British Columbia

Canada's recent success on the tennis court inspires young B.C. players

Recent success on international courts from players like Felix Auger-Aliassime and Leylah Fernandez is helping inspire young players. But Tennis B.C.'s CEO says the COVID-19 pandemic has also put a spotlight on the sport.

Tennis B.C. CEO says pandemic has also played a role in sport's growth

People play tennis at the Port Moody Recreational Complex in May 2020. Tennis B.C. CEO Mark Roberts says the growth of the sport accelerated during the pandemic. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Tennis players Emma Dong and Owen Nguyen say seeing Canadian professionals like Bianca Andreescu, Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Leylah Fernandez do well in international tournaments inspires them to compete on the court — and possibly go pro one day.

Dong and Nguyen, both 14, are already winners. Dong won the girls' singles and doubles titles and Nguyen won the boys' singles title at the U14 (Under 14) Fischer Outdoor Junior Nationals in Laval, Que. in Sept. 2021.

"[Andreescu, Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime and Fernandez] are Canadian and if they can do it, I mean, I can also do it," said Nguyen. 

Canadian tennis players have been among the best in the world in recent years. Andreescu won the U.S. Open in 2019. Fernandez made it to the finals of the same tournament in 2021, and earlier this month, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov helped Team Canada clinch its first ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Cup title win.

Tennis player Owen Nguyen, pictured here, competes at the U14 Fischer Outdoor Junior Nationals in Laval, Quebec in September 2021. Nguyen says if current Canadian professionals can make it, so can he. (Peter Wyslouzil )

According to a 2019 executive report from Tennis Canada, 6.5 million Canadians played the sport in 2018, and there was a 36 per cent increase in frequent play over a two-year period between 2017 and 2019.

Tennis B.C. CEO Mark Roberts said since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, facilities have been busier because of open access to public outdoor courts, whereas other sports may have been harder to play. 

The organization operates two facilities: six courts in Stanley Park, which are open during the summer months, and an indoor four-court facility in Richmond. Roberts said there's a 250-person wait-list for lessons at the Stanley Park facility, with most of those people being beginners. 

Additionally, the Richmond courts are occupied around 97 per cent of the time, which is consistent with other indoor facilities in the province, he said. There are fewer than a dozen indoor facilities around B.C.

"The demand is far outstripping the supply," said Roberts.

He said Tennis B.C. is working with Tennis Canada to build more public indoor facilities, including a new Western Canada training facility in Burnaby, which will have outdoor and indoor courts accessible to the public.

In the meantime, the organization is collaborating with local tennis clubs such as the North Vancouver Tennis Club, the Coquitlam Tennis Centre and the new Langley Tennis Centre to offer programs for the public. This means players do not have to be members of the club to use the facilities. 

"The reality of our sport is the vast majority of our players are not elite ... they play either occasionally or very frequently and they use the public courts to basically get all their play," said Roberts.

'Competing is fun'

Both Dong and Nguyen started playing tennis at a young age.

"I started playing tennis from the age of five with my dad, and then at the age of seven, I started training at a club," said Dong. 

Nguyen started at the same age, and was competing by the time he was eight or nine, he said.

Nguyen said he loves the sport because he gets to compete for himself, and see how good he is against his opponents.

"I think competing is fun, in my opinion."

Tennis player Emma Dong, pictured here, competes at the U14 Fischer Outdoor Junior Nationals in Laval, Quebec in September 2021. (Peter Wyslouzil)

For Dong, she also loves that tennis is an individual sport that offers variety from game to game. 

"I feel like it's really a mental game more than like a physical one, honestly," she said. 

Despite the pandemic, Nguyen and Dong hope to keep competing in tournaments here and abroad. Dong said she's looking forward to competing at the Fischer Indoor Junior Nationals in March. But her long-term aspirations reach further than that.

"I hope to play all the Grand Slams and place top 10. That would be a dream."

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