Canada's Growing Presence On The ATP Challenger Tour
Earlier this month, the tennis world descended on Toronto for the Rogers Cup, where Canadian tennis was thrust into the spotlight. In the weeks since, the buzz has not subdued. Far from it.
From Denis Shapovalov's breakthrough on the singles court - one of five Canadians to earn match wins in Toronto - to Daniel Nestor turning back the clock with Vasek Pospisil in doubles, Canada garnered all the headlines on home soil. But this was just a microcosm of the broader tennis movement that's sweeping the country.
For the first time in eight years, four ATP Challenger Tour events reside in Canada. The addition of tournaments in Winnipeg and last week's $75,000 in Gatineau to the widely successful events in
Drummondville and Granby have contributed to the growing popularity of the sport.
"It's extremely exciting to have these events," said Niagara Falls native Frank Dancevic, a two-time ATP World Tour singles finalist and three-time champion at the Challenger in Granby. "I remember growing up, there was only one Challenger in Canada. Now that we have the opportunity to play three or four Challengers a year, it's great for guys like me and the young generation coming up to play in their backyard. We have an easier time picking our schedule and that's so important to get an extra edge. For a young guy coming up and having the support of the home fans is huge."
"There's a different energy playing closer to home in Canada," added Vancouver resident and 2015 Granby finalist Philip Bester. "For players to not have to travel very far and build their
[Emirates] ATP Ranking at home helps a lot financially. And for the younger generation, they can get top level exposure and get that experience at a young age without having to go very far. They have done an exceptional job in that respect and the tournaments are organised very well."
For surging teenagers Shapovalov and Felix Auger Aliassime, two of most promising juniors in the world, it provides the opportunity to gain valuable experience against world-class competition and develop their talents on a global stage. Shapovalov, 17, became the first player born in 1999 to win a match on the ATP Challenger Tour earlier this year in Drummondville. He has soared to a career-high No. 250 in the Emirates ATP Rankings after advancing to the semi-finals in Gatineau.
"In Canada, especially in my province, it's great to play at home and feel the support of the crowd," added Auger Aliassime, who became the first player born in the 2000s to earn an Emirates ATP Ranking after qualifying in Drummondville last year. "It's a pretty special feeling. When a lot of people come out to watch, they really carry you out there. It really motivates you and inspires you."
As Australia's John Patrick Smith can attest, many non-Canadians are just as impressed. The champion in Drummondville in 2015, Smith said: "I've won a few titles in Canada. I think the courts really suit my game in both summer and winter. In Drummondville, they put on a great tournament. The whole community came out and supported it really well. It was sold out on the final day."
With the potential return of the recently departed $100,000 event in Vancouver, a favourite among all players that competed at the Hollyburn Country Club, the expansion is far from finished.