Tennis Canada strategy targets elite players

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

Canada has been unable to produce anything close to consistent, elite level tennis talent, on the international singles stage anyway.

How's that for a grasp of the obvious.

Tennis Canada has embarked on a plan to change that perception, presenting a blueprint, looking to build Canada into a tennis half-power by 2020. A top 10 ranking among tennis nations, that's the goal. Not exactly the New York Yankees, but perhaps the Houston Astros or the Oakland A's. Maybe not a bunch of World Series titles, but a divisional title here and there. It's a substantial plan, calling for substantial investment -- around $7 million.

Before you grow the forest you have to lay the seed. And there's been real movement on the junior side of the ledger. There's been an increase of professional, entry level Futures tournaments -- three to six on the men's side this year, two to five on the women's side -- opportunities for those who take part to improve their rankings on the ATP ladder.

There's a range of developmental initiatives for juniors. A National Training Centre Program in partnership with the Ontario Tennis Association brings together the best young players in Ontario and Quebec in a competitive training environment. The shiny new Rexall Centre in Toronto hosts, with beefed up sports science technologies and expanded training facilities.

It's an exciting time for those in the tennis world in these parts. Still, some rather large challenges lay ahead.

"Recruiting and getting young talented athletes into tennis has been a challenge," said Hatem McDadi, vice president of tennis development at Tennis Canada.

Getting those with tennis talent up the ladder in a country as large as Canada has been no easy chore either. McDadi points out how you can drive across some of those smaller European countries in a few hours, a stone's throw across your neighbour's front yard compared to Canada.

That's why the opening of the Rexall Centre as another national training centre hub is helping to alleviate some of those geographical migraines.

Peter Polansky, from Thornhill, is one of those at the top of the pyramid as far as Tennis Canada is concerned, and they're throwing a lot of resources at the 17-year-old -- coaches, training and tournament opportunities, the best in sports science technologies.

Polansky also left last Tuesday for the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida, renowned for having helped produce some of the world's elite -- Andre Agassi, the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova, Monica Seles.

Polanksy joined his friend and fellow Canuck Philip Bester -- the other big hope on the junior boys side in Canada. The Bollettieri Academy is a full-time tennis boarding school combining intense tennis instruction with an academic curriculum.

Tennis Canada will soon announce what it says is a ground-breaking partnership with a Florida tennis academy. According to speculation it's with Bollettieri, now part of International Management Group's (IMG) stable of academies.

Under the deal, Tennis Canada would get to use the academy's infrastructure for select athletes. That would include free training and discounted rates. Canadian tennis players and coaches would get to access various surfaces, athletes that train at the academy -- someone like Sharapova, for example -- fitness and sports psychology programs. Tennis Canada is on the lookout for long-term housing on the site as well.

That suits people like Polansky just fine.

"I can go down there and play with better guys and have a Canadian coach there (possibly Martin Laurendeau)," said Polansky, who recently saw his ATP rankings jump 202 spots, to a career-high 1230th, after only a handful of pro tournaments.

Said his coach in Toronto, Dean Coburn: "In Florida, there's a bunch of good players, all in the same boat. They're all really hungry."


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