THUNDER BAY -- These are unprecedented times for Canadian tennis.
The maple leaf has taken the tennis world by storm at Wimbledon, where Eugenie Bouchard became the first Canadian to reach the final of a Grand Slams singles event and Milos Raonic made it to the semifinals before falling to seven-time champion Roger Federer.
With representation on both the men’s and women’s singles side Canada boasts more players in the final four than traditional tennis powers like the United States, France, Australia and the United Kingdom, who were all shut out.
Other than Canada, only the Czech Republic had multiple players reach the singles semi-final round, with two battling it out on the women’s side.
Have things ever looked this promising for tennis in this country?
“Not even close,” says Thunder Bay Tennis Centre head pro Jamie Grieve Friday.
“If we look back a few years Sebastien Lareau and Daniel Nestor won gold for Canada in (men’s doubles) in the (2000) Olympics but that was a one tournament type thing, they had a good run and won gold. But looking at it now it’s just phenomenal.”
As more people have been drawn to the sport across the nation the interest has grown substantially on the local level.
Tennis centre president Mark Piovesana said registration rates for their children’s programs this year have been higher than ever.
“There’s far more television coverage and kids are seeing tennis…Parents encourage their kids to watch and try the sport,” Piovesana said.
“There is far wider group of people that are expressing interest in tennis.”
Many older tennis fans remember the days of watching John McEnroe duel arch-nemesis Bjorn Borg or Jimmy Connors, meanwhile the younger generation has been enamoured by the domination of the current Big Four of Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Brendan Boudreau, 16, became a Federer fan growing up but is now starting to become a diehard Raonic fan as the hard-serving newcomer continues to advance up the world rankings.
“It means a lot especially to young kids who are one day aspiring to play there,” Boudreau said while taking a break from instructing a youth clinic. “It means a lot to see Canadian tennis go far.”
Boudreau, who aspires to play the sport at a collegiate level, said he can already see many of the younger players at the club beginning to idolize Bouchard and Raonic.
He is also hearing a lot of people who weren’t previously tennis fans become fascinated by the sport.
“There’s a lot more interest going around,” Boudreau said. “When you come here there are always more people talking about Canadian tennis and tennis in general.”
While people around the world have taken notice by the surprising success of Bouchard and Raonic at the All-England Club, there are reasons to believe Canadian success might be the new normal.
After the tournament Bouchard will entrench herself in the top-10 of the world rankings and she is the only woman to make the semi-final of the season’s first three majors; the Australian Open, French Open and now Wimbledon.
Raonic, meanwhile, will move to at least No. 8 in the world, his highest placing thus far in his career, and has a promising summer hard court season ahead of him where he will look to have a second straight strong showing in the Rogers Cup and capitalize on his success at the US Open.
Bouchard is not the lone Canadian to reach a Wimbledon final this year, as Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil joined the quest for hardware as Friday morning he and American partner Jack Sock advanced to the men’s doubles final.
The club will be hosting a viewing party Saturday morning as Bouchard chases history in the final against 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
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