Just as the swallows keep returning every year to San Juan Capistrano, some superstars of tennis fly in their cancellations to the Canadian Open tennis championship -- regardless if they are Andre Agassi or the Williams sisters. But not this year ... so far.
Perhaps the new tennis facility with ample seating, restaurant facilities, comfortable dressing rooms and plenty of parking may have something to do with the players' decisions to come to Toronto.
At any rate, while Tennis Canada officials are holding their collective breath prior to next week's Tennis Masters Canada 2004 championship at the new Rexall Centre, Stacey Allaster is full of optimism.
"To date, we have not had a single cancellation," said the hard-working tournament director and member of the board of the Women's Tennis Association. "In fact, Andy Roddick's agents have already sent in their hotel reservations."
Roddick, this year's Wimbledon finalist, is represented by the SFX Corporation which purchased the old ProServ agency.
"Things in Toronto have actually improved in the last two years," she said. "We had 19 of the top 20 players participating in the tournament. However, I expect that some of the Spaniards, who don't like our courts, may cancel out in the last minute."
Allaster is also ecstatic about the financial situation of Tennis Canada in spite of being set back $18 million with the construction of new stadia in Montreal and Toronto.
"The sponsorship is about half a million dollars ahead of last year's" she said. "And the totsl stadium revenue this year has already doubled the revenue generated last year in the Rogers Cup. If things continue at the same rate in Montreal and Toronto, we should declare a profit of $4-5 million this year."
Allaster said she bases her optimism on the novelty factor of the Rexall Centre and also the concerts which should attract the younger tennis fans to the facility.
"It's a different feeling coming into this new building," she says. "It's about 97% finished with only the temporary seating in the upper level and the landscaping to complete. What a difference even my office makes.
"When I look around, it seems surreal at the moment. But we are enjoying the work of the past 14 years on this project. It takes a while to sink in. There is no comparison to the old stadium and offices which were taken over by York University."
The Rexall Centre is an important addition to Toronto's sports scene. With the city lacking facilities such as a decent soccer stadium, Olympic swimming complex, a proper waterfront, a velodrome and others, the new tennis centre will not only draw top tennis players, but it will also take Toronto one step closer to staging events such as the Commonwealth Games or, dare I say it, perhaps even the Olympic Games.
Toronto's Daniel Nestor, one of the world's top tennis doubles players and Olympic gold medallist, plus 13-year-old Sharon Fichman, will take part in Tuesday's opening serve at 11 a.m., at the Rexall Centre. Fichman is the third Canadian 13-year-old to win the Canadian girls under-18 tennis championship. The other two were Carling Bassett and Helen Kelesi ... Michael Downey, new president and CEO of Tennis Canada, is a marketing expert. He's also anxious to improve the standard of tennis in Canada and has been discussing future plans with former Canadian aces such as John Sharpe, Don Fontana, Keith Carpenter, Harry Fauquier, Brian Flood and others ... Ron Ellis, one of the most gentlemanly players of the old Maple Leafs, is organizing a fishing trip to western Canada in aid of the Ellis Cancer Fund. Paul Henderson, John Ferguson Sr., Pierre Pilote and Rod Seiling will accompany the group. For info call Ellis at 416-933-8236.