Last Sunday the Steve Stevens Senior Nationals kicked off on 33 courts in six Montreal clubs. More than 500 players are vying for national titles and $26,000 in prize money with the finals of the various age categories scheduled to be played from August 24 to 26.
The Mount Royal Tennis Club is the main venue for this year’s nationals and preparations for the event began in November to be ready to welcome the best senior players in Canada. Many compelling stories will be written and told this week, starting with the story of Robert Bédard and his family.
Already inducted in the Quebec Sports Hall of Fame as well as the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame, Bédard was honoured on Centre Court during Rogers Cup presented by National Bank in Toronto a few weeks ago because some 60 years ago he captured his third career title at the Canadian Open and is the last Canadian to win his country’s most prestigious tournament.
This week, the 86-year-old Bédard will compete in the 80 and over draw because his level of play is too strong for the 85+ age group even though he plays for fun now. Although he watches more baseball and golf than tennis, Bédard is modest when recalling his success on the pro tour. “The calibre of play is much higher today then it was back then. We have good Canadian players and they aren’t missing much to be at the very top of the game. I think Félix Auger-Aliassime is a very promising prospect,” Bédard said. Despite all of the inductions and ceremonies in his honour, Bédard is quick to remind people that the accolades are for things he accomplished 60 years ago.
Gaston Blais, the top seed in the 80 and over draw after claiming the national crown in Toronto year, was very complimentary of Bédard. “It would be an honour for me to play him in the final. I lost the only match I played against him and it was a tight three setter. He’s five years older than me, but he’s a fantastic athlete and probably the greatest Canadian tennis player of all-time. It’s an honour to play against him and he’s also such a gentleman on the court,” Blais said.
In addition to playing in the tournament, Bédard’s main reason for being around the event this week is to watch his children compete. Daughter-in-law Jane will play in the 50+ singles and doubles draws while his sons Mark and Paul are in the 60+ and 55+ age categories, respectively. In fact, Mark and Paul are teaming up in doubles together.
Bédard will play his matches at the Côte-Saint-Luc Tennis Club while his children will be competing at Mount-Royal.