When watching an exhilarating competition like Fed Cup, it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in the drama and stunning tennis on display and overlook the amount of work (and people!) that go into ensuring a team is in top form, both physically and mentally.
Indeed, the Canadian Fed Cup team, which takes on Switzerland on Friday and Saturday with a place in the Finals on the line, counts on several individuals including a coach, physical trainer, doctor and two physiotherapists – just to name a few.
In our Behind the scenes series, you’ll get to know some of the people in the shadows and learn more about the supporting roles they play. This time, we’re delving into the role of Team Manager André Barette.
André’s route to his role with the team isn’t necessarily a familiar one. Rather than have a tennis background – albeit he has always been a huge fan of the sport – his expertise lies in education and he started his career as a teacher.
“We became volunteers at Rogers Cup,” he said of his first involvement in tennis. “That was 23 years ago or something like that – and we never left the tournament since.”
When Tennis Canada decided to move ahead with plans for their National Training Centre (NTC) in the early noughties, André was consulted in their search for a teacher for the program and, around 12 months later, took up the role himself. That was around the start of the last decade, “so, I’ve been here for the past 10 years,” he added.
Growing up in Laval, Quebec, André – now 56 years old – followed the ATP and WTA Tours closely. “It will probably show my age, but I remember the famous McEnroe-Borg battles from way back,” he laughed.
“Then you can name (Andre) Agassi, (Pete) Sampras and (Boris) Becker – all the others, Pat Rafter and the recent ones, Rafa (Nadal) and (Roger) Federer. On the women’s side, Steffi Graff, obviously. Navratilova, obviously, and Chris Evert. Evonne Goolagong is a distant memory. I’ve always been a fan.”
André’s role with the Canadian Fed Cup team involves ensuring the players’ needs are seen to and that there are as few distractions as possible. As he puts it: “if everything goes right, nobody talks about me. They’re ready to play and they can devote 100% of their focus on the matches.”
However, some aspects of the role are easier than others.
“Lately it’s been getting trickier with food because everyone has their own diets,” he added. “You can certainly name a few vegans and gluten free and whatnot. It becomes increasingly difficult to select restaurants and places to eat where everyone can have options.”
All his life, André has been an avid sports fan and initially gravitated towards basketball. It’s fair to say he has a competitive streak in him and the close contests that Fed Cup produces are an exhilarating part of the job. But, he is also quick to point out the strong team spirit the group has.
“I certainly enjoy the competition,” he said. “The girls talk about it all the time and it’s not made up, there’s a real team spirit and the girls enjoy it. We feel it as the support group too. Everybody is involved in the camaraderie and that tight unit is fun. For me, that’s what makes it worthwhile.”
Having been part of the Fed Cup team for around seven or eight years, André has seen it all. But one tie in particular stands out when he reflects on his time at Tennis Canada.
“The first Fed Cup tie I was invited to was in Kiev,” he began. “I wasn’t part of the team yet but I got to go with Louis (Borfiga). We were in a very hostile environment. It was a very nice venue – a clay court that was old but very small so it was a great atmosphere.”