On the upswing

LYNNE BERMEL

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

Two weeks ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a newspaper that didn't have Rafael Nadal's picture on the front page. His epic Wimbledon victory over Roger Federer made headlines around the world.

"It doubled as a four-hour, 48-minute infomercial for everything right and virtuous about tennis," wrote Sports Illustrated senior writer L. Jon Wertheim.

"The greatest tennis match I've ever seen," said tennis commentator John McEnroe, whose 1982 final against Jimmy Connors had previously been the longest championship match until Nadal's victory surpassed it.

Peter Sutcliffe agrees. He's been running the National Capital Tennis Association for the past five years. He says he hasn't seen the game generate this much excitement since the heydays of McEnroe, Connors and Bjorn Borg.

"The rivalry between Federer and Nadal has re-ignited the game," he says. "It's going through its second serve of popularity ... that's pretty neat to see."

He estimates there are about 20,000 people playing tennis in the national capital region. But he sees that number rising.

"Suddenly, the game is cool again," says Sutcliffe, who also manages the Crosscourt tennis bubble at Carleton University and works as a pro at the Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club (OTLBC) in old Ottawa south.

"Of course, if I had my way, everybody would be walking around with a racquet in their hand."

Sutcliffe has been playing tennis ever since his father introduced him to the game more than 35 years ago at Montreal's Dorval Tennis Club. Peter's dad Frank Sutcliffe is currently the top-ranked 75-year-old in the country and is a member of Canada's world championship team.

"My dad inspires me more now than he did when I was young. It's certainly motivating to see him playing at such a high level at his age."

Peter's sons are also heavily into the game. Michael, 18, is among the top five juniors in the province and Matthew, 19, is an OTLBC Club Champion. Both attend Carleton University but they wouldn't mind following in their father's footsteps and securing a U.S. tennis scholarship.

Peter played for Virginia Tech, where he was an NCAA Division 1 player. He followed that by playing on the satellite circuit, an entry level of professional tournaments. After that, he stopped playing seriously for about 20 years to focus on a career in hi-tech as an engineer.

Then, some local parents asked if he would mind giving their kids a few tips on the game.

"That got me right back into tennis full force as a coach," says Sutcliffe.

One of those he coached was Gloucester's Gabriela Dabrowski, who made her Wimbledon debut this year in the junior draw.

"I've discovered that I enjoy working most with people who have never held a racquet before. People who are new to the sport bring so much energy and much excitement to the court," says Sutcliffe, who also got his wife, Enid, a former competitive downhill skier, hooked on the game.

Sutcliffe says many beginners don't realize they don't have to know how to play tennis to join a club.

"They see players killing each other out there on the court on TV but they don't realize that, more than anything, it's a very friendly sport with a huge social upside."

"Tennis is a lot like golf, only you aren't out there for hours and hours at a time (unless of course, you're Nadal and Federer). You can play the game right into your twilight years -- just ask my dad. And you can get a lot more exercise in one game of tennis than a golf game."

Sutcliffe says tennis' former image of being a sport for rich WASPs is a thing of the past, especially with the emergence of players like Nadal, who appeals to kids in his sleeveless vests, wild hair and board shorts.

The OTLBC did away with its policy of whites-only dress a few years ago.

"That was a really good move," Sutcliffe says. "Anything to make the sport more accessible and appealing to the masses is a step in the right direction."

MAYOR A RACE RECRUIT

Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien will be among those lining up for the first-ever Canada Army Run on Sept. 21. Over 1,200 people have already registered for the 5K race or the half marathon. Entry fee for the event, which is organized by the Ottawa Race Weekend, includes a commemorative shirt, camouflage kit bag, special camouflage race bib and dog tag finisher's medal. You can register at www.armyrun.ca.

RUGBY CHAMPS

Ottawa players were among the under-18 Eastern Ontario team that defeated Newfoundland to take gold at the Eastern Canadian Rugby Championships last weekend in Charlottetown. The National Capital Youth Rugby Festival is being held at Twin Elms Park today.

JOY OF SIX FOR WILSON

Cynthia Wilson had her sixth consecutive win of the season last weekend at the Triathlon de Gatineau at Lac Leamy. She topped the elite women's field in the 750m swim/20k bike/5k run course, finishing in a time of 1:01:48. Ottawa's Matt Vierula, a junior, finished third among elite men in 56:59.

SOCCER FURY

The Ottawa Fury edged the New Hampshire Phantoms 2-1 Friday night, moving to within a point of clinching a USI Premier Development League wild-card playoff spot.


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