A golden time for tennis
CRAIGLEITH - As a tennis professional, Canadian Daniel Nestor stands second to none.
Since turning pro in 1991, Nestor’s greatest success in Men’s doubles where he has captured more than 90 titles, winning more than 1,000 matches, but at 44 he sees now is the golden age of tennis in Canada.
Nestor took time from his training schedule for tournaments next week in China to take part in a Pro-Am event at Craigleith Tennis Club in support of Tennis Canada’s Canadian University Tennis Program.
“This is a golden time for Canadian tennis, it has never been this good,” says Nestor as he warms up to hit the courts against anxious amateurs. “Guys winning at all levels juniors, pros, womens divisions, it’s exciting.”
The change Nestor believes comes from a change of tact by Tennis Canada, the national governing body for the sport.
“Tennis Canada began a push about 10 years ago to get international coaching, have international style training centres and it’s really paid off,” says Nestor. “The popularity of the sport, particularly at the club level has never been stronger, probably working simultaneously with the pros playing the best they ever have and the media coverage, it all helps.”
With headlines filling with the successes of the Milos Raonic, Eugenie Bouchard and Vasek Pospisil is bringing the sport into the Canadian conscious.
“It’s always been a great sport for all ages and a great way to stay in shape now that people are becoming more health conscious,” says Nestor.
Which brings the purpose of the Pro-Am into focus. To continue with this success Tennis Canada saw that there was a serious gap at the collegiate level, so teaming with CIBC, the organization has been fund-raising to be able to keep more competitive players on the court in Canada.
“It’s one of the gaps and with this new commitment from Tennis Canada we are starting to see the benefits like 17-year-old Denis Shapovalov, the 2016 Youth Wimbleton winner, but what we haven’t succeeded in doing is providing a real good tennis platform for continuing tennis development for Canadian juniors,” says Peter Jensen, chair of university development for Tennis Canada “If they want to continue their tennis at a high level they are compelled to go to the United States.”
Of the top 25 juniors in Canada last year, 21 of them had to go to American universities where they were able to get scholarships. Only four stayed in Canada said Jensen.
“The ones that went to the States really didn’t have an option if they wanted to continue to develop at a high level,” says Jensen.
One of the most tangible results of the new plan is the development of a National championships that are played during the Rogers Cup.
“One of the pieces of advice I received was to control what you can and work with the groups on how to get there,” says Richard Cromwell, director of development with Tennis Canada. “What a great reward for kids that grew up playing junior tennis than to play for a national championship at the Rogers Cup, the format is exciting and what makes it successful, is that it is driven from the ground up.”
Cromwell sees that this helps create a continuum.
“This is one of those programs that the coaches wanted, the kids wanted, the universities are cooperating and what is really great and what is part of the vision for us in Canada is that if you pick up a racquet as a young kid you have the opportunity now to play recreationally, in university inter-murals, you can play varsity, you can play for a national championship and you can still play at the NCAA and you can go on to be pro,” said Cromwell.
Cromwell says the greatest hope is that a kid has a place to play after the high school years giving them a great opportunity to stay in the game.
The Canadian University Tennis Program was founded seven years ago to create opportunities for students to play. The program began with seven universities and has since grown to include 22 schools and counting across Canada from coast to coast.