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Indoor tennis project set to move forward

Ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony was held Monday, providing hope that this will be the final winter without year-round tennis courts

THUNDER BAY — Members of the tennis community are optimistic this will be the final winter without year-round courts in the city.

Just beside the Thunder Bay Community Tennis Centre’s snow-covered courts, as a cold March wind howled, a ceremonial groundbreaking for the centre’s indoor project was held on Monday morning.

Thunder Bay tennis players have not had indoor courts for several years, following the closure of the two covered courts that had been located within the former Confederation College fitness centre bubble.

It’s been a long time coming, said Jamie Grieve, the former long-time club pro who has been among the group working for years to advance the project.

“We’ve been building for this for over seven years,” he said. “To be able to have, number one, continued year-round play is fantastic. You look at all ages — seniors, adults, juniors — to provide opportunities for everyone to play tennis and develop and be successful.

“For the club to have year-round programming — never having to have a cancellation again — it’s going to be absolutely fantastic.”

The project will see six newly constructed courts to the north of the existing tennis centre footprint, which will be covered with a dome.

The most substantial physical sign of progress for the project came earlier this year, with the relocation of the sliding hill north of the tennis centre to another area of Chapples Park to clear out the spot for the new indoor courts.

The project has received a $1.5-million commitment from the city, along with $1 million through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation and another $500,000 from FedNor.

Tennis Canada, which had dignitaries present on Monday, has also pledged $200,000 through a partnership with Rogers to expand year-round court access across Canada.

Eva Havaris, Tennis Canada’s vice president of partnerships and participation, said there are not enough covered courts across the country.

“We know this as a sport and as an organization. It’s such an important day because we’re inching closer in our strategy to say we need more year-round facilities,” she said. 

“We need tennis to be able to be played year-round. It’s a sport that is for all ages, all stages, all communities and so this is a step to make that dream a reality.”

Grieve said local fundraising efforts have collected another $300,000.

“It’s just a huge effort to have over $3.5 million to get this thing built,” Grieve said. “As soon as we get our agreements finished with the city, we can go ahead with really planning to get this thing done this summer.” 

Havaris said more year-round courts also means more opportunities for younger players, which should help the next wave of Canadian players following in the footsteps of Bianca Andreescu, Leylah Fernandez, Milos Raonic, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime to be competitive on the world stage. 

“We need more of these because talent is everywhere in this country. It’s not just in the big metropolitan cities,” she said. “It’s everywhere. We need to find the kids in Thunder Bay who also have the talent to be our next gen high performance athletes.”

Grieve echoed those comments, mentioning three Thunder Bay juniors over the last 15 years who went on to compete in the sport at the collegiate level south of the border. 

“Now, with this facility, the sky's the limit,” Grieve said.

About the Author: Matt Vis

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