Director sees silver lining despite early exits

BRIAN DALY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:27 PM ET

MONTREAL — Four up, four down.

That was the score for Canadian singles players at the Rogers Cup, with three women going down in straight sets.

But tournament director Eugenie Lapierre prefers to peer beneath the surface to look for the silver lining. He says Aleksandra Wozniak was playing hurt and gave a valiant effort. Stephanie Dubois reacted well to pressure. Valerie Tetreault started well before the wheels came off. And Heidi El-Tabakh was an upset winner in qualifying and earned her spot in the main draw.

But even Lapierre acknowledges that Canadians have a long way to go to become a power in the sport.

"There are not enough good kids who play tennis very young," said Lapierre, who thinks top talent should be identified as soon as the age of six.

"We've done that in hockey in the past. Every kid was going to play hockey, so of course you would discover some very good talent."

Canada's success at the Winter Games in Vancouver was an example of how an investment in training can yield tangible results at the highest levels.

But while national tennis training centres in Montreal and Toronto are well-equipped, they're dwarfed by the public and private tennis factories in places such as south Florida that gave rise to the likes of Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters.

Even one of the top Canadians at the Rogers Cup makes Florida her training home base.

Heidi El-Tabakh spends most of her year in Tampa. She says tennis is part of the culture down south and it's easier to find a game against a top opponent when you can play outdoors year-round.

"In Tampa there's basically a court on every other street," said El-Tabakh, who does train in Canada for part of the winter.

"There are a lot of academies, a lot of players who train there. It's easier, there are a lot more facilities."

Lapierre says that while he can't offer 25C winter weather, Canada's tennis establishment is upgrading its indoor facilities.

On Monday, all three levels of government announced a $14-million expansion at Uniprix Stadium, including four new clay courts as well as new locker rooms and office space.

He says the expansion, coupled with efforts to establish tennis teams in high schools, will bear fruit in the coming years.

"I think we have a good chance to see, in the years to come, a Canadian go father in the (Rogers Cup) on a more regular basis."


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