courts in very freaking suburb across the country and we're rich enough that hockey, one of the most expensive sports around, is played by almost every boy in the country. How can Serbia with 7.5 million people produce so many good tennis players after having been in a war 15 years ago? Do they have as many courts as we do? I doubt it.

    I don't know the ins and outs of Tennis Canada, but there must be a serious problem with the infrastructure. We have a very organized and well-developed system for producing hockey players. I know we can't have such an elaborate system for tennis, but are there leagues? Is there a way for kids to play each other in a semi-organized way? We need something like a minor tennis league in the bigger cities with house leagues and rep teams just like in hockey.